After senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse switched over to the NCP last week, effusive praise for Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar from BJP national secretary Pankaja Munde has triggered speculation that she might be the next to leave. Pankaja has not explicitly rejected an offer from the Shiv Sena to join the party.
Breaking ranks with BJP
On October 22, Thackeray announced a Rs 10,000-crore relief package for flood-hit farmers, which was rejected by the BJP as “peanuts”, given the magnitude of the damage. However, three days later, Pankaja, a former state minister, “congratulated the Chief Minister and welcomed the relief package”.
Pankaja’s praise, which contrasted with the criticism from former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil, MP Raosaheb Danve, and former minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, came three days after the Sena offered her a place in that party.
Pankaja has been sulking since she was defeated in the Assembly elections last year. Like Eknath Khadse, she blames her defeat on sabotage. Pankaja had won the Parli Vidhan Sabha seat in 2009 and 2014, but lost to her cousin, Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, in 2019. The constituency came into existence in 2008 after the earlier Renapur seat, which had been won by Pankaja’s father, the late Gopinath Munde, several times, was abolished.
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What Pankaja Munde said
At the annual Dussehra rally at Bhagwangad in Beed district on October 25, Pankaja said she had requested the CM to make Diwali sweet for flood-hit farmers by announcing a relief package. “I therefore compliment and welcome the relief package announced by the Chief Minister”, she said, adding, however, that the package was inadequate and that the Chief Minister should be more liberal.
She went on to say that earlier, when the restrictions due to Covid-19 were in place, the CM had called her up to demand why she was raising the issue of sugarcane farmers. “When I explained to the CM, the government allowed stranded cane growers to return home…,” Pankaja said. “The Chief Minister got angry with me because he is my elder brother… But he listened to me.”
Pankaja also said she would meet Sharad Pawar regarding the problems of cane workers, and expressed confidence that he would help. She subsequently tweeted in praise of Pawar: “Hats off… even during the pandemic, you are undertaking so many tours. Your style of functioning is worth emulating.”
Through her speech, Pankaja took Thackeray’s name three times, and Pawar’s at least twice. She did not mention Fadnavis or any other BJP leader at all.📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Signals to Shiv Sena
At the same rally, Pankaja said it had been (Gopinath) “Munde saheb’s dream” to hold a rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, and that “next year, I might hold the Dussehra rally at Shiv Theerth at Shivaji Park”.
She extended her best wishes to Thackeray, who was supposed to make the Sena’s traditional Shivaji Park Dussehra speech that evening. “My best wishes to him… all of Maharashtra would be watching him,” she said.
Following Khadse’s switch to the NCP, Sena leaders like former Minister Arjun Khotkar and current Minister Gulabrao Patil had urged Pankaja to join the Sena. Speaking in Ambejogai in Beed on October 24, Pankaja thanked the Sena for its offer — even though she also said she was capable of taking her own decisions.
Said Khotkar: “She (Pankaja) said thank you to our offer… It means a lot. She has not rejected our offer. We are still positive.” Khotkar had accompanied Pankaja to Thackeray’s residence to congratulate him soon after he took charge as CM. The photo had caused disquiet in the BJP. The only other BJP leader who met Thackeray was Khadse.
Cool towards Fadnavis
Pankaja avoided Fadnavis when he was on a three-day tour of Marathwada last week; she was ostensibly “held up” in Nanded. Fadnavis and other BJP leaders travelled across Beed, and went to Bhagwangad, but did not survey crop damage in Parli. Pankaja joined Fadnavis only in the neighbouring Parbhani district.
Though Pankaja has not directly attacked Fadnavis, she has signalled her unhappiness with the party. When asked about Sena leader Khotkar’s offer to Pankaja, Fadnavis said: “Who is Khotkar? Who cares what Khotkar says?”
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