I have the ‘Pawar’ to retain my seat: Sule
Sharad Pawar’s daughter says she has performed above average
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.”