Chandrakant Manik Kadam (45) is a visually impaired liftman who resides in a 15-by-10-foot room in a little-known village in Baramati. Like the village he hails from — Bhoitewadi, very few will know of Kadam. But all that’s about to change very soon, as he takes on a political heavyweight in the approaching state assembly polls — NCP leader and Deputy Chief Minister, Ajit Pawar.
Clear vision: Kadam hopes to challenge and uproot the Pawar family’s 47-year reign in Baramati. Pic/Umesh S Patil
‘Monarchy must end’
According to Kadam, it is time for the Pawar family’s “monarchy” in Baramati to come to an end. He holds the family (Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and Baramati MP Supriya Sule) responsible for the prolonged water scarcity in the tehsil, and especially in 22 villages reeling under severe drought.
Kadam (centre) sits outside his one-room house, flanked by a few of his supporters. Villagers have credited him for beginning a movement of sorts, after his eight-day hunger strike against the water shortage in 22 villages in Baramati. Pic/Umesh S Patil
Though farmers in the region have been loyal to the family, faithfully electing it in both state and Lok Sabha elections for the past 47 years, the Pawars have done next to nothing to relieve parched lands and citizens in the tehsil, said Kadam.
So, he filed his nomination papers as an independent candidate on Friday, interestingly the same day as Pawar. Having lost all sight at the age of five, Kadam has never been one to shy away from a challenge. In November 2013, he had embarked on an eight-day hunger strike to protest against the prolonged water scarcity in Baramati.
Taking cognisance of Kadam’s protest and the support it garnered from local citizens, eventually, Ajit Pawar inaugurated the long- awaited Purandar Lift Irrigation project last month, and also filled a small lake in Kadam’s village.
Taking on the boss
In fact, the deputy CM even offered him a job as a liftman in the Pune District Central Cooperative (PDCC) Bank, a position Kadam accepted and has been serving in since February.
While the job offer may be viewed by many as a ploy to get Kadam to drop the water issue, it doesn’t seem to have worked. “See, after my eight-day fast, he (Ajit) called me to his residence in Mumbai. At that time, I was working in the dispatch department at Mumbai District Central Cooperative Bank. He asked me to join PDCC, which is closer to my hometown. Hence, I accepted his offer. But, there is a clear distinction between my job and politics,” said Kadam.
‘Will not withdraw’
Nothing will deter him from contesting the elections, he said. Not even earning Pawar’s ire and losing or job.
“I don’t care if I lose my current job. Even if death comes in my way, I will not end my fight against those who have been ruling this constituency since 1967. My aim is clear. In any case I want to resolve the years’ old issue of the lack of both drinking water and adequate irrigation for our fields,” he added.
Asked whether he had been contacted by Pawar to withdraw his nomination, “From what I know of Ajit Pawar, he would never ask me to take back my candidature. In an extreme case, even if I were to receive any such message, I will remain firm on my decision and contest the upcoming election,” said Kadam.
As various reports have pointed out in the past, there has been a long-standing shortage of water in the Baramati tehsil, parts of which fall in the jirayat (rain-dependent) belt. Kadam’s protest last year was for 22 villages, where the water scarcity is particularly acute.
“At the time of inaugurating the Purandar irrigation project last month, Pawar had assured us that soon water would be released to fill up lakes situated in all the 22 villages. But, in reality, besides my village, only Morgaon, Murty and Jogwadi had received water till date. In all other villages, the situation is still the same. This is the main reason why I am contesting this election,” he said.
Paresh Bhapkar, Shiv Sena branch head at Tardoli, seemed more hopeful and said, “These 22 villages have nearly 50,000 voters and if all the votes go against Ajit Pawar, then it will certainly change the game.”
Besides Pawar and Kadam, Shiv Sena candidate Rajendra Kale, Balasaheb Gavde of the BJP and Congress nominee Akash More will contest the election from the Baramati constituency.
Ajit Pawar's 'biggest mistake'
On April 6 last year, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar stirred a hornet’s nest with an ill-judged comment about ‘urinating in a dam’. Referring to a 55-day hunger strike at Azad Maidan in Mumbai by a drought-affected farmer, Pawar had said, “He has been fasting for the past 55 days demanding water be released from the dam. But if there is no water in the dam, how can we release it?
Should we urinate into it?” The opposition went up in arms against the callous remark, and, eventually, both he and his uncle, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, apologised for it. Ajit Pawar later said, “I feel that the statement is one of the biggest mistakes in my political life. I apologise for it and request the people to forgive me.”
>> The Purandar lift irrigation project was inaugurated by NCP chief Sharad Pawar in the presence of Baramati MP Supriya Sule and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar on August 18 this year.
>> The project was proposed to provide irrigation to Baramati by lifting and treating sewage water from Mula-Mutha rivers, which pass through Pune at Uruli Kanchan town.
>> It was proposed that the water would then be released in Nazre dam, near Baramati, and provided across 22 drought-prone villages for agricultural use.
>> The villagers claim the water is contaminated, and is not useful for agriculture. Instead, it will contaminate their drinking water supply as well, they said.