Two days after exit polls predicted that the BJP would become the largest party in Maharashtra, and with the assembly election results out Sunday, the daughter of the man who was once the party’s face in the state has staked her claim for the chief minister’s post.
Providing a clear indication of the power struggle that is set to break out within the state BJP, the late Gopinath Munde’s daughter, Pankaja Munde-Palwe, told The Indian Express: “Yes, I am the nominee for the CM post. And if the party assigns me the job I am willing to take the responsibility.”
Arriving in Mumbai Friday after a gruelling campaign across her assembly constituency Parli in Beed, the 35 year old also asserted she was the BJP’s “true mass leader” in Maharashtra while the rest were “metro leaders”.
If the BJP forms a government in the state, Pankaja is said to be among the frontrunners for the chief minister’s job along with Devendra Fadnavis, Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde and Sudhir Mungantiwar.
But Pankaja’s line is clear. Asked if her lack of experience in governance was a barrier for the top job, she said, “Who among those in the CM race has any experience? Except for the senior leader Eknath Khadse, who was in the Shiv Sena-BJP government as a minister, none of the candidates – Devendra Fadnavis, Vinod Tawde, Sudhir Mungantiwar – have ever worked in a government.”
Invoking the memory of her father who was killed in a road accident in New Delhi in May, Pankaja said, “The late Gopinath Munde was the most popular mass leader with acceptance across Maharashtra. At that time, all these leaders who are being tipped for the CM’s job were confined to their respective districts…. I have always worked at the grassroots. I admit they are my seniors. But I am not just a one-term MLA. I have worked as BJP youth president who has held massive rallies across the state.”
She added, “Only after Munde’s demise these leaders have become pan-Maharashtra leaders. Fadnavis was confined to Nagpur district, Tawde to Mumbai, Mungantiwar to Chandrapur… If Munde was at the top position, the rest of them were at No 8 or 9.”
Pankaja did admit though that Fadnavis had “academic excellence” on his side while Tawde had “served as leader of the opposition in the state council.”
But still, she said, she was the party’s real leader. Referring to the two phases of her Sangharsh Yatra after the death of her father, and her subsequent poll campaign, Pankaja said, “My rallies drew the maximum crowd compared to any other leaders in the state. I am the true mass leader.”
She added, “Even Amit Shah (BJP president), when he saw the rallies, said ‘Wow… yeh ladki itne log kahan se lati hain (Where does this girl bring so many people from)?… If my rallies are drawing a huge crowd, it shows my acceptance and familiarity. Or else why would anybody come for the rallies.”
The young leader is so confident of her chances of becoming the CM that she already has an eye on the Home Ministry. “I like something which is dynamic and not necessarily a big budget portfolio. I would like to take the Home portfolio. It is challenging,” Pankaja said, adding that since she was a member of the state unit’s core committee, with four others, she would be entitled to four big portfolios in the government.
She also indicated that she was open to reviving her party’s alliance with Shiv Sena. Asked about such a possibility if the BJP failed to reach the halfway mark, she said, “ Shiv Sena would be a natural alliance partner. If my party assigns me I will like to play the role of mediator between Sena and BJP alliance.”
Looking back on her poll campaign, Pankaja said, “After my father’s death I had to begin from scratch. Today, I can state that I have managed both people and politics through an exhaustive campaign across the state. I am happy as I have succeeded in my work.”
No race for CM: Tawde
Vinod Tawde, one of the BJP’s senior leaders in Maharashtra, has dismissed suggestions that there is a race within the party for the CM’s post. “There is no race for the CM post. No one is a frontrunner or ‘backrunner’. The newly elected members will choose a leader and recommend (that name) to the parliamentary board at the centre which will take the final decision,” Tawde said.