Minister for Rural Development and Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde on Monday suffered a major setback in the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) elections in her home constituency Parli in Beed district. Her estranged cousin and Opposition leader (NCP) Dhananjay Munde won 14 of the 18 seats in the contest that had turned into a prestigious battle between the BJP and the NCP.
In a sharp reaction after the results were announced, Dhananjay said, “People have always reposed faith in us and I devote this victory to their hard work. It is also a victory for my late father Panditrao Munde.” He added, “Whether I win or lose, I have always maintained a strong grassroot connect and stood by the people to address their daily problems.”
In the past two-and-a-half years since the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, in at least three local body elections, Dhananjay has scored over Pankaja in her home turf. A close aide to Pankaja said, “The defeat is a cause of concern as it indicates that Dhananjay is making efforts to take control of Parli. We will have to analyse the reasons for the growing disconnect among the people and Pankaja, who represents the BJP.” This is the third successive failure for Pankaja in Parli.
In the municipal council elections, the Dhananjay-led NCP had bagged 28 seats of the total 32. The BJP led by Pankaja had bagged only four seats. Earlier this year, in Parli zilla parishad, the NCP had swept the polls against the BJP. The three successive victories in what has always been a bastion of former BJP Union minister, late Gopinath Munde, has got the party worried. Pankaja was not available for comments.
A secretary in her office said, “Pankaja was in London to attend the convocation of her younger sister, Yashashree, who graduated in law studies.” A BJP leader from Parli said, “Pankaja Munde is a cabinet minister and her sister Pritam Khade is a Member of Parliament from Beed. Yet, we are repeatedly failing to retain our base in the local body elections. In the past two-and-a-half years, the BJP government has provided maximum funds through various schemes to tackle drought through water conservation and relief measures. But somewhere, it is evident that Dhananjay, who is in the Opposition, has proved his mettle because of his personal contact and access to the locals.”
It was in 2009 when Gopinath Munde took the decision to declare Pankaja as his political heir by fielding her from Parli Assembly constituency. He himself moved to national politics and contested the Beed Lok Sabha seat. The developments in 2009 led to a split in the family with Dhananjay expressing disappointment for not being considered as a candidate for the Parli Assembly seat. Later, Dhananjay quit the BJP and joined the NCP. In the 2014 Assembly elections, Pankaja defeated Dhananjay with a narrow margin of 20,000 votes.