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January 29, 1998


The Rediff Interview/Viraj Babulal Kakde

'Pawar is a manipulator -- he threatens the Congress leadership, then makes a deal that makes him even richer'

He is 42. A native of Someshwar village, in Baramati. And based in Pune, where he practices as advocate. He is, too, perhaps the one candidate who, in general election circa 1998, is engaged in the most unequal fight of them all. A David and Goliath tale, wherein the political novice is up against no less than Sharad Pawar, Baramati's resident strongman.

Trouble being, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Viraj Babulal Kakde --a feisty individual if ever you saw one -- seems to think he is the winner, here. And that the Pawar myth is about to end. Engaged in a padayatra through Baramati, Kakde took time off to discuss the constituency, his opponent and his own chances with Prem Panicker.

How does it feel, going up against Pawar in Baramati?

You should ask him how it feels, to have some competition for the first time!

Pawar seems quite relaxed -- just one election meeting, that too on the last day of campaigning..?

Now that is a big myth, this business of Pawar addressing just one meeting. The fact is that from 19th onwards, every single day, Pawar has addressed at least one rally in some part of this constituency -- Saswad in Purandhar, Shirur, Dhaund... every day he has a meeting. Very cleverly, his publicity machine says only one meeting in Baramati -- meaning the town. But the constituency is six talukas, about 700 villages, and Pawar has already touched almost all of them. Today, late night, I am leaving for Pune, for Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rally tomorrow. I won't even be here for the last day of campaigning, even I can talk of my confidence -- but those are cheap tricks.

Could you tell me a bit about your political background?

I am an advocate, former president of the Maharasthra-Goa Bar Council. This is my first election. But ours is a family of politicians. My father was a Congress worker, my elder brother Siraj Kakde, on the Congress ticket, contested against Pawar, who was then heading his Congress-S. My brother lost by just 14,000 votes in the 1985 assembly election.

Your brother is a Congressman?

He was. On December 5, 1996, he, along with other members of the Baramati party unit's working committee, quit in disgust and joined the BJP. Balasaheb Tawde, who was a zilla parishad member, even V D Jagtap, ex-president of the Congress-S and the state unit of the Congress-I -- even he left. All of them are now with me. Just last week, Vijay More, who contested the assembly election against Pawar in 1978 and lost by just 1,000 votes, joined us. All this in Pawar's own playground.

You sound optimistic of your chances. What do you base it on?

There is a growing undercurrent of resentment against Pawar. In the zilla parishad elections in February 1997, the BJP-Sena alliance polled 48 per cent of the votes. In the Malegaon sugar co-op election, we took 21 out of 24 seats, and Malegaon is Pawar's home base. In the gram panchayat election, we took 22 out of 31 seats. There are six assembly constituencies here. Of these, we hold Indapur, Harshvardhan Patil is a state minister; Gajanan Babar of the Shiv Sena holds Haveli. And Dada Jadhavrao of the Janata Dal, the sitting Purandhar MLA, is campaigning for me. So as you can see, it is not an unequal contest.

So why, in your opinion, is there this resentment against Pawar?

Because people don't like to be fooled all the time. The last two times, Pawar told the people he was going to be PM. And everyone likes the idea of a PM from his own constituency, so they voted for him. But Pawar is a manipulator -- he threatens the Congress leadership, then makes a deal that makes him even richer. He keeps doing this. People are now realising that far from being PM, this time he may not even be a minister.

But despite that, won't the fact that Pawar has done much for his constituency count in his favour?

What he has done? There is a canal here. Over 100 years old, built by the British. You remove that and Baramati will starve to death, ask anybody. Yes, he brought MIDC here -- because he can make more money. Local youth are only employed on contract basis, 22 days a month, they earn less than Rs 1,000-- and because of this, they don't work on their farms, so it is actually doubly harmful to them.

Why, you go to Katewadi, his own village, about 10 kms from here, there are no roads in the village, they joke that if anyone can drive a motorbike around the village square without falling off they will pay that person Rs 5,000! But one place, there is a lovely tarred road -- the place where his nephew Ajit Pawar's home is.

Arre, do you know that in Baramati area alone, 70 per cent of the villages have a water problem? They still get water only in tankers. This man wants to be PM, in all these years he hasn't even managed to provide drinking water to his own constituency!

Where do you see your biggest strength, in terms of votes?

The youth, definitely. They are the ones facing the worst effects of Pawar's development. They work for daily wages, the good jobs go to boys from outside the state. The 18 to 40 segment, and the small farmers -- those are the groups that will give Pawar a jolt he will never forget!

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