My people have accepted me as I am, says Pankaja Munde
Pankaja Munde spoke to HT about a range of issues from carrying forward her father’s tradition to being targeted over her personal choicesmumbai Updated: Oct 08, 2017 00:12 IST
After holding a successful show of strength rally on Dussehra — her third since her father Gopinath Munde’s demise — Pankaja Munde, in a free-wheeling chat, spoke to HT about a range of issues from carrying forward her father’s tradition to being targeted over her personal choices and her controversial run in the government. Here are excerpts from the interview.
For the past two years, your Dussehra rally has been quite controversial. Why insist on holding it when the spiritual head of your community has opposed it?
I have been going to Bhagwangad — the Vanjari community’s pilgrimage site — for the Dusshera rally for the past 15 years. After I joined politics, my father and I made it an annual ritual. His idea was that younger generation should get attached to Bhagwangad. Beyond politics, it was a way to bind people together in support of a good cause. I wanted to take that tradition forward. This Dussehra rally today is a matter of prestige and empowerment for lakhs of poor people, such as sugarcane cutters. I didn’t want to disrespect Mahant Namdeo Shashtri, but lakhs of people wanted to attend this rally. So, we finally decided to hold it at Savargaon in Beed, which is where Bhagwanbaba, was born, instead of at Bhagwangad.
Despite being a senior minister in the BJP-led government, your rally did not get a go-ahead
I personally did not petition anyone, be it the superintendent of police, district collector or even the chief minister, for permission. Even before we could start preparing for such a rally, the mahant had sent a letter saying such a gathering would lead to a law-and-order situation. We were denied permission to hold the rally over security concerns. The BJP kept its distance as this was not a party issue.
Do you see politics behind the opposition to you ?
I think there has been a great deal of strength behind this opposition. Whoever is responsible for it will be exposed in the future.
How do you respond to detractors, who often say your clothes and hairstyle are the reasons why you will not be accepted as the leader of your community?
Yes, I have heard such loose talk. My people have accepted me with my open hair, in a salwar suit and with my attitude. They have accepted me because they see my father in me. Those who talk about my fashion sense or my hair are probably insecure men. Early in my political career, my father told me that I should not pretend to be someone I am not. I think that has worked for me quite well.
There is a perception that you haven’t done as well in local elections.
I have lost just one election — the Parli municipal council. I have won my zilla parishad, my district co-operative bank. Today, in Beed, five of six legislators are from the BJP, one MP is from the BJP. Our party has won six of eight municipal councils. I split the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in half. The one election I lost is discussed more than my victories.. that upsets me.
Your stint as women and child development minister has been controversial. From the anganwadi sevika strike to allegations over take-home rations and the chikki scam, there have been several issues
I have proven all the allegations against me wrong. I contested the take home ration tenders issue in the Supreme Court. Though it shocked me initially, I decided early on not to hide I decided to face the media and these allegations head-on. I am in charge of the rural development department, which has not faced any allegations. This is because of the absence of lobbies right up to the taluka level. Within two days of the anganwadi sevika strike, I hiked their salaries by 35%. They now get paid Rs6,500 a month. When I took over, they were getting Rs4,000 a month. During my tenure, I gave them two salary hikes and have budgeted Rs363 crore for them. I am open to more discussions.