? INTERVIEW: ROHIT PAWAR, MLA FROM KARJAT-JAMKHED, GRAND-NEPHEW OF NCP CHIEF SHARAD PAWAR

  WHILE ROHIT PAWAR IS NOT FROM THE CITY, PUNE MIRROR’S ‘LEADERS OF THE CITY’ INITIATIVE HAD A SPECIAL INVITE FOR HIM AFTER SEVERAL REQUESTS FROM READERS. THE NCP LEADER OPENED HIS HEART OUT ABOUT STRUGGLES FACED AS A STUDENT, POLITICAL LIFE, MVA’S HANDLING OF THE PANDEMIC, AND MORE

  Despite growing up in the country’s one of the largest political dynasties, Rohit Pawar, grand-nephew of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, had to be deprived of higher education due to financial crisis. But the lack of higher education never came on his way to become a youth leader with an immense fan following. The 35-year-old’s first political success came in 2017, when he won the Pune Zilla Parishad seat by a margin of more than 12,000 votes. In October 2019, he won the state assembly election from the Karjat-Jamkhed constituency and became the third-generation member of the Pawar family to win the elections with 1,35,824 votes.

  He was also the star campaigner for NCP candidates Amol Kolhe from Shirur, Sangram Jagtap from Ahmednagar and his cousin and son of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar — Parth Pawar.

  Rohit got an enormous response from his constituency because of his great efforts to uplift the people of Karjat-Jamkhed by making them available better education, healthcare facilities and employment opportunities. He is the first young MLA in the country who chose to work on menstrual hygiene, distributed sanitary pads and conducted awareness campaigns for teenage girls in his constituency. The young leader has all praise for Maha Vikas Aghadi for giving their best in COVID pandemic. He slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for misleading youth on caste and religion-based politics. Instead of a luxurious lifestyle, Rohit believes in simplicity, which made him his ‘ownbrand’.

  How was your experience during the pandemic as an MLA?

  I could win the assembly elections because of the support of party workers, women and youths in Karjat-Jamkhed constituency. I had entered into the electoral fray with a clear vision to resolving issues being faced by the residents. Working during the pandemic was a challenge as many development works and plans got affected due to the lockdown. Even people got stuck due to the sudden decision. It was a big challenge to bring them back to their own cities. The second challenge was to control the cases and look after the families who were tested positive. Due to small accommodation, social distancing was a big issue in our constituency. We created containment zones to prevent the spread of the virus. With the help of the administration, we provided food and other essentials to these families. We prepared centralised quarantine homes and isolation centres for those coming from outside the area. Initially, people were afraid to stay in the COVID centres. But, we convinced them through counselling and provided good food to them and organised music programmes to make them happy and cheerful which helped them in their speedy recovery.

  How do you work in providing quality education in your constituency?

  I feel the education system should change and we should widen the scope of practical education from an early age and it should be accessible to all children. During the lockdown, in my constituency around 5,000 children were studying online. We provided them with mobile phones. I focussed on online education from the very first day. We changed the syllabus and conducted training programmes for the teachers. Besides education, children’s health was also our concern. With the help of ASHA workers, we conducted a health survey and prepared a list of children who don’t go to school. We supported organisations working for such children.

  There are over 750 students who are away from education and we will get them back in the stream. We have 16 Rayat Shikshan Sanstha, that lacked proper toilet facilities. We constructed toilets in these schools. We also provided transport facilities to girl students to continue their education. Apart from that, we have two moving planetarium projectors in our constituency. We teach 25 students at one time, with the help of 3D technology. We have a network of 350 Zilla Parishad, government-aided and some private schools. We have even started involving parents in Zilla Parishad schools. We believe that every child should get a scholarship without any discrimination.

  How did you help the families who lost their breadwinners due to COVID?

  We have maintained data of such families who lost their earning members due to the pandemic. We provided sewing machines and masala grinders to widows so that they can work and earn their livelihood.

  What efforts are being taken to resolve the unemploy-ment issue?

  We have a 16 per cent unemployment rate in the cities, while in rural areas, it is 2.5 per cent. In the city 20 per cent of youth between the age group of 24 and 36 years are facing unemployment. Both the state and the Central government should have some policies for these young populations. The political parties cannot use the young generation to win the elections. After the first lockdown, many lost their jobs. We had arranged an online interview for them and 3,500 were selected but their parents refused to send them out for work. We have data of 17,000 youths who are working and studying in Pune. We use the data to provide them with job opportunities.

  What is the difference between Rohit Pawar during the Zilla Parishad election and MLA Rohit Pawar?

  There is no difference in ‘Rohit Pawar’, only responsibilities have increased. When I was a ZP member, I would work consistently on education, health, women empowerment, employment opportunities and water. The constituency was beyond the district where people accepted me and supported me. I never use unethical means to win an election but wholeheartedly work for my people and resolve their issues. It will be a betrayal to the people if I change my approach. I have a huge responsibility as an MLA now and with people’s support will definitely fulfil them.

  What struggles you faced while pursuing education? Didn’t you feel like studying abroad?

  I wanted to go to the UK for my higher education. But my father had a poultry farm business and there was nobody to support him in the business. In 2007, he started the sugar factory but, had to face many problems. We even faced a huge financial crisis. My father has immense self-respect. He doesn’t like to seek any kind of help from others. At that time, I had two options, first to go to the UK and spend three years in the study while the second was to stay with my father and help him in his work. I chose the second option. It was when I got connected with the people. Earlier, I was not much interested in studies and when I was in Class IX, people used to tease me by asking about my marks. Then I decided to study hard for Class X and scored 83 per cent. After staying with my father, I realised that I can keep myself grounded for a lifetime. We had to struggle a lot due to ups and downs in the business, the pressure to pay bank interest, working capital pressure. However, when you reach a certain level, people automatically start knowing you and at that time money doesn’t matter. I had to struggle a lot to be ‘Rohit Pawar’ and I am proud of myself.

  How did you enter politics? Were you infl uenced by Ajit Pawar or Supriya Sule?

  There are no restrictions in our family. We support each other’s decisions. Before getting into the politics, I discussed it with the supremo of our family Pawar Saheb and Supriya Tai. They supported my decision and advised me to work hard to get into politics. When I was helping my parents in their business, I would work for people. It was when I realised that you have to be a part of the system to help people. So, I decided to be a politician and contested the elections.

  Presently on what issues you have been working on in your constituency?

  Currently, I am working on 18 different issues and I have been tracking the same. I have conducted before and after surveys and kept a record of the situation. The 18 issues included maternal mortality, malnutrition rate, education deprivation and water management among others. We also focus on many government schemes meant for the poor. I think that the concept of politics should also change. Many politicos harass and pressurise the administrative officers to show their hold but instead of pressuring them, there should be good coordination between the two — so that you can work together for the people.

  Did you study Sharad Pawar before entering politics?

  There is no need to study a person who is with you and you have good observation skills. While making any decision, he always thinks about the future. He always has the vision before making any policy. All his decisions were taken by considering the common man. I have adopted all his methods while working in politics.

  You have been lauded for working for the betterment of menstrual hygiene amongst a part of the public. What challenges have you faced therein?

  We conducted a survey in Karjat-Jamkhed, which shockingly revealed that only 20 per cent of girls use sanitary pads during the menses. In the city the ratio is 40:60. The start of the menses was the major reason for girls dropping out of school early. We conducted the counselling of their parents with the help of teachers and got them back into the schools. We created awareness about sanitary pads and taught them to maintain hygiene. We conducted free tests and check-ups for cervical cancer and encouraged women to talk freely about their issues.

  What do you think about Parth Pawar’s political future?

  He will contest the upcoming elections. We have been together since childhood. Parth is a very purehearted person. He wants to work for people and introduce new things, but I think one should not rely on the people who mislead them. People will tell you so many things, but while making any decision, one has to study the things at their own level. One should learn to make a combination of good and bad things, to move towards goals. This is applicable to both. We have good relations and understanding. Though we have different opinions, we are always together and this is the speciality of the Pawar family — our unity is our power.

  What do you think about Maha Vikas Aghadi Sarkar?

  Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was an experiment that is much successful now. Nobody even thought that three parties would come together because of their different political ideologies. We will have to work together in future also to give a befitting reply to the BJP. The MVA government did its best during the pandemic. Even after having a maximum number of cases, we handled the situation very well. We started several COVID centres. We did not face a situation like Bihar where people could not get good treatment. We did not hide anything and did not even dispose of the dead bodies in the river. When Sangli and Kolhapur were hit by massive floods, many BJP leaders were in Delhi. Some of them were busy in ‘Sampark Yatra’. People were dying and in need of help, the BJP government which was in power did not even turn to help them. After the news flashed, some of them reached Sangli but they got busy taking selfies. The BJP does not have the socially-sensitive thinking therefore we saw the worst situation in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Maharashtra, despite the caseload, we provided the best facilities to people. We are still continuing with the testing. The BJP never helped the state in the pandemic. They did not provide PPE kits, vaccines or any other help, It was only after the High Court’s intervention that they provided vaccination. The BJP leaders are misleading people over various issues. They are protesting for the OBC reservation, actually, the issue is pending before the Central government but no BJP leader will dare to write to PM Modi. They just make the situation panic and disturb the social atmosphere by creating communal violence. The ultimate aim is just to get into power. You cannot come into power on the basis of casteism, religion and nationalism, as this is very dangerous for democracy.

  Would you like to be chief minister? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

  There are two things in the post of the chief minister, first is your power and the second is your post. I don’t look at the post but I look at the power of the post. If you have the power, you can do anything because you get strength from people. I would like to work in sectors like agriculture, water, industry and education. We need to bring small and medium scale industries in our state, to resolve the issue of employment. There should be coordination between technical education and industry because the colleges should know what is the requirement of industries. Skill development should also be part of the process for reskilling and upskilling. The youth do not get proper guidance till graduation, and after graduation, they start thinking about their career. Therefore we should focus on career guidance. For balanced development, we have to make changes from KG to graduation with the help of the industry. We need to have department-wise and district-wise plans to resolve the issue of unemployment.

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  Pune Times Mirror Leaders of the City is an initiative where infl uential and inspiring leaders of Pune share their insights on the happenings around, and how to take a giant leap forward to make the city more vibrant in the near future. The city, balancing its centuries-old heritage and tech-driven generation at the same time, has no dearth of visionaries, who can lead us to a better time overcoming present crises. In a series of talks, the leaders — policymakers, dedicated administrators and philanthropists — are coming up with their ideas for better living for thousands of citizens. This unique initiative is supported by Food Heal and Lokmanya Multipurpose Co-op. Society Ltd.