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Inaccessibility, water shortage
It’s the way this village votes that staggers observers. Every election year, the sarpanch turns up at Ghol with reasons why the village should pick a particular symbol. The residents then march en masse to vote, and they all choose the same symbol. It’s a unanimous decision by nearly 100 people, all based on the word of one person.
The earliest memories of this strange pattern come from Babu Mahadev Polekar, who has been voting since the 1970s. Neighbours say he is well over 100 years old. “We never ask for names of candidates because we can’t read or write. We just press the button,” says Polekar. The present sarpanch is a woman, Phulabai Polekar, who has held the post since 2017. She was, however, not available for comment when TOI tried to contact her.
And as far back as this man can recall, Ghol has never missed an election. This village — where almost every resident is a senior citizen who has never been visited by a candidate— has consistently recorded near-100% turnouts. Even the young who have left Ghol, return every five years for the ballot. “On April 23, I will get to see my children again,” says one woman, referring to Voting Day in two of the four Lok Sabha constituencies in Pune district.
It would be, however, difficult for an outsider to comprehend this enthusiasm. Ghol, in the Baramati constituency, is a part of the Velhe tehsil and it suffers a range of problems.
First on the list is the water shortage. Nestled within the Sahyadaris, and close to the backwaters of the Panshet-Varasgaon dams, Ghol has abundant water, but not in its taps. “Development works start whenever polls are announced — only to stop abruptly.
An example is the village’s well. It was dug, but nothing was done to make it hold water,” says Narayan Padwal, who is in Ghol on vacation. He is a student in Mumbai — one of the rare young faces TOI met here.
The village’s elderly population has been the worst hit by Ghol’s second noticeable feature: inaccessibility. A single state transport bus covers the 80 kilometres between the village and Pune city, home to billion-dollar IT companies. But resident Yashwant Tukaram Nimbalkar says the bus has been of little consequence. “It leaves for Pune at 6am. But we can’t rely on it for return journeys. It leaves from Swargate in Pune at 6pm and is supposed to reach Ghol by 9pm. Several times, the bus has reached the village well past midnight. All our requests to the Swargate depot — to ensure a schedule — seem to have fallen on deaf ears.” First on the list is the water shortage
How Baramati has voted in past LS polls
Ghol village falls under the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency which is Nationalist Congress Party president, Sharad Pawar’s stronghold The NCP honcho has been elected MP from Baramati six times — 1984, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004.
Supriya Sule, Pawar's daughter, won the seat in 2009 and 2014 Baramati goes to polls on April 23, 2019, and the face off is between NCP's Sule and BJP's Kanchan Kul
Many say a mere 12km of additional road — from Ghol to Mangaon Taluka in neighbouring Raigad district — could help. “A road exists from Panshet to our village. If this stretch is extended into Raigad district by 12km, we will be able to reach the Panvel-Goa highway. We made an appeal for this link 13 years ago. But there has been no movement so far,” says 60-yearold Govind Hari Padwal. So, much of commute for Ghol is still on foot. “But we have been walking all our lives,” says Polekar. “Earlier, there were no roads at all. We would walk for about 20km to reach a boat provided by the zilla parishad, which would take us to Panshet. The only school in the region, which now acts as the polling booth, shut down five years ago. Residents said that with the younger population migrating in search of better opportunities, there were no young children left to educate.
Meanwhile, women say they still use firewood to cook food in the absence of LPG cylinders. Ratnabai Sopan Polekar, 65, told TOI, “I don’t know how to get an LPG connection and even those who did get one are now struggling with paperwork.”
In several parts of the country, villages are boycotting elections over lack of basic amenities. But not Ghol. Voting here is like faith or a deep, everlasting ritual.
Residents here said they were looking forward to casting their ballot. As always. “Voting is our constitutional right, so we will vote. We hope that this time the winning candidate will bring change to our village,” Govind Hari Padwal, 60, smiled.