The Baramati Assembly seat, the stronghold of the Pawar family from where it has never lost an election in more than 50 years, is witnessing an uneven battle, though the BJP has raised the stakes by fielding a Dhangar leader.
It’s a straight fight between NCP leader Ajit Pawar and Dhangar leader Gopichand Padalkar, who notched up an impressive 3.5 lakh votes in Sangli in the Lok Sabha election. Though the odds favour Ajit Pawar, who has won the seat with big margins six times, a section of voters are not happy with him as well as the Pawar family, which they say did not ensure drinking water for them despite its family members getting elected from the seat repeatedly for decades.
These voters, between 50,000 and 70,000, hail from the drought-hit parts of Baramati taluka. They come from 25-30 villages on both sides of Baramati-Morgaon Road, which leads to Baramati city, which has transformed into a well-developed city in the last two decades or so. The all-round development of the city is credited by locals to Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule.
In contrast, the villages, which have perennially faced a drought situation, fall in the rain-shadow zone. Some of these are Loni Bhapkar, Palshi, Baburdi, Sherewadi, Tardoli, Morgaon, Ambi, Chandgodewadi, Kalkherewadi, Supa, Pansarewadi, Karati, Jalgaon, Deolgaon, Naroli, Kurali, Karkhel, Undawdi Supa, Undawadi Kape, Anjangaon, Malwadi and Sablewadi. Throughout the year, these villages are heavily reliant on tanker water. Outside every home, utensils are lined up. The moment a tanker arrives, there is a mad scramble to collect water.
Purushuttam Pumane, a farmer from Baburdi village, says, “First time in 15 years, we have seen water in Kara river. This is because of the rain in the last month. This is our plight. It doesn’t rain here even during monsoon.”
After last month’s rain, the Nazare dam is flushed with water. The dam caters to 15-16 villages through a pipeline.
“As of now, we are getting water for less than an hour every eight days,” he says. Baban Shinde (65), another villager, says, “This year, the situation is a little better. Last year and before that, we were getting water every 15-20 months. In fact, in May and June, there was not a drop of water.”
Anger clearly reflects on the weather-beaten faces of the villagers, most of which is directed at the Pawar family. “The Pawar family is entirely responsible for our plight. We elected them for more than 50 years, but what did they do all these years?” says Dnyandev Lonkar, former sarpanch of Malwadi, one of the drought-hit villages. B Mahanavar, who belongs to the Dhangar community, says their families have to travel to Konkan and other parts as there is no feed for their livestock. “There is no water, no rain and no grass, the fields are vacant and dry. We have no other option but to travel for eight months for the sake of our livestock, which is over 3,000. Our children’s education suffers, we cannot even take up any employment,” he says.
Shinde says he has experienced and lived the drought since childhood. “People come for votes and once elected, they don’t even bother to come and say thank you,” he says. Each family seems to own acres of land, but those are dry fields. In the absence of rain and water, there are no sign of crops. “I own 10 acres of land, but can’t cultivate anything. We get drinking water after days, where will we get water for farms,” he says.
Though there is anger against the Pawar family, villagers do not seem to have a choice other than to vote for Ajit Pawar. Shinde says, “We still believe it is only the Pawar family which will change our fortunes. That’s why we will continue to vote for them. But the Pawar family should take our plight seriously.”
Pumane, however, says he will not vote for the Pawars. “Generations in my family have voted for the Pawar family. My grandfather, my father and myself. Not anymore. I will not vote for Ajit Pawar,” he says. He is confident in every drought-hit village, more than 50 per cent voters will vote against Ajit Pawar.
When contacted, Ajit Pawar admitted he has not been able to provide justice to these villages. “There have been some hurdles in ensuring water for these drought-hit villages. But in future, things will change. Work on two water schemes is under way. These villages are on top of my agenda. I will work for their betterment,” he said.