Mumbai: Pankaja Munde, the tough and aggressive daughter of the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, is probably the first casualty of the BJP’s loss of power in Maharashtra.
Through a post on her Facebook page Sunday, she described her mental state to her supporters and sought some “Me Time” to decide on her political future.
Since the day she lost the Assembly seat of Parli, considered her family stronghold, to cousin and bête noire Dhananjay Munde who fought on a NCP ticket, the 40-year-old Pankaja has been questioning the reasons for her loss.
On 12 December — the birth date of her late father – she will spell out the future political course, says the post. On the face of it, Pankaja seems to be drumming up support for herself in the on-going war with her cousin.
Since 2014, when the BJP attained power in Maharashtra, Pankaja Munde has seen herself as a contender to the chief minister’s chair. Her ambition, aggression and suitability to take over from former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had made many state BJP leaders including Fadnavis uncomfortable. Though she began her stint in the last government as Fadnavis’s friend, by the end of the government’s tenure, she was relegated to the sidelines. Had she won the Parli seat, she would have been a tough challenger to Fadnavis in the future.
A family turf war
Pankaja’s turf war with her cousin began after the untimely death of her father, who was then a union minister.
Dhananjay Munde was initially with the BJP but as the fight got uglier, he shifted loyalties to the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and became a strong voice there.
Appointed as the leader of the opposition in the Legislative Council, after he joined the NCP, Dhananjay Munde’s political clout began to rise in Parli.
The bone of contention is the fight for supremacy of the Bhagwangad hill shrine, which is revered by the Vanjari community to which the Mundes belong. The priest, Namdev Shastri Maharaj, initially favoured Pankaja Munde but later adopted a neutral stand as the turf war between the cousins got uglier.
Losing the limelight
It is common knowledge that Pankaja’s loss by 30,000 votes from Parli, a sure-fire winning seat, has kept her off her constituency for a while. The fact that she is not an elected member of the Legislative Assembly is a major part of her anguish. Her sister, Pritam Munde is a member of Parliament, so is her other cousin Poonam Mahajan.
Sources close to Pankaja Munde say that she believes her cousin has usurped her father’s seat from her and anointed himself as Gopinath Munde’s political heir.
In her Facebook message in Marathi, Pankaja Munde says that while her followers have been seeking time with her, she is unable to give them time. “I need time with myself until December 12. In these 12 days, I will introspect and let you know the future course of action on Baba’s birthday,” reads her post.
Since politics is her mainstay, the likelihood of her quitting is slim. The Facebook post appears to be aimed at seeking the response of those who support her as the shifting sands of power may reduce her hold in Parli.