“Right now, I would like to ensure the state gets a BJP government and chief minister (CM). After that, maybe I’ll aspire for the CM’s post," BJP legislator and daughter of late Gopinath Munde, Pankaja, told HT in an interview on Tuesday.
Pankaja, who was recently anointed by the BJP president Amit Shah as the party’s OBC face, said she doesn’t quite see senior leader Nitin Gadkari, also her late father’s rival, as a contender for the chief minister’s post, because he was no longer in state politics.
When HT caught up with you last at your home town Parli, it was during the Lok Sabha 2014 polls. In the past four months, you are facing another election in completely altered circumstances.
Yes, during the Lok Sabha elections, my dad was still with us. I had inspiration, guidance from him and a lot of dreams. Right now, I am working, but there are no dreams, there’s just a mission to try and complete my father’s work. I have been working 20 to 22 hours so when I hit the bed, I have no time to think. What happened was devastating and shocking for my family. I cannot express it in words.
Following your father’s demise, it was being said you have been offered a ministerial berth at the Centre. Why did you decide to stay back in state politics?
After my father’s demise, I was included in the BJP core committee. The committee had suggested that I be given a minister’s post. But I did not want to be a minister based on sympathy. I did not want any favours or promotions because of sympathy. I wanted to show my merit, my strength and give something back to the party so I deserve what I am offered.
Was that why you planned the Sangharsh Yatra, to prove yourself and consolidate your father’s base?
The motive behind ‘Punha Sangharsh Yatra’ was to reach out to my father’s huge following, because they were also shattered after his death. There were lakhs of people connected to the party only because of my dad. And all these people were deviating from the BJP; they had hatred and questions in their mind. I decided I should reach out to console them and gather them to increase the strength of my party. Initially, I had decided I’ll just travel across the state, but when I started promoting my plans, I got calls from people asking about the Sangharsh Yatra. That is how it was called Punha Sangharsh Yatra, because for me it is a struggle to fit into my father’s shoes, to digest that he is no more and gather people back.
Your yatra got an overwhelming response and now your supporters want you to be CM as witnessed at Amit Shah’s rally at Bhagwangad. Are you a contender?
I never aspired or planned to pitch myself as chief minister. I want to play a key role in ensuring the BJP comes to power. I also wanted to show my leaders what a Munde can do and bring to the party and what my dad’s legacy is. During this tour and now during poll campaigns, people are saying I should take my father’s place. His dream was to be the chief minister of the state and so supporters say this. They were cheering at Amit Shah’s rally too and frankly I was embarrassed, but Amit bhai said don’t be embarrassed. Right now, I would like to be the king maker [laughs] in this scenario, not the king. I want to ensure the state gets a BJP government and a CM. After this, maybe I’ll aspire for the post.
Do you think the alliance with the Shiv Sena would have broken if your father was alive?
I can’t imagine what would have happened if he was alive. But I know he was a figure of authority in both the BJP and the Sena. An elderly figure, who had the knack of negotiating and understanding people. He could have just said ‘Uddhav jaudya ata..karun taku ya’ [Uddhav leave it, let’s just do it] But, then, it’s equally true that if Balasaheb was there the alliance would not have broken. We tried to do what Mundeji could do, but lacked experience.
In Marathwada, the BJP had done quite badly in the 2009 polls, you had won only two seats. What is the situation now? Will you be able to consolidate the party’s strength in the region?
I think we will do very well in my district, Beed as well as in Marathwada. In 2009, I won the only seat, Parli, from the district and there are five NCP MLAs. This time, I think we can topple some strongholds in Beed. Overall, we will do as well as the 2004 polls by winning 11 seats if not more from Marathwada. And I am confident that we will come to power with complete majority in the state.
Your cousin Dhananjay Munde is contesting against you in your home constituency. Are you upset that the family feud did not end even after your father’s demise?
I did not expect anything better from Dhananjay. I have known him since he was a child and it is his mission to defeat me in the elections. His family did not even meet us after my father’s death, so that chapter is closed. My opponent has considerable muscle power, but I know my people will back me.
What is your response to critics who say sympathy votes will see you through in this election?
In the past three months I have tried to bring my father’s followers together. There is no looking back. His shoes are very big and I aspire to fit into them. But my critics can forget about dislodging me or writing me off. If we come to power, in the next five years no one will be asking this question.