Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde and the Vanjari community’s religious leader Namdeo Sanap Shastri are reportedly at odds over the annual Dusshera rally at Bhagwangad, 60 km from Beed, in Marathwada. Shastri, who heads the Bhagwangad Trust, has decided that politicians should not be allowed to use the place of pilgrimage for political rallies or speeches, while Pankaja is apparently against the decision.
Two days ago, she had tweeted about going to Bhagwangad: “Yes, On Dusshera day I am heading for Bhagwangad to offer my worship. What about you?” “Several lakh people head to Bhagwangad every year for pilgrimage,” an old loyalist of the late Gopinath Munde said. A close aide of Pankaja said, “Gopinath Munde always had the final word on the Dusshera rally. Now, Pankaja who has inherited his legacy has the right to take a decision on the rally.” The defiance against Shastri, revered among the Vanjari community, has led to tension. Pankajabelongs to the same community.
If the religious head has issued a call against political rallies at the venue, a sizeable section will support Shastri. At the same time, followers of Pankaja seem to be mobilising for a rally at the venue. Shastri alleged that a local resident had intimidated him on telephone. He said, “I received threats that I would be thrown out of the district.” Shastri said he tried to remain calm as he did not want tensions to escalate but warned that if someone was “determined to harass” him, he would be forced to give a “befitting reply”. The tussle also saw audio clips in circulation in which Pankaja was purportedly heard talking tough.
Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, however, said, “The developments do not auger well for social harmony. When a minister supposed to ensure law and order tries to create problems, it is a cause of worry.” He said, “If a religious trust says no to politics, how can Pankaja Munde who is a minister defy it.” Dhananjay, the estranged cousin of Pankaja, also hails from Beed district. Dhananjay said, “I have great reverence for Bhagwangad. Even I go there and worship. I don’t use the place for politics (rallies). Moreover, the last time I went to offer prayers, BJP workers (Pankaja’s followers) attacked me. They tried to stop me from going to the pilgrimage.”