With the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fighting tooth and nail to emerge victorious in the Lok Sabha elections, they have pitted strong contenders in all major constituencies to make this happen. With each AAP contestant receiving a fair amount of backing and support, Baramati constituency seems to be an exception.
Lone ranger: Retired IPS officer Suresh Khopde hopes to win against Supriya Sule (below), the current MP from Baramati constituency. Pic/Mohan Patil
The Baramati seat, known to be a stronghold of the Pawar clan, will be fought for by AAP’s Suresh Khopde and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter and sitting MP, Supriya Sule, who is contesting consecutively for the second time. A retired IPS officer, Khopde is fighting without any leading campaigners.
He admitted that he has only a handful of AAP workers involved in his campaign. “I have three party workers from Indapur taluka, two from Daund and till date, there is no one from Bhor to look after my election campaign,” said Khopde, who is from Baramati.
This is not the case in other constituencies of Pune district — Pune city and Maval, which have a strong AAP presence, because of its candidates — Subhash Ware and Maruti Bhapkar respectively. The AAP wave has not yet set in Baramati, despite having rebel former IPS officer Khopde on the team.
“I have published two lakh booklets having detailed information about me and my party. I am going to distribute another two lakh booklets in the coming days. I am sure that after going through it, voters will prefer me as their next MP,” Khopde said.
Besides these booklets, Khopde has not made any attempts to reach out to the voters. Last week, AAP’s Medha Patkar visited the city and campaigned for Ware. Similarly Yogendra Yadav will also visit the city. However, both these leaders are not keen on campaigning for their neighbouring Baramati constituency.
When contacted, Ware said, “It is true that compared to the city, AAP doesn’t have a strong presence in rural areas. But, in Baramati, we had deployed teams of 10 workers in every taluka. Now, it is the responsibility of the candidate to designate the work. The party cannot provide him additional manpower from outside.”
Yashraj Parkhi, an AAP worker accompanying Khopde in his campaigns, said, “Although on paper we have 3,000 AAP workers, very few workers prefer to openly campaign for the party, since it is known to be a fortress of the Pawar family. In the small villages, too, we have to take off our party caps, or else voters hesitate to communicate with us.” AAP’s state secretary and spokesperson, Preeti Sharma Menon said, “The party is contesting from over 400 seats nationwide. We are weak in many constituencies. Baramati constituency also falls in this category.
Hence we have fielded a strong candidate like Khopde. While giving him candidature, this was clear to him and he had taken it up as a challenge.” “Most of our senior leaders are contesting elections and are busy in their own campaigns,” she added.
Suresh Khopde is all set to file a complaint with the Election Commission (EC) against Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar for influencing and threatening voters. “We have audio recordings of Supriya Sule’s rally held on March 29 in Kanhere village near Baramati, where Pawar had presented booth-wise statistics of votes in the last Lok Sabha elections and asked voters why they had cast their votes to opposition parties, when all development had been done by NCP,” Khopde said. He added that in his complaint, he is specifically requesting the EC to avoid revealing booth-wise voting statistics, as voters fear that if they cast their vote against NCP, they will suffer after the elections are over.