Facing attempts at being cornered on her home turf, BJP’s prominent Other Backward Class (OBC) face and Women and Child Development Minister, Pankaja Munde, put up a show a strength on Thursday. “I’m not hankering for any particular post. Mundesaheb (late Gopinath Munde) was a kingmaker, now people have put the responsibility of carrying forward his legacy on my shoulders. My responsibility is to ensure that we get a government that works in public interest,” she said while addressing a massive rally at Sawargaon in her native Beed district on the occasion of Dussehra.
While her father would address supporters on Dussehra from the Bhagwangad shrine in Ahmednagar district, Pankaja, for the last two years, has been staging the rally at Sawargaon in Beed, which is the birthplace of the same religious guru, Bhagwanbaba, following a showdown with the sitting mahant of the shrine, Namdeo Shastri.
BJP insiders said that with Thursday’s rally, Pankaja has once again established her credential as a leader with mass following, especially among supporters belonging to her own Vanjari community. The strength of the rally sent out a message to her political opponents, both outside and within the party, that she was a force to reckon with, said a party insider.
The show of strength also comes on the back of reports that an internal BJP survey had suggested that Pankaja’s younger sister, Pritam, who represents Beed in the Parliament, was riding a heavy anti-incumbency and that she could lose. Firing a salvo at these reports and the survey itself, Pankaja said: “See the numbers gathered here. People do not vote on the basis of surveys. They vote on the basis of the chosen contestant. It is clear to me that we (BJP) will win (in Beed) in 2019 as well.”
Pankaja was flanked by Pritam, cabinet colleague Ram Shinde, and several senior BJP leaders from the Marathwada district. Labelling herself as a “tigress”, Pankaja also took a veiled dig at rivals within her own party, and said that she would continue to be “aggressive” on “matters of public interest.”
Pankaja’s cousin, Dhananjay Munde, who is with the NCP and is the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, is her biggest political rival in Beed. On Thursday, Pankaja also took sharp digs at her cousin. Sounding the poll bugle for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Beed, Pankaja also announced that the state government would on Friday announce the formation of the sugarcane cutters welfare board. She also said that a grant of Rs 100 crore will be extended for their welfare. Beed is also known to be a district of sugarcane cutters. Over the years, her father had cultivated these cutters as a voter constituency for himself, which Pankaja is attempting to consolidate.