In 2009, four years after the murder of senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, his daughter Poonam, then 29, stood for her first assembly election in Mumbai. She got a ticket when many in BJP circles had written her family off, despite her uncle and senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde being alive.
In the main battle, she lost her assembly fight — ironically, against her father’s former associate, Ram Kadam (now a BJP MLA) of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Since then, Poonam has come a long way.
On Thursday, the 36-year-old BJP MP formally took over as head of the party’s youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, in a small function in Delhi.
She is only the second woman to hold the post, the first being Uma Bharati. But, it’s also a post that her father, the Union home minister Rajnath Singh and three-term Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan filled at the beginning of their careers. There is little doubt that being BJP’s Yuva Morcha national president can set the stage for greater things.
“The one thing my father taught me is that no one is bigger than the organisation. I am glad that my hard work has been recognised. I will use this opportunity to work for my party and better its chances everywhere. This is a golden decade for India. My heart is in my city and I want to see Mumbai transformed as among the best global cities,’’ Poonam told HT.
The transformation did not come easy, given the heartbreaking drubbing in 2009.
From being her father’s daughter to a brash and often arrogant political novice, to an efficient organiser, to a go-getter and a networker, Poonam has managed to work well and rebuild ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP bosses in Delhi and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Those close to Poonam pointed out it was the 2009 defeat and consequent turning of friends into foes that steeled her. Her efforts for self-improvement benefited her the most, her associates said. Her endeavour included public speaking tuitions to changing the wardrobe to party work to brushing up on political and social issues to speak at rallies and functions.
In 2010, she was appointed the national vice-president of the BJYM, and, in 2013, she became the youngest national secretary of the BJP.
But, the party post didn’t make it any easy for her to get a ticket for the 2014 elections from a constituency, Mumbai North East, she thought she had a chance to win. The party’s former MP Kirit Somaiya had lost two elections here and Poonam thought she was a good bet for the party. Despite lobbying hard and cultivating this constituency, Poonam was denied the ticket and Somaiya was given another chance instead.
She then took a chance on a constituency, Mumbai North Central, a Congress stronghold that no one from BJP was willing to contest. Her unexpected win in these polls became a turning point in her career.
Over the last two years, Poonam has made herself indispensable to the city’s big projects by using her MP status to co-ordinate and push city’s agenda with Union ministers. She has partnered and supported chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in all Mumbai projects from building an International Finance Centre (IFC) to being a member of the CM’s war room on infrastructure. Recently, she pulled off the Global Citizen event in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex that was headlined by the British rock band Cold Play. That earned her a pat on the back from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed the young audience of thousands via a video conference from Delhi.
Poonam constantly shuttles between Mumbai and Delhi.
Many may not know that her relations with Fadnavis are better than with her cousin and state minister Pankaja Munde. She is one of the CM’s few steadfast supporters in the state today.
“Her greatest strengths are in driving key initiatives, working with a team and smooth execution. Her leadership is participatory in nature and this has helped us through our last two-year journey in pushing big ticket projects,’’ said Officer on Special Duty with Chief Minister’s Office, Kaustubh Dhavse, who has worked with Mahajan on several projects from Global Citizen to International Finance Centre .
Poonam Mahajan’s journey
1. 36-year-old Poonam Mahajan joined politics in 2006, a year after the death of her father, Pramod Mahajan
2. She completed a commercial pilot’s training course and has an experience of 300 hours of flying in Dallas, US. She earned a diploma in Leadership Management from Brighton School in 2012
3. She is married to Anand Rao Vajendla, an industrialist from Hyderabad, and has one son, Aadya, and one daughter, Avika
4. Her first foray into politics came in the 2009 assembly polls, which she contested from Ghatkopar West constituency in Mumbai against Ram Kadam, then Maharashtra Navnirman Sena candidate and now a BJP MLA. She lost the election.
5. She held the post of general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), Maharashtra, for three years. In 2010, she was appointed as the national vice-president of BJYM and in 2013 became the youngest general secretary of the BJP
6. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she again got a chance and defeated then Congress MP Priya Dutt with a margin of 1.86 lakh votes
7. She had declared her assets worth Rs108 crore in her election affidavit in 2014
8. In the last two years, she has worked closely with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on big ticket Mumbai infrastructure issues and projects, including getting an International Finance Centre to Mumbai. She also organised the recent Global Citizen event at Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai
9. On December 22, she will formally take over as the national president of the BYJM, a post earlier held by BJP stalwarts, including her father, Rajnath Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
10. She shares great rapport with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, whom she refers to as ‘uncle’, and his son Aaditya. She has rebuilt ties with RSS and is in good books of party’s top brass.