Cops speak for Pawar: ‘He didn’t threaten voters’

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar addresses a press conference at Council Hall on Saturday.  (Photo: Pavan Khengre) Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar addresses a press conference at Council Hall on Saturday. (Photo: Pavan Khengre)

DEPUTY Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who has remained unreachable and unavailable after the controversy over his alleged threat to villagers of Masalwadi in Baramati constituency surfaced, can now allow himself a breather. The Pune rural police have in 48 hours declared him “not guilty” of threatening the voters or holding any public meeting in the village on the eve of polling day.

However, the rural police have registered a non-cognizable complaint relating to poll malpractice under Section  171 (C) of  the Representation of People Act. “This  means Ajit Pawar cannot be arrested and the complainant would have to approach the court to seek redressal of his grievance,” Manoj Kumar Lohiya, Superintendent of Police, (Pune rural) said on Saturday.

Ajit Pawar had, as per a complaint filed by AAP candidate Suresh Khopde, allegedly warned residents of Masalwadi village that he would “cut” their water supply if they did not vote for his cousin and sitting NCP MP Supriya Sule. A purported video of Pawar addressing a gathering in Masalwadi village had been cited in the complaint made at the Vadgaon (Nimbalkar) police station.

The rural police which investigated the allegations against Pawar said they have found “no truth” in the allegations that he threatened the villagers of Masalwadi that if they didn’t vote for Sule. “We have also did not fond that Pawar threatened the villagers as alleged by the complainant. He also did not try to influence any voters. Besides, our  investigation found that Pawar held no public meeting on that particular day,” Lohiya said, denying that the rural police were under any sort of pressure to give Pawar the clean chit.

“We got no calls from any quarters. There was no pressure from anyone. You can check my cellphone records… It was a free and fair inquiry,” he said.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Sambhaji Kadam (Baramati), however, confirmed that Ajit Pawar was present at the village around 8 pm on the eve of polling day. “Our investigation found that the Deputy CM had gone to the residence of a party worker called Sandeep Pawar was on the way to Pune from Baramati. Pawar went to the residence of the party worker and had an informal chat. The party workers thanked Pawar for helping the village get water,” said Kadam.

“Our investigation went to the residence of at least three villagers who were present at that time. All of them said Pawar did not threaten anyone…”  Kadam said, “We have not considered the video at this stage.”

AAP candidate Suresh Khopde, who had filed the complaint said,”What was Pawar doing in the village at that moment? This clearly raises suspicions…” He said, “As the police have filed non-cognizable complaint, I will approach the Judicial Magistrate First Class,” he said.

As to whether the tapes were fake, Lohiya said, “We have investigated the complaint that we have received regarding threat to villagers and holding of public meeting. We have not received any complaint regarding the authenticity of the video. We cannot on our own take suo moto action.” If the police receive the complaint, will they look into the veracity of the video, Lohiya sad,”I cannot comment about ifs and buts…”

Lohiya said the role of the police in the matter has now ended. “We will now hand over the FIR to the complainant who now has the option of approaching the court.”
Lohiya also said that they have submitted the report to the Pune District Collectorate. “The collectorate wanted the report in 48 hours and we have done so,” he said. District collectorate Saurabh Rao was not available for comment despite repeated attempts to get in touch with him.

Pune Rural police submitted the report after a sub divisional police officer conducted the inquiry following a complaint filed by Khopade with the police. Pune District Collector Saurabh Rao had also sought a report from the Police following he got such instruction from the Election Commission following a complaint by a BJP leader with the Commission.

Dilip Khaire, the BJP leader who had complained to EC against Pawar, said that the police report was on expected lines. “It will be too much to expect that the police will fairly investigate the case when the state’s top most leader is involved and the home department is with his own party. It’s clear that the police bowed to the pressure. Allegations against Pawar are serious and they should have been investigated by an independent agency,” said Khaire.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villagers from Masalwadi who were led by local NCP leaders carried out a rally in Baramati support of Ajit Pawar and claimed that the allegation against Pawar were untrue and were made for political mileage.

“The entire village has faith in Pawar family and they have done a lot for the village… On April 16, (Ajit) Pawar did not conduct any public rally in the village nor did he issue any threat. He only had a casual chat with us,” read a letter signed by villagers.

Khaire alleged that the rally was arranged by NCP workers at the behest of the Pawar family. Pawar’s cousin and sitting MP Supriya Sule, who is seeking re-election, too, remained unavailable for comment.