At Narendra Modi’s rally in Beed on Saturday, Pankaja Munde asked voters to imagine she is contesting all six assembly seats in Beed Lok Sabha constituency, last represented by her father the late Gopinath Munde. Speaker after speaker was rooting for her as chief minister, but the 35-year-old, two-time MLA and president of the BJP’s state youth wing says she wants to grow first.
This is the BJP’s first election after the death of your father. Are you approaching it differently?
The people are the same, their support is the same. Their love is maybe even more than before. But my dad’s guidance is not there. He would say one word and I would know what exactly to do next. That is something I miss terribly. I am also afraid of doing something wrong. I stop often and ask myself how he would have dealt with a situation.
Will the BJP will outdo itself in Beed owing to a sympathy factor?
Of course there is a sympathy factor; I would not deny it. He was such a big leader, and remember the tragedy happened just 15 days after he won the election, just four days after his swearing-in… There will be a love-cum-sympathy factor for us.
There has been so much talk about Pankaja as chief minister. Is that your immediate aspiration?
See, I was not aspiring towards chief ministership ever. I was not working towards that. Minister anyway I was going to become. When dad was there also, I would have become a minister, because I was among the state’s first ten leaders. Now I am in the first four or five. I tried to give justice to my promotion. Earlier I was not part of the team that took decisions. Now during my Sangharsh Yatra, I met lakhs and lakhs of people. They felt it was my dad’s dream and so they feel I should therefore be chief minister. But I never aspired to that. However, I would like to be part of the process of making the chief minister of the state, and I will contribute.
Let’s say you are offered the top job; what would your response be?
If the party offers it, I wouldn’t say no, but honestly I am not thinking about it right now. I need to grow first.
At a function earlier this week, Amit Shah anointed you the state’s biggest OBC leader. Is that the BJP’s strategy to occupy a political space that’s fallen vacant?
Yes, my dad was born into an OBC caste, but he was a leader. Leadership is not gender-based or caste-based. But being an OBC he always knew their problems, their survival issues. I would like to take on that mantle. At the same time I would like to be a mass leader like him. That is something I aspire to, more than a ministership. A mass leader is something that is there for years.
Wasn’t your Sangharsh Yatra also strategically planned with the same objective?
I didn’t plan it to show something but I definitely planned it to gather the strength we had lost. It was not focusing on the right things. I wanted to gather the generation of people who were with my dad. I didn’t want them to get scattered. And I didn’t want to lose my party’s support because of that. If my dad had been there he would have given all this support to the party. I am trying to do the same thing. The idea is to help the party grow. And yes, I did want to show the world the strength of Gopinath Munde. He is no more, but he is so great that only on his name, people would gather for the sabhas.
You are young and have lived abroad. Do you feel caste is relevant today outside of politics?
Yes, I do feel caste is something we should move beyond. I feel we should be focusing our work on economically backward people. Caste-based discrimination is not right, but economically backward people you see in particular castes, so one has to work for them. I don’t want to be casteist. My father never brought me up like that. He too was never casteist. I would like to be a leader of all kinds of deprived people, I would like that to be my project.
Do you feel the country should persist with reservation?
Babasaheb Ambedkar’s idea of reservation was to uplift backward castes. But casteism has not ended in our country, so to get some people into the mainstream, reservation helps. But it should be redesigned somewhere. After a point, if three generations of a family have benefited from reservation, then you are already evolved. So maybe the fourth generation of that family should not take reservation.
You are fighting your cousin who moved to the NCP after a feud over Gopinath Munde’s political legacy. Is the NCP playing dirty in now fielding him against you?
I am not fighting him, he is contesting against me. I am already the sitting MLA there. That seat was never even for the NCP — the alliance was not broken when he declared his candidature from there and that was a Congress seat. He was declaring his candidature as an independent candidate at that time. He wanted desperately to contest against me. The NCP said it would not field a candidate against me if I contested the Lok Sabha bypoll, but they are contesting against me in Parli. It’s okay; I don’t want to comment on their plans.
Second daughter says became choice ‘by default’
Dr Pritam Munde, Gopinath Munde’s second daughter, is not taking it easy in the bypoll to the Beed Lok Sabha seat that fell vacant following his death in June. Pritam, 31, an assistant professor in the dermatology department of JJ Hospital in Mumbai, has been visiting voters in towns and villages in Beed district, mostly thanking them for the outpouring of love and support the family has received in the past four months.
By her own admission not inclined towards politics, Pritam says she had to step up when the seat fell vacant, as the third sister, Yashasri, is only 24 years old and their mother was quite clear that she was not interested.
“When dad’s place fell vacant, people in our constituency — not just dad’s friends or party workers, but common people — were coming to meet us, console us and pay their condolences. Everybody demanded that somebody from the family alone fill up this space. Because it was just 15 days after the election that this sad thing happened, everybody had this terrible sadness. That when the good times had come, when Beed constituency could have got its deserved share of development, that was when this took place,” she says, adding that with her mother and younger sister ruled out, she became the choice “by default”.
Pritam says she may not have any answers to pressing problems in the constituency. “But I can say this. My intentions are genuine. Whatever and however I can manage to help people , I will do that. My sister is there, so with her guidance I will be able to fulfill people’s dreams.”