Pankaja Munde faces off with community’s spiritual leader | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Pankaja Munde faces off with community’s spiritual leader

Things have soured between Munde, now the state’s women and child development minister and the sitting guru of Bhagwangad, Mahant Namdev Shastri Sanap, threatening to put a wedge in the community’s loyalities between the two as well as Munde’s position as their leader

mumbai Updated: Oct 09, 2016 00:19 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
The increasingly ugly tussle is getting played out with an eye on the upcoming Dasara rally on Tuesday, where by tradition nearly 10 lakh Vanjaris gather at Bhagwangad.
The increasingly ugly tussle is getting played out with an eye on the upcoming Dasara rally on Tuesday, where by tradition nearly 10 lakh Vanjaris gather at Bhagwangad.(HT)

In October 2014, ahead of the assembly polls, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pankaja Munde, still mourning her father and senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s demise , addressed a huge rally of her father’s ardent followers, the Vanjari community from Bhagwangad, a resting place for a saint worshipped by the community.

This rally with BJP president Amit Shah by her side was seen as political anointment for Pankaja, as the leader of the community. Not only did Pankaja win the election, BJP romped home with 15 out the 48 assembly seats in Marathwada, the party’s best tally so far from the region.

Two years down the line, things have soured between Munde, now the state’s women and child development minister and the sitting guru of Bhagwangad, Mahant Namdev Shastri Sanap, threatening to put a wedge in the community’s loyalities between the two as well as Munde’s position as their leader. The release of a controversial audio clip on TV channel and in WhatsApp groups (unauthenticated) in which Pankaja is heard at getting back at Shastri besides disbursing government funds in Gram Panchayats of her supporters has now led to Opposition demanding her resignation.

The increasingly ugly tussle is getting played out with an eye on the upcoming Dasara rally on Tuesday, where by tradition nearly 10 lakh Vanjaris gather at Bhagwangad.

The tradition also has been that Munde, earlier Gopinath and for the last two years, Pankaja addresses the community on the occasion.

This year, Shastri has said that the Dussehra gathering is no place for politics and Pankaja will not be able give a speech here. He also accused Pankaja of trying to politicise the issue and using force to capture Bhagwangad.

“One cannot try and capture Bhagwangad by force and it cannot be used for political means. That’s why I have said there will be no political speeches on Dussehra. It is unfortunate that Gopinathrao’s daughter is trying to do this,’’ said Shastri, in an interview to Marathi news channel IBN Lokmat.

Just last year, Shastri had called Pankaja his daughter when they shared dias at the annual Dasara rally.

Pankaja told HT that she did not want to comment on the issue. “I have tremendous faith and respect for Bhagwangad. It is my home.’’

Sources close to her however said that this was a political conspiracy against her by her rival and cousin, also Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council, Dhananjay Munde, who has been vying for the same political space.

Sources in BJP and in Beed told HT that the fracas has its roots in an ego tussle between the two with the mahant feeling that Pankaja was getting too big for her boots.

“The setting up of Gopinathgad, a memorial for her father, didn’t go down well with Shastri because it was being seen as an alternate power centre for the community. While Pankaja said it will focus on development and politics, they had also introduced religious functions there. Post elections, a case had been filed against the trust for violating code of conduct. Shastri feels that Pankaja did nothing to get this case annulled,” said a BJP party worker from Beed.

So far, Pankaja has not commented on the issue. BJP ally and animal husbandry ministry Mahadev Jankar, leader of Rashtriya Samaj Saksh, however, has defended her. “This is a conspiracy to malign Pankaja, who has established herself as the leader of the community. As is the tradition, she will visit Bhagwangad on Dasara to pay er respects and address her people,” he said.