Saturday 29 November 2014

Vote for my cousin or we'll cut off your water, minister warns Indian farmers

Dean Nelson

Published 19/04/2014 | 10:22

Mr Pawar is the nephew of Sharad Pawar, India's agriculture minister and one of the country's most powerful men

A politician from one of India's most powerful families warned poor villagers he would cut off their water supply if they did not vote for one of his relatives, according to secretly-recorded video footage.

Ajit Pawar, Maharasthra's deputy chief minister, made the threat in Baramati when a young constituent complained that earlier promises to improve water supply had not been honoured.

Mr Pawar is the nephew of Sharad Pawar, India's agriculture minister and one of the country's most powerful men. The threat was aimed at increasing the votes for Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, a candidate for his Nationalist Congress Party.

In the recording the villager challenged Mr Pawar over a promise he made to improve the water supply in 2006 and stood his ground when the politician ignored his question.

"In 2006, when you visited near Masawali for a puja (prayer ritual), you then promised to solve our water problems in two months.... Drinking water and for cultivation. An elder from my village made you promise in your speech in 2006, it is now 2014 and there has been no water for the past six years", he said.

Mr Pawar ignored his point and said:"Vote for my cousin [Supriya Sule] tomorrow."

But when the villager demanded an answer, Mr Pawar became aggressive and said: "Dont act smart with me. Remove him from here....Tomorrow there will be voting. If anybody from this village creates any trouble, I will end the water (supply) to the village."

Mr Pawar was forced to apologise to farmers in the state last year when he rejected their appeal for the government to release more water from a reservoir during a drought. "Should we urinate into it?" he asked.

Last month his uncle, Sharad Pawar, was reported to the election commission after he urged his supporters to clean their fingers of indelible ink after voting so they could vote twice. He said the comment had been a joke.

Suresh Khopade, who is contesting the Baramati constituency for the anti-corruption Aam Admi Party, said Ajit Pawar's threat was an attempt to intimidate voters.

"Baramati has been supporting the Pawars for the last decades but it is evident how much development has been brought to this area. The basic issues of water, roads and electricity have not been solved. They promise and threaten people to vote for them during the election time and return every five years to do the same thing," he said.

Local commentator Vaibhav Purandare said the comments were a combination of "political arrogance as well as coercion. ... it is worrisome to see politicians behave as kings and maharajas of bygone years".

A spokesman for Ajit Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party denied he had issued a threat and said the video was a fake.

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