SANDEEP Thombre is now “clueless” about what happened on Wednesday night when Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar visited the village and held a “casual meeting”. The 24-year-old resident of Masalwadi village is believed to be the one who had confronted Pawar on that day on not delivering his 2006 promise of supplying water to the village even after eight years.
This had apparently angered Pawar who then allegedly threatened the villagers that they would not get water if they did not vote for his cousin Supriya Sule in the Lok Sabha elections.
“This is wrong,” Thombre told The Indian Express on Sunday afternoon. “What’s being said in the media is wrong. (Ajit) Dada did not threaten us that he will cut off water, nor did he direct anybody to pick me up. I don’t know from where this has come,” he added.
Since Thursday morning, Thombre had been reportedly “missing” from the village for fear of media personnel troubling him, said villagers. When The India Express team visited the village on Sunday, he was summoned by Sarpanch Manik Masal and asked to speak on “what really happened on Wednesday night and how false reports appeared in the media”.
Thombre said: “I was present at his meeting on Wednesday and I had raised the question about water, but ‘Dada’ had replied coolly. Also, we do not have any serious water issue in the village as such.”
Like all other villagers, he was all praise for Pawar.
“Dada has solved all our problems in the past and I am sure he will solve the the water issue also,” said Thombre, contradicting his earlier statement that there was “no serious water problem” in the village.
In Masalwadi, all influential posts, including sarpanch and deputy sarpanch, are held by NCP members. The village also voted for Bhausaheb Kare, a close Pawar associate who belongs to neighbouring Palashi village, as Zilla Parishad member. Kare has been camping in Masalwadi since the controversy broke out.
“All this is a political conspiracy by (Ajit) Dada’s opponents. We don’t have anything against him,” Kare said as other villagers vigorously nodded their heads in agreement.
Intervening, the sarpanch, an NCP member elected unopposed, said Pawar did say “pick him up” at the meeting but it was not directed towards Thombre, as was reported in the media.
“In the chaos, somebody in the crowd had fallen down. Dada saw this and shouted pick him up. He wasn’t directing anybody to arrest him,” said Masal as others agreed.
Residents of the neighbouring villages, however, said Masalwadi villagers were underplaying the incident as they couldn’t afford to offend the Pawars. “If they antagonise them, it will be difficult for them to survive. People from this area are already troubled by lack of water. This controversy has thrown them into more trouble,” said a resident of Moregaon, 5 km from Masalwadi.
Others said the sudden change of stance by the villagers, including Thombre, was the result of a “mass oath” taken by the entire village for larger good of Masalwadi.
“On Saturday morning, the village leaders held a meeting and took a unanimous decision that nobody would speak anything ill about Pawar to any mediaperson, as bad publicity for him will result into more trouble for them. All the villagers were taken to the village deity’s temple and made to take an oath to that effect. The entire village belongs to Dhangar (shepherd) community. Once they take an oath by touching gulaal, they won’t break it.
After this meeting, about 400 villagers were taken to Baramati where they testified before the deputy superintendent of police, who was conducting the inquiry into the matter, that the allegation against Pawar was baseless,” said Malhari Bangar, a resident of neighbouring Tardoli village who was also present at the Wednesday night meet.