Pankaja fasts for Marathwada, praises Uddhav
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Pankaja Munde held a day-long symbolic fast in Aurangabad on Monday to draw the government’s attention to the chronic water scarcity in her home turf of Marathwada. Munde, who has been sulking since her electoral defeat in the state polls, played the regional card to project herself as Marathwada’s tallest leader in the BJP.
While she put forth 10 demands before the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA), she stopped short of criticising the incumbent government and even praised chief minister Uddhav Thackeray. “For the first time, someone from the Thackeray family is the chief minister. He is sensitive and I see no reason why he should not accept our demands as they are for the good of this region. I am not here to criticise the government, it’s been only 100 days. If they don’t perform, then at a later stage we can protest,” said Munde.
She also said that she will meet Thackeray to discuss the issue and urged the government to hold a one-day cabinet in Marathwada to review projects specific to the region. The Mundes and Thackerays have enjoyed good relations that Pankaja seems unwilling to disrupt at this stage, although party insiders said the BJP was keen on a more aggressive approach.
The former minister at the same time used this platform to assure her followers that they should not believe in rumours that she was going to quit the BJP, as she was loyal to her party.
The BJP also rallied behind her to showcase a united front , with even former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who is viewed as a rival, turning up to inaugurate the fast. Others like Union minister Raosaheb Danve, Haribhau Bagde, her sister and MP Pritam Munde and leader of opposition in the Council Pravin Darekar, BJP general secretary Sujitsingh Thakur were also present at the venue at the divisional commissioner’s office in Aurangabad.
While Munde did not target the government, Fadnavis threatened widespread protests if projects for Marathwada cleared by his government such as the water grid were scrapped or slowed down. The ₹3,122-crore water grid project envisages linking of 11 dams in the region and connecting them through water pipelines to supply water for drinking, agriculture.
“Our government had cleared many projects for Marathwada. We had sanctioned a water grid project and even cleared a plan. If this [water grid] project is brought to a halt, widespread agitations will be held under the leadership of Pankaja Munde,” cautioned Fadnavis, while speaking to reporters in Aurangabad.
The BJP’s other demands for Marathwada include additional budgetary outlay of ₹1,600 crore every year for the region to remove irrigation backlog, speedier implementation of the Krishna-Marathwada project and implementation of Jalyukt Shivar schemes of water conservation, etc.
State revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat in response to the BJP’s agitation said that the water grid project was not scrapped and was merely under review. State food and civil supplies minister Chhagan Bhujbal, however, took potshots at the symbolic fast by pointing out that “if they had worked for the past five years, they could have avoided the one-day fast”.