She probably didn’t bargain for this when she signed on as BJP candidate.
Thirty-year-old Pankaja Palve-Munde wrinkles her nose as she sloshes through ankle-deep mud to the village square of one of the 168 villages on her campaign schedule.
There, she talks to a gathering of women about power cuts and better pay for daily wage earners, then walks through the crowd, greeting potential supporters eager to catch a glimpse of ‘Munde Dada’s porgi (daughter)’.
Around lunch time, Pankaja, daughter of BJP stalwart and former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde, finally gets out of the rain and into a village kitchen, where the first-time candidate rolls out jawar rotis for party workers with her hands.
She may be a political heir, but the bold and articulate Pankaja is making an effort, touring village after village with her message of rural and women’s empowerment — between taking calls from her seven-year-old son back home in Pune, and urging him to finish his homework before bedtime.
Pankaja is contesting the upcoming Assembly election from Parli in Beed district, her father’s fiefdom, and was chosen over her politically active cousin Dhananjay, causing some heartburn in the clan.
Asked about dynasty politics, she retorts: “The world has accepted the Clinton and Kennedy families as leaders. You don’t use the word ‘dynasty’ when it comes to them. Why should people have a problem electing a Munde if that person works for their betterment?”
Pankaja adds that she spent the first 17 years of her life in the region. “I understand the problems of my area and my people,” she says.
Fluent in Marathi and English, Pankaja went to a Marathi-medium school in Parli and graduated in Science from Mumbai’s Ruia College.
The eldest of Munde’s three daughters, Pankaja then moved to Bangalore to pursue her MBA but dropped out to marry Dr Amit Palve when she was 21 and moved to the US.
She returned to India three years later and cut her teeth in the 2004 Assembly election. where she managed her father’s campaign and helped him win for the fifth time the seat she is now contesting. She then handled her father’s Parliamentary election earlier this year, when he stood from Beed and won.
“I have had the honour of growing up among leaders like my father and uncle Pramod Mahajan,” says Pankaja. “Values likes my father’s patience and uncle’s discipline will stand me in good stead in the world of politics.”
Pankaja is up against the Congress’s T.P. Munde, a local activist who contested the 2004 state election on an SP ticket against her father but lost his deposit.
It’s likely that she will win, but is she the best candidate?
“Mundesaheb loves his family and is making arrangements for safeguarding his children’s political future,” says Shaikh Tatya of Parchundi village. “We just pray that he also treats us like his own and gives us a leader who will improve our lives.”
As for Munde himself, his reasons for picking his daughter are quite clear. “We are sure that [the Sena-BJP combine] will come back to power,” he told HT. “If I am asked to come back to Maharashtra, my daughter will readily vacate her seat for me, while if I ask my nephew, he might feel bad.”