By: Manoj More
A day after he was ranked ‘MP No. One’ in a survey conducted by India Today magazine, Maval MP Gajanan Babar dropped a bombshell on Saturday when he claimed that he had paid Rs 20 lakh in lieu of ‘paid news’ in the 2009 Parliamentary polls. “The amount was paid to two vernacular newspapers,” said Babar.
Babar also identified the two newspapers, calling them “widely read”. “I did not approach anybody, they came to me,” Babar claimed.
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However, minutes after Babar spoke to this newspaper, Sarang Kamtekar, his campaign manager during the 2009 polls, refuted the MP’s claims. “We categorically deny having paid any amount to any newspaper,” he said. Kamtekar said, “Babar saheb might not have understood the question. Or I think he was speaking off the record.”
For good measure, Kamtekar added, “What the MP actually meant was that an MP from Maharashtra paid money to get news published. Babar did not mean himself.” He said Babar would reveal some ‘facts’ after May 31. “Babar will be disqualified if he says anything of this sort…Therefore, we withdraw any remarks even made remotely in connection with paid news,” Kamtekar said.
On Friday, Election Commissioner H S Brahma had described Mumbai as the “known capital of paid news.” The malaise exists across the state, said a political leader.
Meanwhile, Babar expressed delight at being ranked the best MP in the country by a performance survey carried out by the India Today Group. The rankings have been compiled in association with two NGOs — Satark Nagrik Sangathan and the Association for Democratic Reforms. “What has doubled my joy is the fact that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is at the bottom of the ranking,” he said.
The survey gave Babar a parliamentary performance score of 9 out of 10 and a constituency perception score of 8.40 out of 10.
Babar, who is a first-time MP and has decided to join MNS, said he was hurt that despite his good performance, the Shiv Sena denied him a ticket. “You are damned even if you perform better than others,” he said. Babar has alleged that “money changed hands” when the Sena picked Shrirang Barne for the Maval seat.
Babar, who had 75 per cent attendance, asked 1,176 questions — the highest by any MP.
Also, he used up all his MPLA funds — Rs 19 crore. “The entire amount was spent on development projects such as laying roads in rural areas, providing water facilities, computers in schools and the like,” he said.
The biggest project, said Babar, related to four-laning of old Pune-Mumbai Highway. “I have got Rs 285 crore sanctioned from the central government. The tenders have also been issued. There will be four flyovers on the highway,” he claimed.