Maharashtra: Pankaja Munde praises Sharad Pawar, triggers speculation about her exit from BJP
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pankaja Munde on Tuesday shared the stage with Sharad Pawar, 79, at a meeting in Pune to discuss the issues faced by sugarcane cutters and later praised the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader in a tweet, triggering fresh speculation about the possibility of her exit from her party. “Hats off to Sharad Pawar…Your stamina in hold meetings, touring, and working for hours even during the pandemic is simply commendable. Though I come from a different party, ideology, and type of politics, Mundesaaheb [her father late Gopinath Munde] taught me to respect the hard workers,” she tweeted in Marathi on Tuesday night.
Munde’s praise for Pawar comes a week after another BJP leader Eknath Khadse joined the NCP. She is considered the BJP’s Other Backward Class (OBC) face and is believed to be upset as after her loss in the 2019 assembly elections, she was expecting to be nominated to Maharashtra’s Legislative Council. Instead of her nomination to the upper House of the state legislature, she was named as one of the BJP’s national secretaries.
Munde is seen as a rival of former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has helmed the party in Maharashtra since 2014, within the BJP. Her supporters feel her detractors within the party tried to cut her to size when she was part of Fadnavis’s cabinet. Leaders close to her also say her 2019 election defeat was orchestrated from within the party. She lost to her cousin, NCP’s Dhananjay Munde.
Pankaja Munde has publicly expressed her disappointment and dared her party to remove her. She earlier announced she will not be part of the BJP’s core team in the state.
At a Dussehra rally in Beed on Sunday, she indirectly hit out at her detractors within the BJP. “Some leaders at the state level have vowed to finish me politically.” She also praised chief minister Uddhav Thackeray for the Rs 10,000 crore package for the flood-hit farmers.
BJP leaders admitted Pankaja Munde is upset with the party but said they do not expect her to quit like Khadse. “It is true that she is upset over the treatment meted out her along with a few other senior leaders like Khadse. She almost revolted against the state leadership in December last year after her defeat, but was later pacified,” said a BJP leader on condition of anonymity. “After Khadse’s exit, she has become vocal politically and has praised leaders from other parties as part of her strategy to build pressure on her detractors within the party. She is unlikely to quit the party immediately, as her importance as an OBC leader has increased after the exit of Khadse...”
An NCP leader said that though she has been trying to develop cordial relations with their leaders, Shiv Sena would be her first choice because of the local political equations if she decides to shift her loyalties.
Shiv Sena leader Arjun Khotkar has said they would be happy to induct her in their party.