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January 21, 1998


'I believe no government can change my life'

Baloo Anand Gole, 38, pan shop owner, Satara

I was born on the outskirts of Satara district in Maharashtra. The road in front of my house connects the two major towns, Satara and Kolhapur. Our village is called Sataragaon.

I think the most important issue in this election is education and employment. I say this because I am uneducated. And because of not being educated, I was unemployed for many months.

My father, a mill worker in Bombay, was thrown out of his job because of his drinking habit. He returned to our village and fell sick. My mother and I had to earn money for his medicines. So, I gave up my studies and started doing odd jobs.

Luckily, I am the only child, so there was not much expense. The only expense besides food was the medicines for my father.

I began doing odd jobs when I was ten years old. I used to plough fields, dig roads for the contractors and work in restaurants near Satara city.

I don't know how time passed. By the time I grew up, there was very little money to be made in ploughing field and digging holes.

I always dreamt that I should work as a peon in a government office. So, I shifted to Satara city. Somebody told me I needed to fill a form at the employment exchange to get a job. I acted promptly on his advice.

The people at the employment exchange told me to check my status every month. The day finally arrived. The employment exchange officials told me about a vacancy in one of the collectorate offices. I went there with great hope. But the people there told me they would not be able to employ me since I had studied only up to class three. I was very disappointed. That is why I feel it is very important to be educated.

Though I am a Maratha and hail from Western Maharashtra -- the home of the sugar co-operatives and a Congress bastion -- I never got an opportunity to work in a sugar factory. The Congress leaders in our constituency have always favoured their relatives and friends. And that is why I never got an opportunity to work in one of the sugar co-operatives. So, I joined a hotel in Satara as a waiter.

But fate decided otherwise. The hotel started making losses, so I was sacked. Once again, I was back to square one.

A friend told me the Indian Bank in Satara was giving loans to the unemployed to start a business. For the first time in my life I was lucky to get a loan of Rs 5,000. With that money, I started a pan shop and started making good money. In just two years, I repaid the bank loan. However, local Congress goons, who were jealous of my success, asked me to leave town and return to the village. They wanted a local from Satara city to start a pan shop at the same place. Under duress, I left Satara and returned home.

I then met Mahendra Sulke, a local Shiv Sena leader. He told me to start a pan shop near his hotel on the Satara-Kolhapur road. Since the Congress did not do anything for me I am very upset with them. I am a staunch Shiv Sena supporter now. I believe in whatever my owner tells me. Not only me, there are many others in my village who are fed up with the goonda gardi of the Congress. That is why the party is in such a bad shape in Maharashtra today.

I know Sonia has come into politics. But I don't think she will be able to influence voters like her husband or her mother-in-law.

I have three children. I am making every effort to educate them. I don't want them to be uneducated. I always tell them that had I been educated, I would have never sat in a pan shop. So, study and get any kind of job in a government office. I hope they will live up to my expectations.

Though I am a supporter of the Shiv Sena, I do not believe in all that they stand for. But I think we should give an alternative to the Congress. After all, the Congress can't rule our country forever. Even if there was another party -- say the Peasants and Workers Party or the Janata Dal in the Sena's position -- I would have supported them. A change is a must.

I believe no government can change my life. I realised that when the BJP-Sena alliance formed the government in Maharashtra. I had great hopes from them. But I realised that no party can change my life. Three years ago, I was a pan wallah; today too I am a pan wallah.

I earn Rs 50 per day. I do not know how to increase my wages. It seems it is written in my fate that I will be poor all my life. I have accepted this fact of life.

As told to Syed Firdaus Ashraf

India Speaks!

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