Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Gadre has directed the Pune district collector to investigate the genuineness of a video that purportedly shows Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar warning villagers in Baramati that he would “cut off” their water supply if they did not vote for his cousin Supriya Sule.
Gadre has asked collector Saurabh Rao to check if the voice in the clip belongs to Pawar, as alleged by local people, as well as BJP and AAP leaders in the constituency. The Indian Express reported the existence of the video in its edition of Friday.
Pawar was quoted by TV channels on Friday as saying the voice on the tape was not his. His uncle, veteran politician and union minister Sharad Pawar told reporters that the video was “doctored”.
Gadre acted after local BJP leader Dilip Khaire filed a complaint against Pawar with the returning officer for the constituency. Baramati, a traditional Pawar family seat, voted along with 18 other constituencies in Maharashtra on Thursday. Pawar’s purported warning — to Masalwadi villagers — was allegedly issued on Wednesday evening, 12 hours before polling opened.
“If anybody from this village indulges in any trouble, I will cut off the water (supply) to the village… My sister (NCP candidate Supriya Sule) will neither win nor lose because of your votes… But I will get to know from the voting machine (whom you have voted for)…,” Pawar purportedly says in the video.
BJP and AAP leaders have alleged that Pawar’s meetings with voters on the eve of polling was a violation of the model code. They have alleged that on Wednesday evening, Pawar had visited at least 40 villages where the NCP feared voters would go against the party.
“I have been asked to investigate and submit a report,” Rao said. He has already directed officials to begin the process, the collector said.
Police are, however, still to register the complaint filed against Pawar by the Baramati AAP candidate, Suresh Khopade. “We have ordered the deputy superintendent of police to investigate the allegation. Until that is done, we cannot register the offence,” Pune Rural SP Ravindra Pardeshi said.
Residents of Masalwadi village said they were under “tremendous pressure since the news broke” and that the youths who had questioned Pawar on Wednesday night had fled the village for fear of NCP workers. The villagers declined to be identified.
In Buldhana, Sharad Pawar told reporters he was sure that Ajit would not have said such a thing. “I think that the video is doctored,” Pawar said.
Ajit Pawar could not be reached for a comment. TV channels quoted him as saying, “It is not my voice. It is an act to defame me. I will file a defamation complaint against the AAP candidate from Baramati.”
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik described the controversy as an AAP publicity stunt.
Neelam Gorhe, Shiv Sena spokesperson in Pune, said, “This shows the Pawars neither believe in democracy nor in humanity. What he said is definitely breaking the code of conduct. The people of Maharashtra should teach them a lesson.”