In remarks that have drawn widespread adverse reactions, Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar on Saturday ridiculed the hunger-strike by a drought-affected farmer for the release of water, saying: “from where will we give him water? Should we urinate in dams?”
Speaking at a function in Indapur taluka in Pune district on Saturday, the senior Nationalist Congress Party leader had poked fun at the two-month-long protest by the farmer, Bhaiyya Deshmukh, who is demanding that more water be released to the region from Ujani dam.
“This person named Deshmukh who has been fasting for more than 55 days at Mumbai's Azad Maidan demanding that water be released for his parched farm - from where will we give him water? Should we urinate in dams? Even urinating has become difficult, as there is no water to drink.”
Pawar, who had earlier held the water resources portfolio in Maharashtra for nearly a decade and had resigned from the cabinet last year over the irrigation scam only to return after a government probe found no fault with him, apologised on Sunday, saying his statements were not targeted at people struggling with the drought situation.
Fourteen of the 35 districts in the state are reeling under drought and struggling to get even drinking water.
At the Indapur function, the minister had also attributed to the state’s population growth to the frequent power cuts.
“Because there has been increased power cuts during nights, the birth rate has gone up. What else can people do if there is no power,” Pawar said.
“You must be thinking that Ajit Pawar has come here drunk in the afternoon,” he said, laughing.
Pawar’s remarks were reportedly met with laughter by the men in the audience; the women were silent.
The opposition parties have reacted furiously to Pawar’s remarks.
“CM Prithviraj Chavan and NCP chief Sharad Pawar should take cognisance of the disparaging comments and remove Ajit Pawar from Cabinet,” Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said, adding that Pawar should be forced to drink his own urine.
The BJP’s Gopinath Munde, deputy leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, said: “Instead of offering relief to drought-affected people, Pawar is cracking crude jokes about them. He has lost his conscience after coming to power.”
“I feel ashamed and shocked by Pawar’s remarks,” said Vinod Tawde, BJP leader and Opposition leader in the legislative council.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who has had a series of verbal run-ins with Pawar, slammed the deputy CM saying his behaviour smacked of arrogance and a sickening display of money and muscle power. “People will show him his place in the next year’s elections,” the MNS chief said at a rally in Jalgaon.
The farmer whom Pawar mocked, criticised the minister for speaking crudely.
“The language Ajit Pawar used was not good.”
Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar refused to comment, saying he was “not aware” of his nephew’s remarks.