In her home turf in Parli, BJP’s star campaigner and daughter of late Gopinath Munde, Pankaja’s campaign took off only on Saturday, barely three days before the high-profile election publicity juggernaut in the state comes to a halt.
She has held nearly fifty rallies in the state in the run-up to the assembly polls, across the state, including many outside her constituency.
Pankaja’s own poll battle for retaining the Parli seat is not going to be a cakewalk. She will face her cousin, Dhananjay, who was also mentored by her father in politics. But, the assurance that just three days of campaign will see her to the finish line vis-a-vis her cousin, who has been campaigning for nearly a month, comes from the huge sympathy wave following Gopinath Munde’s sudden demise just days after he took over as the Union rural development minister.
In a district, which has five lakh Vanjari voters, her father’s core support base, there is no one who will disagree about Munde’s large political footprint – neither among his supporters and nor his detractors. In Beed, assembly polls revolve around Munde’s larger-than-life personality even after his demise.
The irony is that, in his home turf, his sudden death is likely to reap dividends for the BJP, which was slowly marginalised here during his lifetime by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
It has also pole-vaulted Pankaja, who is facing only her second assembly election in the role of a chief ministerial contender. The young BJP legislator also has a share in this credit. Following her father’s death she undertook a 14-day sangharsh yatra across the state, meeting and consolidating her father’s core support base, the other backward classes (OBC).
“The momentum she created through her 14-day journey has made her worthy of being Munde’s heir. It remains to be seen whether Pankaja can really ever fill her father’s shoes. But, for now, she has passed her first test,’’ said a senior BJP leader and Munde’s aide.
The sympathy wave, along with some nifty political calculations, could dislodge NCP’s heavyweights in the district, claim BJP leaders. In Beed’s six seats only one, Parli, is with BJP, the rest including Georai, Kaij, Majalgaon, Beed and Ashti are with the NCP. Barring Beed, where former NCP minister Jaydutt Kshirsagar, also an OBC, has a strong grip on his constituency, other NCP big shots including former NCP minister Suresh Dhas (Ashti), Prakash Salunkhe (Majalgaon), Badamrao Pandit (Georai), Namita Mundada, daughter-in-law of former NCP minister Vimal Mundada, (Kaij) may lose their bastions in this pro-OBC, Munde wave.
“This time we have to vote for Munde, the next time we don’t know. At least, we owe him that much. He was always there for the poor, for the backward. He fought for us and was one amongst us,’’ said Anna Chamnar, a sugarcane labourer.
There are, however, a few doubts over Pankaja.
“How will she manage in this political arena when they managed to kill such a big man like Munde?’’ said Hirabai, a marginal farmer from Parli, who was at Munde’s house to give her blessings to his daughter.
The NCP camp in Parli is hoping to cash in on this doubt and establish Dhananjay as the true inheritor of Munde’s legacy. Dhananjay, who learnt the ropes from his uncle Gopinath and handled much of his work in home town Parli, before the falling out in 2009, has a base and following in the town.
“He has substantial muscle power. And, I am not taking him for granted but I know my people will back me. They want me to take my father’s place and walk ahead and fulfil his dreams for his people. He died just when he reached a position to do that. I can’t look back now, I am on a mission,’’ said Pankaja.