Everything is not alright with the BJP in Maharashtra. The first proof of the discontent within came to fore when senior leader from Khandesh region, Eknath Khadse, said good bye to the party he helped build in its nascent years. Now, speculations are ripe that BJP national secretary Pankaja Munde, the eldest daughter of late Gopinath Munde, could be next in line to leave.
Pankaja Mundhe has had problems with the state leadership (read Devendra Fadnavis and Raosaheb Danve) in the past, especially when she was a minister in the last BJP government.
Recently, Pankaja lavished praise on Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, which triggered talks that she might go the Khadse way. Meanwhile, Pankaja has not accepted an offer from the Shiv Sena, but she has not clearly said NO yet.
Rift in ties with BJP
The Maharashtra chief minister recently declared a Rs 10,000-crore relief package for flood-hit farmers. The state BJP criticized the package and said it is not enough, but three days later, Pankaja welcomed the relief package. Ironically, the same day, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray had sent her feelers about joining his party.
Actually, Pankaja has been unhappy after she lost the Assembly elections last year. She has been very vocal about saying that she lost because of “sabotage”. The Parli Vidhan Sabha seat (called Renapur before 2008) has been the bastion of Mundes for a very long time. Pankaja too won the seat in 2009 and 2014, but she lost to her cousin, Dhananjay Munde of the NCP, in 2019. The defeat did not go down well with the daughter of Gopinath Munde, who was the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra in the 90s.
Responding to Sena’s overtures, Pankaja said at the annual Dussehra rally at Bhagwangad in Beed district on October 25, “I 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, quietly suggesting that the CM could have done more.”
Speaking at the same Dussehra function, Pankaja reminisced how during the Covid-19 restrictions, the CM had phoned her and questioned her for raising the issue of sugarcane farmers. “When I gave my reasons to the CM, the government responded positively and as a first step 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.”
Meanwhile, she also expressed her desire to meet Sharad Pawar to discuss problems of cane workers, and expressed faith 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.”
During 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.
About Shiv Sena
Pankaja said that her late father (Gopinath Munde) dreamt of holding a rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, and said in the same breath, “next year, I might hold the Dussehra rally at Shiv Theerth at Shivaji Park”.
During her speech, held during the day time and before Uddhav Thackeray’s evening speech, Pankaja conveyed her best wishes to Uddhav Thackeray. “My best wishes to him… all of Maharashtra would be watching him,” she said.
After 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 — saying she is 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.
Pankaja kept her distance from Fadnavis when he was on a three-day tour of Marathwada last week. Fadnavis, accompanied by other BJP leaders, travelled across Beed, and went to Bhagwangad, but did not survey crop damage in Parli. Pankaja gave company to Fadnavis only for a brief period of time in the neighbouring Parbhani district.
Pankaja has never attacked Fadnavis directly, unlike Khadse, who blamed the former Maharashtra chief minister of “destroying his career”. But she has given enough signals that she is not happy being in the party.