This AAP candidate is driven by innovation 

Satyanarayan Iyer Mumbai | Updated on April 10, 2014

We are not against industry, development or honest industrialists, says Maruti Bhapkar

“I will make the other candidates sweat. It will not be an easy ride for my opponents,” says a determined Maruti Bhapkar.

This Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Maval in Maharashtra stays true to his word and registers a complaint against Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and other NCP leaders.

He feels they violated the model code of conduct when they brought in more people than what is allowed to the nomination area. Seated on the pavement outside the cash-rich Pimpri Chinchwad Muncipal Corporation, Bhapkar and his long-time friend, Manav Kamble, begin writing out the complaint.

Dressed in a maroon kurta and pyjama, he resembles the proverbial son-of-the-soil with his flowing beard and vermillion mark on his forehead.

Bhapkar then makes a short visit to his home in Chinchwad where we are treated to a simple, yet tasty local cuisine of bhakari, aamti and rice. It looks as if his wife makes sure there is extra food in the house since Bhapkar has been bringing guests over during the campaigning.

Unity in diversity

The 21-inch TV in the room beams Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul addressing a conference. Bhapkar is clearly not interested and quickly finishes his lunch.

It is going be another long day in a constituency characterised by diversity, where prosperous cities coexist with villages and farmlands.

Maval covers parts of Navi Mumbai, Pune and the villages along the 93-km expressway which connects the two cities. Bhapkar will take on NCP’s Rahul Narvekar, Shiv Sena’s Shrirang Barne, and independent candidate (ex-NCP MLA) Laxman Jagtap in a four-way contest. Bhapkar is no stranger here, considering that he was a political representative in a part of this region for five years. After losing twice in succession, he was elected an independent corporator from his hometown in 2007. This was when he began experimenting with Ward-Sabhas (gatherings) to gather public opinion on important issues.

“When Arvind Kejriwal came to know about it, he himself came to see this model in 2010,” Bhapkar says. These sabhas find a place in Swaraj, Kejriwal’s booklet. In the 2009 general elections, Bhapkar campaigned on foot as an independent candidate.

This time, he reaches out to more people in his constituency. And while money remains a challenge, he overcomes this obstacle innovatively. These include stopping by at weddings, village gatherings, and the local wrestling arenas to get his message across.

“We cannot do massive Jan-Sabhas as each of them cost ₹1.5 lakh. We are instead focusing on road shows and door-to-door campaigning,” Bhapkar says. While the party has allotted him ₹2 lakh, the candidate has pooled in another ₹2.5 lakh on his own.

Special Economic Zone

As he walks through the villages of Kamshet, women greet him with the traditional aarti. Bhapkar is a familiar face here as he supported the villagers during the SEZ (Special Economic Zone) boom when big corporate houses were scrambling to get land. “We are not against industry, development or honest industrialists. But then, how much land do you need for an SEZ? Corporates use the Government to take away the farmer’s land and use it for real estate,” Bhapkar says.

“If you want to develop an SEZ, why don’t you take land in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corridor that is available in plenty? Why do you want fertile land for malls and industries?” he wonders.

As the AAP cavalcade moves along, kids gather around Bhapkar’s vehicle. They are intrigued by the Gandhi caps and ask for one which the party volunteers happily part with. The candidate, strangely enough, does not sport one and seeing our puzzled faces, enigmatically says, “I will tell you why later.”

This is a story for another day as Bhapkar continues the gruelling campaign.

Published on April 10, 2014

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