Women and child development minister Pankaja Munde on Tuesday set another precedent for the most watched out rallies in Maharashtra on the occasion of Dussehra, with a massive show of strength rally at Bhagwangad in Ahmednagar district, 336km from Mumbai.
In an increasingly polarised state, Munde’s Dussehra rally assumes significance and is likely to be watched out for in the coming years, along with Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and Shiv Sena’s annual rallies.
With this rally, the daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, who was caught in a leadership tussle with the spiritual guru of her Vanjari community, established her credentials as a leader with mass following in the state. The strength of the rally and her command over her followers sent out a message to her political opponents and party leaders to not take her lightly.
“I have walked down the fort of ego and conspiracy to meet you. I am the daughter of Bhagwangad and carry forward my father, Gopinath Munde’s, legacy. Now it is for everyone to see who the people are backing… I am connected with you by an umbilical cord. I am not your leader, but your mother,” said Munde, addressing thousands of followers.
She was flanked by her supporters, including sister and BJP MP Preetam Munde, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha leader and minister Mahadev Jankar, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leaders Raju Shetti and minister Sadabhau Khot, among others. Other than water conservation minister Ram Shinde, whose constituency is close to Munde’s, no other BJP state leader was present at the rally.
The successful rally was held at the foothills of Bhagwangad, with the district administration prohibiting assembly within one acre of the shrine precint. Undeterred by this or the sitting Mahant (religious head of Bhagwangad shrine) Namdeo Shastri’s objection, Munde and her supporters held the rally at the foothills of the shrine.
Using archetypes of the mother and the goddess, stories from Mahabharat and folklore, liberally in her speech, Munde said often in politics one has to fight a war. “I will fight on the path of Dharma (duty and righteousness). After Munde sahib died, I tried to take forward his legacy on my shoulders. So many attempts were made to surround and target me like Abhimanyu, with allegations of corruption, scams and demands for resignation,” she said.
Recently, Munde was at the receiving end over a series of allegations in connection with decisions taken by the women and child development department led by her.
Munde’s supporters, including Jankar and Shetti, in their speeches said that attempts were made to politically isolate and target her. This jibe is being viewed not just against Munde’s rival and cousin, Dhananjay, but also her BJP rivals, including chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
The coming together of Munde, leader of the Vanjari community; Jankar, a Dhangar or shepherd community leader, and Shetti, seen as leader of landless farm labourers, is likely to be seen in political circles as a bid to build an alternative political platform.
Munde also backed the Maratha community’s demand for reservation as long as it did not touch the OBC reservations. She blamed the established political leadership of the community – Congress and NCP politicians – for doing nothing for the community, despite enjoying power for decades. However, she questioned the demand to review the Atrocity Act, saying Dalits are still being attacked in almost every village till date. Significantly, former revenue minister and senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse praised Munde and said she was the OBC leader in the state. Khadse who had to quit the state cabinet following allegations of wrongdoing is unhappy with Fadnavis.