Putting his loss behind, Patrao hits the campaign trail

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The Hindu

undeterred:Gregory Patrao (left) leading a group of his followers during the campaign for gram panchayat elections

BALA/MANGALORE, 11 May 2010: A blue plastic tent is Gregory Patrao’s campaign headquarters for the coming gram panchayat elections.

The tent, in which he lives with his family of eight, has come up next to a heap of rubble that was once his 350-year-old ancestral house. The building was demolished a few weeks ago to make way for Phase-3 of the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited — a move he opposed bitterly for the last 20 years.

But Mr. Patrao shows no signs of the personal calamity as he goes door-to-door seeking re-election to the Bala Gram Panchayat, which he served as vice-president in its previous term. He is heading a five-member team of Bharatiya Janata Party-backed candidates from Kalavaru village.

Before setting off on the post-lunch session of campaigning on Sunday, Mr. Patrao briefs his team at his “campaign headquarters”.

“Our focus has to be on development. The people must be told about the work we have done in our last term,” he tells his team which comprises three first-timers — Prathim Shetty, Yashoda and Roopa Lobo. The fourth member, Lokesh Shetty, is an old comrade and the former president of the panchayat.

Of the eligible 1,300-plus voters in the panchayat, nearly half have been displaced and now live at the rehabilitation colony in Kulai which is to be the part of the Mangalore City Corporation. But their names are still on the voters’ list. Patrao’s team decides to head there.

En route, they stop at a clutch of around 20 houses at Kalavaru. These properties were also acquired for the refinery and the owners had been compensated way back in 2007. But the houses, unlike Patrao’s, have not yet been demolished and people continue to live there.

“Why did you fight the acquisition? Look at your state now,” says one of the residents as Mr. Patrao gives him a campaign pamphlet. Mr. Patrao cuts him off: “Let’s just stick to the issues concerning the election.” At the Kulai rehabilitation colony, the team is received with much warmth by their erstwhile neighbours. “These are the people who went against Patrao and agreed to sell their lands,” whispers a supporter who has accompanied the campaigners from Kalavaru. Much as the team tries to avoid it, almost everybody at Kulai wants Patrao to narrate the exact details of the day his house was demolished. B. Aadam (52) a rival candidate, who is part of a Congress-backed group of candidates, says, “He might win because of the wave of the sympathy factor but not the others in his group,” he says.


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