Rahul condemns Maval police firing

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9 Aug 2011
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Facing criticism from the Opposition parties for ignoring the plight of the Maval farmers, while those in Bhatta Parsaul were given much attention, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Thursday visited the families of the three protesters who were killed in the police firing on August 9. The visit was kept a secret until the last moment, even the administration and many senior Congress leaders were not informed of his impromptu visit.

Mr. Gandhi visited the three villages of Yelse, Shivane and Sadavli where he interacted with the families of Kanatabai Thakar, Moreshwar Sathe and Shyam Tupe respectively. The three had lost their lives when the police opened fire to quell the agitation by villagers who had gathered on the Mumabi-Pune expressway on August 9 to protest the laying of a pipeline from Pavana Dam to Pimpri Chinchwad.

While the media was largely kept uninformed about the visit, the relatives of the victims later told The Hindu that Mr. Gandhi had condemned the killings. “He said that the police action was wrong and that there would be an inquiry,” Nitin Thakar, the son of Kanatabai said. Mr. Gandhi also asked Mr. Nitin if he would be able to recognise who shot his mother, but he said that he didn't remember. While anger against the police firing is still alive in the village, Mr. Gandhi was welcomed in Yelse.

“It felt like he was one of us. He was calm and listened to everything,” Sahakar Ghare, Kantabai's brother said. However, Mr. Gandhi did not ask the relatives about the details of the project and what their objection was.

“I feel like he will do something for us. He is a big man and he came to meet us, while Nationalist Congress Party leaders have still not come,” Mr. Nitin said.

In the neighbouring village of Sadavli, where Chief Minister Prithviraj Singh was greeted with black flags and words of anger by the relatives of Shyam Tupe, Mr. Gandhi's visit was largely seen as that of condolence. “He told us that he had come to be a part of our suffering, and not as a politician,” Bapu Tupe, Shyam's cousin said. Mr. Gandhi reached Sadavli in the morning when the villagers gathered on the banks of the Pavana river for performing the ‘tenth day' ceremony. “He just came and stood, and watched. He told us that the judicial inquiry would be conducted fairly,” Mr. Tupe said.

However, most villagers were not satisfied with the visit. “He came because the media pressured him to come. If he had really felt our pain, he would have come sooner. He did not promise us anything. Then why did he come at all?,” Shyam's brother Anil Tupe said.

Even in Sadavli, Mr. Gandhi did not make any enquiries about the details of the project. “We told him we will not allow the pipeline project to go on at any cost,” Mr. Tupe said.

In Shivane village, the mood was largely subdued. The family spoke in hushed tones about Mr. Gandhi's visit. “He didn't speak at all. He just listened to what we had to say, but in the end didn't promise anything. We are 99 per cent sure nothing will come out of this visit. The government machinery, the police is in his hands,” Moreshwar's brother Baban Sathe said.

“We still have no answers about what the State government will do for Moreshwar's two children. They are 15 and 17 years old. Can the government do anything?” Mr. Sathe asked Mr. Gandhi, but received no reply. “When someone like Rahul Gandhi comes to our village, we obviously expected him to say something that will reduce our anger and convince us. He didn't ask anything about our land and water. Maybe he didn't want to do anything about the issue,” Lalita Sathe, Moreshwar's daughter said.

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