Baramati residents: We want no one but the Pawars
Even as the party plots to snatch victory from NCP in Baramati, fiercely loyal locals say no 'outsider' can dethrone the Pawars
Baramati is the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) new lab. Having cracked the formula of winning several important seats in the Nationalist Congress Party's (NCP) fiefdom of western Maharashtra, a victory in the personal stronghold of the Pawar family has eluded the ruling party.
BJP's experiment went for a toss in the Lok Sabha polls when NCP boss Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule retained her seat with elan. In the impending Assembly elections, the BJP's game plan may not guarantee success against the indomitable Ajit Pawar, but it should keep incubating the party's hopes for a miracle in the future.
BJP workers at the party headquarters at Baramati
The Pawars haven't conceded their Parliamentary or Assembly seats ever since the family entered the electoral fray here 50 years ago. The BJP's recognition appears so weak in this super-rich town that one has to make repeated inquiries to find its local office.
Prosperity displays its colours very vividly here. No other semi-urban centre of Baramati's rank or population in the country is likely to have the number of showrooms of high-end automobiles that this town has. Infrastructure is at par with A-grade cities.
NCP workers at the party headquarters in the same constituency
The courses on offer in educational institutes are top class. The industry performs better than in other places and all agriculture-related research centres are here. Sugarcane farming runs the economy. The cooperatives are still in better shape. The town has exclusive rail connectivity with Pune, which is unparalleled for a tehsil.
The BJP says this is where it has found a flaw in the Pawars' policies that have made certain people rich while others still have to fight for basic needs. It blames the social, economic, and political imbalance on Baramati's first family.
An auto-rickshaw promoting the NCP. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
"For Pawars, the Baramati town is everything. You don't see a semblance of Baramati in other parts of the tehsil or western Maharashtra, a city which they think is their jaagir," said Avinash Mote, BJP in-charge in the constituency and Pune District BJP's general secretary.
Undoubtedly, Baramarti does not have a leader to match the stature of Sharad Pawar and nephew Ajit, who have been winning elections without taking part in the party campaign. They submit nominations and leave to campaign in the rest of the state. Ajit will appear in Baramati only on October 19.
The void in leadership in its ranks made the BJP field an outsider in the 2014 and in this year's Assembly election. It pitted a local, a relative of the Pawars, in this year's Lok Sabha polls, but failed on both occasions.
The outcome of the two results established that an outsider with considerable clout in some communities, such as the Dhangars, can do better against the Pawars. So, Gopichand Padalkar, a Sanglikar who had revolted against the NCP during this year's Lok Sabha polls, has been wooed to contest against Ajit. In the 2014 Lok Sabha, another Dhangar leader, Mahadev Jankar, had given Sule a tough fight.
Yasmeen Shaikh, district vice-president, BJP's Women Cell
'Padalkar is sacrificial lamb'
NCP's Baramati taluka president, Sambhaji Holkar, who handles Ajit's campaign, said that the outsider's candidature was nothing short of an attempt to create social disharmony in the happy-go-lucky Baramati.
"BJP says Padalkar is a tiger. If so, why didn't the party field him from a safe constituency like Chandrakant Patil's (state BJP president from Kolhapur who is contesting from Kothrud in Pune)? Padalkar doesn't know he is being made a sacrificial lamb. He shall loose and be discarded like a flea in a teacup," said Kiran Tawre, NCP's former taluka president.
Apolitical locals also feel the same way. Vishwanath Keskar, a resident of Gunavadi, said the BJP should have a local candidate. Waiting for Padalkar's arrival in his village on the outskirts of Baramati, he said he had come just to count the audience, because 'a handful of people would turn up' for the meeting.
Hanuman Lakde of the Dhangar Samaj Sanghana that supports Ajit, said that the community will send Padalkar packing to Sangli. "BJP should get maximum 25,000 votes out of the 3.42 lakh. We will ensure that Ajit dada wins at least by 1.50 lakh votes, which should be the highest winning margin in the state."
Mahendra Kharat, a ward boy at a private hospital, said he got a decent job because of the policy of the Pawars, who encouraged doctors to set up state-of-the-art hospitals. "My wife also works and we make a good living," he said.
Muslim women power BJP
When we finally spotted the BJP office in a thickly populated area, the unexpected sight of Muslim women there caught our attention. Muslims account for about 25% votes in Baramati segment, a BJP office-bearer said, adding that half of them were women.
Yasmeen Shaikh, a Kalyan-born woman married a Biryani seller in 2003. "There was a time when people taunted me for supporting the BJP. But ever since the BJP stopped triple talaq, there is no stopping me. I'm now the party's Women Cell's district vice-president," she said.
Vijaya Khomne, president of Baramati BJP's Women's unit, binds the lot together. "My Muslim sisters have given us unbeatable strength. Our tribe is growing fast. I quit the NCP seven years ago because it wasn't a woman-friendly party," she said.
Period the Pawar family has reigned in Baramati
If Amethi can, why can't Baramati?
HOLDING his ground and drawing a parallel with Congress' Lok Sabha debacle in Amethi, BJP candidate Gopichand Padalkar said if Amethi could ditch Rahul Gandhi to end a dynasty, Baramati could also do it and turn the tables on the politics that has been revolving around the Pawar family for 52 years. "It's time people know the value of their votes because the Pawars didn't allow them to realise how important the common man is to democracy. The entire state has its sights set on Baramati. Politicians who have betrayed Maharashtra for their vested interests are beaten.
BJP's charge sheet against Ajit Pawar
THE Pawar family has been in power in Baramati for 50 years but the constituency as a whole is underdeveloped. Only Baramati town got to reap the fruits of development. Whereas, 60% of the constituency does not have a regular drinking water supply. The water from Nira Deoghar dam has not reached parched villages despite the powerful family dominating state affairs. The Pawars destroyed sugar cooperatives for their personal gains. They ruined some mills to turn them into private entities of the family members. The family bought sick mills at dirt cheap prices. Educational institutes are the Pawars' personal properties. The rate for sugarcane crop that the Pawar-owned mills offer local farmers is much less than a cooperative mill that the BJP started controlling four years ago. Big corporates did not set up industries at the state industrial estate because of Pawar's vested interests. MSRDC, that built a ring road here, was given a land costing Rs 60 crore on a 99-year lease and yet it charged toll from locals, which the BJP stopped. The milk collected from farmers is sold at higher rates to a private company, but the benefit is not passed on to producers.
NCP's charge sheet against BJP
AN OUTSIDER has been brought in to create disharmony in the dominant Dhangar community. They don't have any leader who can surpass Ajit Pawar's achievement and influence. BJP has been trying to disturb the Pawar-led cooperative movement in Baramati by hook or crook because it wants NCP supporters to suffer. But they won't be able to frame the NCP because it is transparent in its work, especially financial matters. The government has been delaying water discharge for lift irrigation projects that Ajit Pawar built for the dry land farmers in the Baramati constituency. Above all, these regions haven't had sufficient rains in the past three to four years. If the BJP government is so concerned about farmers why didn't it build a canal to distribute it to parched lands? Or is the additional water being used only by farmers who have access to it? We're ready to take a cut in water share. The BJP has diverted western Maharashtra's funds for irrigation to other regions. The BJP government has been abusing its power to defame the Pawar family. We challenge the PM, BJP's national president and Maharashtra CM to hold rallies here to mobilise voters.
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