'People respect Sharad Pawar and his contribution, but now it is Ajit Pawar who is associated with Baramati. And he has done nothing for it,' retired IPS officer and AAP candidate Suresh Khopade tells Jyoti Punwani.
Former Indian Police Service officer Suresh Khopade, winner of multiple awards for having ended the record of communal tension in the Bhiwandi region near Mumbai, is the Aam Aadmi Party candidate against Nationalist Congress Party MP Supriya Sule.
The retired IPS officer tells Jyoti Punwani why he is sure he will vanquish NCP chief Sharad Pawar's daughter in the family bastion of Baramati.
The AAP has made you a bali ka bakra (sacrificial lamb) by pitting you against the most powerful candidate in Maharashtra! Are you nervous?
(Laughs) No, no, the situation is the reverse. I'm more powerful than Supriya Sule.
Has anyone won against the Pawar family?!
Suresh Khopade will. I'm from the area. People know me as I had worked as Superintendent of Police, Pune rural from 1999 to 2000.
I had set up mohalla committees in all the villages there. If you look at my background, I am the son of a poor farmer and had to study in a cattle shed. I had to work as a labourer during the 1971 drought. So I know the problems of farmers and farm labour.
Thirdly, I'm a self-made man. I've never had a godfather, nor do I have one now.
Fourthly, when I was in the police, I had shown that the outdated policing system could be changed. Today, when both the main parties are accusing each other of being chors and mahachors, the people don't know whom to vote for. I can give them an alternative.
Did the AAP thrust this constituency on you or did you ask for it?
Initially they approached me to stand from Bhiwandi, but I refused. Then they suggested Baramati. I refused again and even held a press conference to say I wasn't interested in electoral politics.
But then I realised that by staying home I couldn't achieve anything. Instead, I could become part of the mainstream system and change it with the help of a party like the AAP.
Will Arvind Kejriwal's image be a handicap or an asset?
People may not be too happy with his style of functioning, but the AAP is known as a party of clean people, with an agenda to eradicate corruption.
As an ex-police officer, are you happy with his style, his sitting on a dharna as CM, for instance?
That's not a big thing, not as big as the mass killings in Gujarat or imposing the Emergency. It is a minor thing.
When did you join the AAP?
After they nominated me as their candidate. I wasn't thinking of joining electoral politics at all. But I saw that AAP had implemented my mohalla committee model in Delhi, which is transparent, and which gives voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.
What has been the reaction of your voters? Have they dissuaded you from contesting?
No, people are delighted to know I am contesting. They want change. They are fed up with the family's supremacy, and they believe in me because I'm a local person.
Why should they be fed up with the family? Baramati has benefited a lot from having the family as their representatives. Also, Sharad Pawar is said to know his voters by name.
Supriya Sule is a sober person and her father is very cultured. But the younger generation has spoiled the old culture of political contacts.
As for benefits, they've reached only one or two people in the villages. In the part of Baramati where I come from, 49 villages have no water to drink.
Baramati town may have benefited, but Sharad Pawar no longer represents it. He has retired. People respect him and his contribution, but now it is Ajit Pawar who is associated with it. And he has done nothing for it.
But you can't match the Pawar family resources!
True. But people know me, and they know what I have done in the police. Other officers always complained about shortage of manpower, vehicles, petrol... But with the same limited resources, I showed the people that we can change the working of the police.
Is there any AAP cadre in Baramati?
No. But I have my ancestral home in a small village there, and I can reach every home and show them the difference between my capabilities and those of the others.
I can show that I'm a better administrator than Supriya Sule. While I was in the force, all the IPS and IAS officers were against me because of my innovative ideas that forced them to change their feudal ways.
I not only survived but implemented the schemes I wanted to because my juniors in the force were with me, and I could build contacts with the people. Now too, I know the poor and the marginalised will be with me.
What do you offer your voters?
A ray of hope that the system can change. I have an alternate solution by which people who get into politics need not get corrupted.
Instead of one man getting voted and then the entire system working for him, my alternative will have people pressurising their elected representatives and they in turn pressurising the bureaucracy.
I'm very confident of winning, but even if I don't, I can build up a network to carry on doing social work in the area.
Have you complained to the Election Commission about Pawar's remarks on voting twice?
No, that was a joke. We know him closely, he didn't mean it.
Image courtesy: Suresh Khopade's Facebook page.