GRIPPED BY fear of losing its fiefdom of Pimpri-Chinchwad, where it has reigned with overwhelming majority for a decade now, the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has accused the Chief Minister’s Office of putting pressure on Municipal Commissioner Dinesh Waghmare to ‘manipulate’ the geographical boundaries of electoral panels of PCMC.
In Pune city too, the NCP alleged that the BJP and the state had a major role to play in the process of redrawing the boundaries, but said it was prepared to deal with the situation. Dismissing the charges, Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Commissioner Dinesh Waghmare said those who have objections to the redrawn geographical boundaries can approach the State Election Commission.
“Objections and suggestions to the redrawn boundaries can be sent between October 10 and October 25. They will be forwarded to the State Election Commissioner for necessary action,” he told The Indian Express. Waghmare said there was no pressure whatsoever from the Chief Minister’s office or any other party. “A three-member committee from the divisional commissionerate, district collectorate and civic body oversaw the redrawing of boundaries of electoral panels,” he said.
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But the NCP is clearly fuming at what it describes as “blatant manipulation” of electoral panels by a desperate BJP to gain control of the civic bodies. “The way the geographical boundaries have been drawn clearly reflects the gameplan of the state government to unsettle the NCP in Pimpri-Chinchwad. The boundaries have been drawn to suit the BJP and make the election tough for NCP,” said NCP leader and former mayor Yogesh Behl, who is considered as the right-hand man of Ajit Pawar. NCP’s Pune city unit president Vandana Chavan, MP, said, “Across Pune city, the redrawn electoral boundaries make no sense at all.”
Behl said since 1986, six PCMC elections have been held. “They were either held in one-ward system or two-ward system. Not once did any opposition party complain that they were drawn to suit a political party in power. But this time, except for BJP, every political party has a problem and they are voicing their grievances openly,” he said. Behl said, while redrawing the boundaries, no effort has been made to consider natural boundaries like rivers, streams or nullahs. “Similarly, boundaries of roads and railways tracks have also not been considered,” he said.
Behl said four-five suburbs have been joined to form one four-member panel and they stretch for a long distance. “For instance, the ward of NCP House leader Mangala Kadam stretches from Sambhaji Nagar to Pimpri for at least 6-7 km. It has eight corporators and several suburbs. This is just ridiculous…,” he said, adding that they not have even named the electoral panels, thereby causing utter confusion among aspirants and even voters.
Supporting Behl’s contentions, Chavan said, “The NCP and Congress have always been in favour of decentralisation of power. The civic bodies have been designed so that those in power become accessible and available to the people. Our parties have always believed in the dictum of power to the people. But look at the widening girth of the electoral panels. They are just too big…It will just be impossible for candidates to reach out to the voters with frequency. And after elections, one can just imagine what will happen..,” she said, adding that development will be the biggest casualty. Chavan said smaller wards ensure better development and accessibility and are in larger interest of the people.
The NCP, Behl said, has already taken up the matter with the State Election Commission and the Election Commission of India. “Even before the PCMC declared the boundaries, BJP leaders were flaunting the copies of the new electoral panels which clearly showed that BJP did it all…we will now again complain to the Election Commission,” he said. Chavan, however, said in Pune, the party’s top leaders have decided to accept the changes and battle it out on poll turf. “Our leaders said let them (the government) do whatever they want to do, we will given them a befitting reply on the election ground,” Chavan said.
Behl named two people, one a former PCMC officer and Sarang Kamtekar, BJP general secretary in Pimpri-Chinchwad as responsible for redrawing of boundaries. When contacted, Kamtekar said, “If they feel BJP has interfered, we will file joint objections along with leaders of NCP. We will urge the Election Commission to correct the redrawing as per the objections of NCP leaders,” said Kamtekar. Kamtekar alleged, NCP top leaders themselves got the electoral panels redrawn to keep their future intact. “They have tried to eliminate their rivals…we accuse them of getting panels redrawn to suit their convenience,” he said, while ridiculing the charges levelled by NCP.