Ninety-year-old Gangubai Bhambure who won the recent gram panchayat poll for Khed taluka in Pune district held on October 28 may just break the 15-year-old jinx and become the first woman sarpanch of her village. Gangubai who was voted by the villagers is in all likelihood to become the first oldest sarpanch among the nine elected members from Dhore Bhamburwadi village with elections within the members scheduled on November 8. The village with a population of 2000 was divided into three wards and three members were selected from each of the wards which saw her first win.
The same panel of three elected members from their village — includes her grandson — which is again first of its sorts for the village where a grandmother and grandson have won the elections at the same time and will handle the operations of the gram panchayat office. The panel which was supposed to have two ladies and one male member elected saw Gangubhai get 318 votes as against her opponent Sunita Bhambhure who bagged 294 while there were 10 None of the Above Voters while the remaining did not vote. Her grandson bagged 335 votes against his opponent.
At the Bhambure household, it is beginning of festivities ahead of the actual Diwali celebrations with both grandmother and grandson inundated with congratulatory messages as well as a steady stream of visitors dropping by from the nearby villagers to congratulate the duo.
Wearing a orange navvari sari ‘Ajji’ (grandmother) as she is fondly called walks with a steady gait without a walking stick or reading glasses with only her hunchback giving out her age. With folded hands she greets the motley group of visitors frequenting her house for the last two days after her win in the gram panchayat polls. With the villagers touching her feet her wrinkled face breaks into a slight smile as she thanks them softly for their love and affection and promises them development. Sitting on a chair with folded hands along with her 40-year-old grandson Bharat Bhambure who too has won the elections she is all set to learn the gram panchayat proceedings as well as learn how to sign as she is illiterate. However for her it is education not in books but of life and people that has seen her contesting the elections.
“When my grandson asked me, I was initially apprehensive. However, since I am connected with the people of the village, I thought why not,” says the ninety-year-old clearly. “Mi jinkel mala vatat navhate, pan nikal aalya nantar mala khup anand zhala (I was not expecting a win, but the results were more than welcoming),” she says with a smile. With people occasionally calling on her for their issues and even seeking advise, the grandmother of the village is confident as she takes on this new role. Huge posters of her in a bright blue navvari saree and her grandson adorn several key places in her village. She knows that there will be more expectations from her and her win is just the beginning and it is to deliver that will matter. “I am happy that people have put their confidence in me and I will not let them down. I will sit with Bharat and the other nine elected members and understand the issues,” she says. For the people too in the village, their ‘Ajji’ is just as active with her being a warkari and having been to almost all the waris by walk to Pandharpur and Nashik every year. “It is only for the last two years that my legs are giving up on me but my mind is determined, so I go by the bus,”says she, revealing that walking is her only mantra to good health. Besides an occasional cold or cough or leg cramps, the lifestyle diseases — blood pressure and diabetes — is not known to her. She has a palate for all dishes while her special culinary delight savoured by her children and grandchildren is masalwadi (a kind of bhakarwadi).
With three sons and one daughter and about ten grandchildren all settled in various parts of Pune and Mumbai, ‘Ajji’ frequents all their houses alone. “I can travel on my own and it is all about trusting people and your confidence. It can take you anywhere,” she says.
A thing reiterated by the outgoing sarpanch Kishore Daundkar. “She is very loving and giving. Age is hardly a matter as her connect with people will definitely benefit and even iron out issues which pertains to the village,” says Daundkar. The village mainly has the drainage issue and no proper roads and this will be tackled by the new panel. Water is not a big issue with the Chaskaman dam in the area giving ample supply of water to the village.
Her opponent Sunita Bhambre too agrees that ‘Ajji’ is very active and take up issues and surely can work for the village. Her grandson Bharat says that since she is willing to learn, she will be able to hold the post of sarpanch very well as it will break the 15-year-old jinx of there being no female sarpanch in the village.
At the gram sabha office, a list from 2000 sees only four male members and the mood is all set to change the trend although a voting process will be held before Diwali. “It will be twin celebration in our village and there will be a grand treat for all the villagers for all the support,” says Navnath Bhambure, another grandson ahead of the festive season. Though not frequently watching television, his ‘Ajji’ is fond of leaders PM Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis and admires their oratorial skills. “She always wanted to meet them and is inspired by the way they talk,” he says.
For Ajji, it is learning time as she gets ready to prepare her first speech for the Diwali celebrations. “I am confident to speak into the microphone and before my people but a formal atmosphere with a stage and lighting is a little intimidating,” says she as she holds her grandson’s hand for support.