Dhananjay Munde. (Hindustan Times)
Dhananjay Munde. (Hindustan Times)

Dhananjay Munde suffers setback as his upward surge halted by controversy

Dhananjay Munde’s rise in state politics has been impressive since 2014
By Shailesh Gaikwad, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JAN 16, 2021 12:02 AM IST

Dhananjay Munde’s rise in state politics has been impressive since 2014. Though he lost to cousin Pankaja Munde in 2014 assembly elections, he was handpicked by NCP leadership for the post of Opposition leader in Legislative Council-the post that was occupied by the likes of Sharad Pawar, Nitin Gadkari and Chhagan Bhujbal in the past. During the five years of Devendra Fadanvis led the BJP-Sena government, he emerged as an aggressive opposition leader, often attacking the government over its policies and controversies. He surprised everyone when he defeated Pankaja in 2019 assembly elections. As the three-party coalition of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress formed the government, he was inducted as a cabinet minister and given politically significant social justice department. He was also being seen as a prominent Other Backward Class (OBC) not only of his party but also of the ruling MVA.

But now Dhananjay Munde,45, is staring at a setback in his political career. His image has taken a beating following the allegations of sexual exploitation made against him by a woman. The allegations have also forced him to disclose that he was in a relationship with the woman’s elder sister and they even had two children together. The BJP has now announced an agitation from Monday to demand his sacking from the state cabinet. It is also accusing him of hiding his second marriage in his election affidavit (though he has used the word relation and marriage) and demanding his disqualification as a legislator. He almost lost his post as minister in the MVA government in the state but has got respite after two leaders from BJP and MNS came forward to say that the woman in question had tried to honey-trap them in the past. However, there is going to be a police investigation into the entire episode. As such, his fate would depend on the outcome of the investigation.

Will he be able to bounce back?

Ironically, Dhananjay first became a known name in political circles due to controversies surrounding him during his mentor and uncle Gopinath Munde’s tenure as deputy chief minister of first Shiv Sena-BJP government in the state. As senior Munde got busy with his responsibilities, nephew Dhananjay got an opportunity to handle political management in his uncle’s stronghold, Beed district in Marathwada or central Maharashtra. Dhananjay and his father Panditanna were often accused of running riot by Munde’s political opponents. He kicked up several controversies and his uncle was forced to do damage control.

Subsequent years saw differences emerging between Gopinath Munde and his brother-nephew duo. The gap widened as senior Munde fielded his daughter Pankaja to represent his assembly constituency when he moved to Lok Sabha in 2009. Three years later, Dhananjay joined the NCP.

Following Munde’s death in an accident in June 2014, Dhananjay tried to wrest the leadership of the Munde clan from cousin Pankaja but failed. He avenged it first by constantly attacking her (she was a minister in Fadnavis government) as Opposition Leader of Council and later by defeating her in 2019 assembly elections.

The rivalry between the cousins is likely to continue as Pankaja is likely to launch an offensive against him to avenge her defeat.

“This controversy is a set back for him but it is unlikely to affect him much in his rural constituency as his performance is not bad. However, it will tarnish the party’s image,” opined political analyst Hemant Desai.

“He had a good future to become a prominent leader but now this affair may haunt him. It will affect his base among women voters,” he added.

Perhaps that was why NCP chief Sharad Pawar termed the allegations against him as serious and indicated that he would have to face the consequences. The party top brass discussed if he was needed to be dropped from the state cabinet but has now decided against it. Dhananjay is close to deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar who has thrown his weight behind the former. Him being an OBC leader in a party dominated by Marathas could help him as the party would be cautious not to irk his OBC supporters.

He also shares cordial relations with Fadnavis and would hope that the BJP does not go far in seeking his scalp.

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