For Pankaja Munde, even a campaign flag-off rally by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and then a mega rally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards the end of the campaign proved to fall short as cousin Dhananjay Munde (NCP) won the Parli Assembly seat by 30,701 votes.
For Gopinath Munde’s eldest daughter, who was seeking a third term from Parli, this election was the first test of her track record as an MLA — in 2014, there was a sympathy wave after her father’s sudden death.
Speaking to The Indian Express from Parli, Dhananjay said: “The people of Parli have placed their faith in me. I am aware of the responsibility, and I plan to get to work right away.” He led a large rally through Parli town, in pouring rain, as young boys ran to shake his hand or give him a hug. His face and clothes smeared with gulaal, Dhananjay looked overwhelmed. “It is a huge win for me if you consider that Amit Shah, PM Modi, Chhatrapati Udayanraje Bhosale and other veterans came to campaign for the BJP here,” he said.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called Pankaja’s defeat “shocking”, but, over the past few weeks, the BJP camp in Parli was clearly unnerved by internal surveys and the enthusiastic support for Dhananjay, especially among young voters.
Pankaja held back-to-back rallies and street corner meetings in the last week of the campaign, also reaching out to villages where the BJP had failed to get a lead in the recent Lok Sabha elections. She also successfully wooed senior Congress leader Prof T P Munde, who contested against her in 2014, and roped in the support of Uttam Mane, the CPI(M) candidate in 2014.
But NCP workers from Parli said on Thursday that the regions where the CPI(M) holds some sway also voted for Dhananjay. The NCP’s campaign team said they were able to convey to voters the disconnect between Pankaja and the people, as she got increasingly busy in Mumbai as a minister. “You cannot win every election on sympathy. People want development also. One of the reasons for her defeat is arrogance, taking voters for granted,” Dhananjay said.
At the end of a highly emotional campaign, with each cousin railing against the other’s family, a video of Dhananjay making an objectionable comment about Pankaja went viral on the final day. A teary-eyed Dhananjay addressed a press conference the following morning, claiming that the clip was doctored, and that he would never forget his ‘maryaada’ (honourable limits) as a brother.
“That was a very low level of politics, it was a blot on the relationship of a brother and sister,” Dhananjay said, adding that he had asked the electorate to give him justice and they had done that. “It was up to the people of Parli, whether I would be a khalnayak (villain) or a nayak (hero), and they have made me a nayak today.”