Not withstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a “historic rally” in Baramati to campaign against him and politically powerful Dhangar community’s desertion, Former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar seemed confident to continue his record of being among the winners with the highest margin in the state.
“I will win by a margin of over one lakh votes,” he told reporters after casting his vote in village Katewadi in Baramati taluka, the ancestral village of the powerful Pawar family, on Wednesday. Situation on the ground, however, suggested that although he may secure a comfortable win, the margin may come down considerably due to several factors.
“I am sure of a massive win. My winning margin will be at least 1 lakh votes. People of Baramati have always supported me and they will do the same. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rally here but it won’t have any impact on the votes,” said Pawar, who brushed aside question about possibility of post-poll coalition saying that the party was hoping to form a government on its own. Pawar’s main contender in the assembly is BJP’s Balasaheb Gawade who belongs to Dhangar community and holds a sway in the community.
In 2009 Assembly elections, Pawar had won with a margin of 1,02,797 votes against an independent candidate Ranjankumar Taware. He ranked second in the state in terms of the winning margins, next only to Congress’ Ashok Chavan who had won by 1.07 lakh votes. All his rivals in the election had lost their deposits. This is the fifth Assembly election Pawar is contesting from the Baramati constituency. He won all four previous polls with record margin.
However, scenario has changed in the recent years, with anti-incumbancy piling up against the NCP which is ruling the state along with Congerss for last 15 years. Allegation of large scale corruption by Ajit has also led to Pawars being cornered by opposition and allies alike on several occasions.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, winning margin of senior Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule had drastically shrunk from nearly 3.5 lakh votes in 2009 to barely 69,000 in 2014 when she took on a dhangar community leader Mahadev Jankar on BJP-Sena grand alliance ticket.
“The disenchantment of the dhangar community has only grown in last four months as the community leaders had let a high pitched campaign demanding inclusion of the community in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category and they did not get any response form the NCP-Congress government. As much as 70 to 80 per cent vote from the community will go against Pawars,” said Sunil More, a Baramati resident.
Of the 3.50 lakh voters in the constituency, about 85-90 thousand belong to Dhangar community. Also, villagers from 21 villages in the jirayat patta (rain-fed farming patch) in the taluka has also been unhappy with the failure of the family to give them water in the 40 years they have ruled the constituency.
In village Masalwadi – about 30 kms form Baramati town – where Ajit had issued his infamous “vote for my sister or else lose water” threat, villagers said that a lot of their vote will be to kamal – BJP’s poll symbol.
“What will we get by voting for ghadyal (the clock, NCP symbol) again this time? We didn’t get anything in so many years,” said a villager who was on his way to cast his vote but did not wish to reveal his name.
But there are also those who would not even think bout voting for somebody other than Pawar – although they also have grievances against the family.
At neighbouring Malwadi, 21-year-old old Deepak Borawake who had travelled to his ancesral village from Pune to cast his vote, felt that although there was much to be desired from the Pawar family, there was no denying they have done a lot for Baramati.
“If you ask me I personally adore Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies. Also recent allegations of corruption and ineffienciety against Pawars are of grave concern. But since I have seen many people close to me directly benefit from several initiatives and projects brought to the taluka by Pawars, I feel obliged to strengthen their hands,” said Borawake, a third year bachelor of economics student from Fergusson College.
Echoing this feeling, Ajay Botara – a businessman – said that although rural people are “a bit angry” with Pawars, those from the Baramati town don’t have anything against them. “As the picture we see today, they will continue to rule Baramati although it’s not like in the olden days when nobody would dare to contest electoin against them. Now people know that even they can be challenged,” he said.