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The state government Monday denied permission to Pankaja Munde to hold a rally at Bhagwangad citing law and order problems, in view of her conflict with spiritual leader Namdeo Sanap Shashtri. This was a setback for the minister for rural development and women and child development who was preparing to display her political might at the annual Dussehra rally at the pilgrimage site. The tussle over the rally had exposed the division within the Vanjari community.
Shashtri, who heads the Bhagwangad Trust, had issued an order not to allow political rallies at the pilgrimage centre revered by the Vanjari community. Over the last two weeks, Pankaja and Shashtri were engaged in a tussle and there were some clashes between their supporters last week. Sources said the central leadership of the BJP expressed disappointment over Pankaja’s conduct, which led to tension in the districts of Beed and Ahmednagar ahead of Dussehra. “It was conveyed that being a cabinet minister, she should not insist on any act that would lead to law and order problem,” said a leader.
Pankaja had three days ago tweeted: “I am heading to Bhagwangad. What about you? Will you not join too?” Ahmednagar District Collector Anil Kawade assessed the ground situation and decided that a political rally should not be allowed at Bhagwangad. A close aide of Pankaja in Beed said, “Following the collector’s order, Pankaja will not hold a rally but will visit Bhagwangad to pray. She will greet people at the foothills.”
Talking to a private television new channel, she said, “I will visit Bhagwangad and offer prayers. I don’t want to speak against Shashtri. But there are some who are trying to distort my image by circulating false audio clips. The truth will come out.” In the alleged audio clip, Pankaja was purportedly boasting of her political clout.
Shashtri, though handpicked by late Gopinath Munde to head the trust, has had a strained relationship with Pankaja over the last two years. Shashtri’s supporters said he had to take a tough call of disallowing political rallies due to a battle within the Munde family and in view of politics in the district. Last year, Dhananjay Munde, the estranged cousin of Pankaja, wanted to hold a thanksgiving event at Bhagwangad. But Pankaja’s supporters attacked Dhananjay’s vehicle and there was stone pelting too. Dhananjay is Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council.
Abhay Deshpande, a senior political commentator on Maharashtra affairs, said, “The development at Bhagwangad is a pointer to the conflict between Pankaja and Dhananjay over political legacy of late Gopinath Munde. Although Pankaja has inherited her father’s assembly constituency (Parli-Vaijanath), Dhananjay is reasserting his might by questioning Pankaja’s defiance to disobey Namdeo Shashtri Sanap who has banned political rallies.” NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad said, “First of all, the decision to hold a political rally at Bhagwangad, which was started by late Gopinath Munde was not correct. The matter of faith or religion should not be mixed with politics.”