Taking a ‘drought selfie” is not the first instance when Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde has left the BJP-led government in Maharashtra red faced. In the recent past, the minister’s stand on several issues were not in accordance with government policies and it included her flip flop on allowing women into the Shani Shinganpur temple in Ahmednagar, her justification of supply of water for breweries and support for sugar mills on the matter of fair price remuneration.
Her selfie in drought-hit Latur has invited flak from across the political spectrum including the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena. Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said it showed a “Selfie Sarkar”. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray defined it as highly insensitive and shameful, during a severe drought.
A couple of days ago, Munde justified water supply to breweries in Aurangabad, shortly after Uddhav Thackeray demanded suspension of water supply to breweries because of the drought. Thackeray said priority should be to provide water to people, and not breweries.
Munde argued, “There is a stipulated quota of water supply for drinking purpose, industries and agriculture. And if water allocated for industries is being utilised, there is nothing wrong.”
Munde’s logic invited flak from Congress, NCP, Sena and BJP. Many wondered if she were aware of ground realities.
A Sena cabinet minister said, “On one hand the government is getting railways to supply water to Latur. There are 25,000 villages facing drought. And we have Munde talking of water quota. When there is no water, which quota is she referring to?”
Fadnavis had to clarify, “The government will not compromise on drinking water supply. Breweries are not our priority.”
At the peak of the agitation when women activists were demanding entry into Shanishingnapur temple, Munde had said, “Traditional rituals cannot be linked with insult of the female fraternity.” Munde’s justification was contradictory to sentiments of cabinet colleagues and top leaders across party lines.
Fadnavis clarified, “Places of worship cannot have gender discrimination. Hindu religion or teachings do not approve discrimination against women. They have equal rights to worship.” NCP president Sharad Pawar also vehemently opposed gender discrimination.
In the first winter session of the government, when senior minister for Cooperation and Markets Chandrakant Patil threatened to crack the whip on sugar mills for violating norms of fair price remuneration, Munde came out in the state assembly in defense of sugar mills citing multiple problems. The NCP used it to expose the divide within the BJP government.
In the recently concluded budget session, Munde’s odd remarks questioning the opposition created an uproar. The Congress, NCP had raised a question on controversial chikki scam in which she had been named. Munde, in passing, said, “I pity your grasping power.” Vikhe-Patil and Jayant Patil were among leaders who termed it inappropriate and highhanded.
Earlier, during her visit to water conservation projects, images of personnel holding her footwear as she walked ahead was widely discussed. Later, Munde justified the act.
Another issue that often becomes a talking point relates to her name in the chief minister’s race. While she has never directly claimed the post, she, in a veiled manner makes it a point that her followers would like to see her as chief minister. Or if the party decides, she would accept the post.