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June 19, 2012

Leaders of poorest villages flaunt SUVs with pricey plates

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Pune, June 19: Villages in India may lack good roads, power, drinking water and sanitation. But the leaders of some of those villages in Maharashtra showed up with status symbol cars at a convention organised in Pune by Shard Pawar's party, the NCP.

Among those who addressed the local leaders were senior NCP politicians including party chief Sharad Pawar. During the interaction, they imparted tips on good governance and ways to further spread the party's rural base.

Home Minister RR Patil and other senior leaders, while addressing the village heads, said that the image of the party depended on that of the local leader. Mr Patil called on members of the gram panchayat to work as a powerful link between the electorate and the leaders. During his speech, he narrated an incident of how a woman, who just owned donkeys, went on to become the head (sarpanch) of a village. "Imagine a woman heading a village with just donkeys as her assets," he said.

But even as the Home Minister was speaking at the Balewadi stadium hall in Pune, the huge parking lot outside the venue was fast filling up with swanky cars. Village leaders had, in stark contrast to the modest woman sarpanch in the minister's story, arrived in expensive cars for the meeting. A rough count indicated that of the over 200 vehicles in the parking area, at least 60 percent were SUVs and other high-end, luxury cars - Audi, BMW, Pajero, Mercedes.

These leaders also shared a common fascination for fancy number plates. Almost all the vehicles carried unique numbers that came at a hefty price - running into lakhs - as they were awarded to the highest bidder during auctions.

Leaders hailing from Vidarbha and Marathwada, the two most underdeveloped regions in the state, said the posh cars belonged to leaders from Pune, Mumbai or from the flourishing western belt in the state. "The economic condition in that region is good...they are all big leaders and have godfathers in the party, so they could afford the posh vehicles," said Mr Prakash Patil, a Panchayat Samiti member from Nandurbar.

There were others, though, who justified their penchant for costly cars as a sign of prosperity in their villages. "Villages are developing under the able leadership and policies of our leader Sharad Pawar. Don't look with negativity, its only good that we are progressing," said Ashok Patil, a Zilla Parishad member from Chalisagon.

Making one wonder, if only the progress was visible on the ground.

Leaders of poorest villages flaunt SUVs with pricey plates

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