Mumbai, April 18: Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar has allegedly been caught on video threatening to stop a village’s water supply if it didn’t vote for uncle Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule.
The Election Commission today took cognisance of the mobile phone video, furnished by Aam Aadmi Party candidate Suresh Khopde, and directed the Pune collector to hand in a probe report.
Ajit is the Nationalist Congress Party MLA from Baramati segment, which falls within the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency where Sule and Khopde are rivals. Khopde has lodged a police complaint about Ajit’s alleged threat to Masalwadi village on April 16, the day before Baramati voted.
“I can get my sister elected anyway. Because of one village, my sister is not going to lose the election,” the grainy footage with clear audio purportedly shows Ajit telling a crowd in Marathi.
“I shall get to know from the (voting) machines who voted for which party. If I come to know that Masalwadi has voted against the party (NCP), you will never get water. Bear that in mind.”
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik claimed the video was “doctored”.
Masalwadi, 27km from Baramati city, is one of a cluster of 22 villages in a rain shadow belt and has been facing severe water scarcity for years. These villages rely on tanker water, whose supply to Masalwadi Ajit has allegedly threatened to cut off.
Accusing the Pawars of indifference to their plight, the villagers had last year staged a protest from October 30 to November 6, and then a black-flag demonstration on December 12, Sharad Pawar’s birthday.
“We have been voting for Pawarsaheb since 1967. Now his daughter is our MP and his nephew the MLA. We have pleaded with them repeatedly to solve our problem, but they only make fresh promises and do nothing,” said Namdeo Karande, a visually impaired farmer from nearby Murti village who was part of the agitation last year.
“They didn’t even come to meet us when the agitation was on, although all three of them were in Baramati that week. We want water from the Nira river, just 16km away, to be brought through canals to our fields.”
He said the Pawars had been promising water from the Purandar lift irrigation scheme, which the villagers don’t want. “That water won’t be fit to drink and we would have to pay the electricity charges,” said Dilip Jagdale, a farmer who runs a grocery in Murti.
Ajit had last year mocked Bhaiyya Deshmukh, a farmer from drought-hit Solapur who was on a hunger strike in Mumbai, asking if he should urinate in the dam if there was no water. Pawar had to apologise after his uncle rapped him.
Khopde, a former IPS officer, told The Telegraph: “Since no one dared come forward and lodge a complaint, I decided to take the initiative.”
He added: “Issuing such threats is not just a violation of the model code of conduct and the Representation of the People Act, I have sought action also for the cognisable offence of criminal intimidation and threatening voters.”