I have the ‘Pawar’ to re­tain my seat: Sule

Sharad Pawar’s daugh­ter says she has per­formed above aver­age

Khaleej Times - - INDIA ELECTIONS 2014 - Nithin Belle

pune — It is evening and a pleas­ant breeze is blow­ing across the moun­tains of the Western ghats, bring­ing some re­lief to the people. Tem­per­a­tures across the Dec­can plateau soar over 40°C in April and the sear­ing heat can be de­bil­i­tat­ing.

Supriya Sule, daugh­ter of Sharad Pawar — who is In­dia’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter and the chief of the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party (NCP), and sit­ting MP from Bara­mati con­stituency — is out on a pady­a­tra (a walk through parts of her con­stituency) in­ter­act­ing with po­ten­tial vot­ers. Dressed el­e­gantly in a sari, she greets the elec­torate, stop­ping at junc­tions where women wel­come her in tra­di­tional Ma­ha­rash­trian style, of­fer­ing her haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (ver­mil­ion pow­der) along with su­gar.

You catch up with her, al­most out of breath, as she breezes through an ur­ban part of the con­stituency. The place is known as Dha­yari, lo­cated on the out­skirts of Pune, bor­der­ing the busy Mum­bai-Ban­ga­lore na­tional high­way 4. Hun­dreds of party work­ers ac­com­pany her as she trudges through the nar­row roads and by-lanes of this dusty town.

Sule, 44, grad­u­ated in mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy in Mum­bai and went on to do her post-grad­u­a­tion in wa­ter pol­lu­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. She later moved to Sin­ga­pore, be­fore re­turn­ing to In­dia. In 2006, she was elected to the Ra­jya Sabha, the up­per house of the In­dian par­lia­ment, but in the 2009 elec­tions, her party gave her a ticket to con­test elec­tions to the lower house (the Lok Sabha) from Bara­mati, a pocket bor­ough of the Pawars.

Her fa­ther, who first won the par­lia­men­tary seat in 1984, has suc­cess­fully won elec­tions from Bara­mati over five terms since 1991. But in 2009 he moved to Madha, a neigh­bour­ing con­stituency, and this time has de­cided not to con­test the par­lia­men­tary polls; in Jan­uary, he was elected un­op­posed to the up­per house.

Since Bara­mati is a Pawar strong­hold, the BJP-led op­po­si­tion has al­ways put up light­weight can­di­dates against the NCP. This time, the BJP and the Shiv Sena is back­ing Ma­hadev Jankar from the Rashtriya Sa­maj Pak­sha; the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also put up a can­di­date, Suresh Khopade, a for­mer spe­cial in­spec­tor-gen­eral of po­lice, who is cred­ited with hav­ing main­tained peace in the com­mu­nally-sen­si­tive town of Bhi­wandi through a pi­o­neer­ing ini­tia­tive.

But Sule is ex­pected to sail through com­fort­ably in the elec­tions; voting will be held on Thurs­day. “I am never over-con­fi­dent about any­thing in life,” ex­plains Sule, when asked about the sup­pos­edly easy fight. “I take all my op­po­nents very se­ri­ously, I don’t un­der-es­ti­mate them.”

Is the anti-in­cum­bency wave, sweep­ing across In­dia, by­pass­ing Bara­mati? The sit­ting MP from Bara­mati (she won the 2009 elec­tions with a hefty mar­gin of 336,000 votes) be­lieves that not just her con­stituency, but even Ma­ha­rash­tra is not wit­ness­ing any such wave.

Ur­ban­i­sa­tion is the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing In­dia, es­pe­cially as­pects such as wa­ter scarcity, garbage dis­posal, af­ford­able pub­lic trans­porta­tion, af­ford­able hous­ing and find­ing em­ploy­ment for ed­u­cated youth

“The work done by our govern­ment over the last 10 years has def­i­nitely brought ben­e­fits to the people and reached the bot­tom of the pyramid,” she says.

As the pady­a­tra passes through some nar­row by-lanes, we come across piles of un­cleared garbage in the mid­dle of the road. Does it bother her? “It doesn’t just bother me, it upsets me,” says Sule. The prob­lem is that Dha­yari is be­ing en­snared by the rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion oc­cur­ring in Pune. Un­for­tu­nately, like scores of such vil­lages, it is not part of the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tion and has to de­pend on the measly fund­ing from the lo­cal vil­lage gram pan­chayat.

“These are ba­si­cally vil­lages, but you will find build­ings every­where,” ex­plains the MP. “These are or­di­nary mid­dle-class people, dou­ble-in­come fam­i­lies, who come here seek­ing af­ford­able hous­ing. These are fast grow­ing ar­eas, but are com­pletely un­con­trol­lable. The de­vel­op­ment is un­struc­tured and things will only get worse. The in- fras­truc­ture will col­lapse if we do not plan for it.”

Sule ad­mits that ur­ban­i­sa­tion is the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing In­dia, es­pe­cially as­pects such as wa­ter scarcity, garbage dis­posal, af­ford­able pub­lic trans­porta­tion, af­ford­able hous­ing and find­ing em­ploy­ment for ed­u­cated youth.

In the past, she had fo­cused on is­sues such as fe­male in­fan­ti­cide in Ma­ha­rash­tra, but things have im­proved on that score, even in cities like Beed in Marathawad­a. She now plans to fo­cus on is­sues re­lat­ing to ur­ban­i­sa­tion and the de­gen­er­a­tion of In­dian cities. “Ev­ery­one wants a bet­ter qual­ity of life, ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren, health­care and in­de­pen­dence that is avail­able in cities,” she points out, re­fer­ring to the mas­sive mi­gra­tion to ur­ban ar­eas. “There is an area in my con­stituency that had 5,000 vot­ers in 2009; to­day, be­cause of im­mi­gra­tion, there are 15,000 vot­ers.”

Sule notes that in the 2009 elec­tions she was seen as Sharad Pawar’s daugh­ter and Ajit Pawar’s sis­ter (the lat­ter, who is the Deputy Chief Min­is­ter of Ma­ha­rash­tra, is her cousin). But now she is be­ing seen in her own ca­pac­ity as a politi­cian who has made a mark in par­lia­ment. Sule re­calls that her at­ten­dance was 86 per cent in the Lok

I am never over­con­fi­dent about any­thing in life... The work done by our govern­ment over the last 10 years has def­i­nitely brought ben­e­fits to the people and reached the bot­tom of the pyramid

Sabha. “My per­for­mance has been above aver­age in terms of at­ten­dance, par­tic­i­pa­tion in de­bates and ques­tions raised,” she adds.

Her cam­paign in Bara­mati lacks the bit­ter­ness and spite that is ev­i­dent across In­dia in these elec­tions. She does not re­fer to Naren­dra Modi, the BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date in her speeches. “Why should I talk about oth­ers, I have enough to talk about the is­sues con­fronting my vot­ers,” jus­ti­fies Sule. “I don’t talk about other people be­yond a point. And I never talk about people older than me.”

Does the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance stand a chance of com­ing back to power this time? “It won’t be as dis­as­trous as people are mak­ing it out to be,” re­marks Sule. Re­fer­ring to the Modi cam­paign, she com­pares it to a mar­ket­ing gim­mick. “Mar­ket­ing is good up to a point, but when you over-mar­ket you raise high hopes. The faster you go up, the steeper the fall.”

PTI

SHARAD PAWAR AND SUPRIYA SULE... A pow­er­ful fa­ther-daugh­ter team. —

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