In bid to fill OBC leadership vacuum, Pankaja Munde wins big on Dussehra
Maharashtra politics is in a state of extreme flux. That Maratha agitation, which has seen massive rallies take place across the state, has been gaining momentum. The OBC community replied to these rallies by organising their own in an effort to effectively counter the consolidation of Marathas across Maharashtra.
Bu the unrest has only been growing. Even though the High Court quashed the reservation given to Marathas, one major factor worrying the OBC community and Muslims in the state is that the Marathas have the backing in one way or another from every big political party in the state - the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), BJP and the Shiv Sena.
After Gopinath Munde's untimely death in a road accident in New Delhi two years ago and Chhagan Bhujbal's imprisonment, there has been a vacuum in OBC leadership in the state.
It is that void that the Munde's family is trying desperately to fill. His daughter, BJP leader and minister for women and child development, Pankaja Munde even took on Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a show of strength at a massive rally of her supporters near the foothills of the Bhagwangad temple (60 km from the Munde's bastion in Beed district) on Dussehra.
What's more, she went ahead with the rally despite being warned by the high priest of the temple trust, Namdev Shastri Sanap, against using the temple's Dussehra rally for political speeches. The priest had previously also written to the state and district administration, alleging that she was threatening him so that they would not give her permission to host the event.
"Bhagwangad is not a venue for political battle. Any such event should be held at the foothills. We will not let the temple used by politicians," Namdev Shastri had said 11 months ago.
He wasn't the only obstacle in her path. Pankaja's cousin NCP leader of the opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, also made a play for the Bhagwangad temple.
The road to leadership
It was an immensely important bid to grab most OBC eyeballs since a majority of the community in Marathwada, Central and Northern Maharashtra follow Bhagwan Baba. In fact, Gopinath Munde traditionally celebrated Dussehra at Bhagwangad, it being one of the main ways that he managed to gather the OBC community under his undisputed leadership.
The tussle over Dussehra and who would hold a rally at Bhagwangad is reportedly also the cause for dispute between Namdev Shastri and Pankaja Munde.
The cousins are well aware that the road to the top leadership of OBC community goes via Bhgwangad.
The situation became a little volatile on the ground level after the priest denied Pankaja permission to host the rally. He brother also managed to gain the upper hand for a while when an audio clip where Pankaja can be heard instructing her supporters to wait a little while to fix Namdev Shastri went viral. But the furore over that clip died down when another clip surfaced, one where the priest is threatening to fix Pankaja Munde.
Munde then managed to garner support from other OBC leaders such as Mahadev Jankar of Rashtriya Samaj Party and Sadabhau Khot of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana.
"We are well aware that who is behind the incident. We will not tolerate if Pankaja is prevented from celebrating Dashahara at Bhagwangad next year," Jankar said. He criticised Dhananjay Munde for fueling the dispute at the behest of Sharad Pawar.
"I am confident that OBC people and devotees of Bhagwanbaba will support me and we all will celebrate Dashehara festival the way my father used to celebrate, from next year," Pankaja Munde said.
Battles lines drawn
Both Pankaja and Dhananjay have been attempting to fill the power vacuum desperately. One is trying to get into the place of father and the other is trying to put claim on the legacy of uncle. After Gopinath Munde's death two years back, it was Chhagan Bhujbal who successfully managed to grow his mass base in the Munde turf. Sharad Pawar initially supported him and exploited Bhujbal for political mileage and votes of OBC community. However, Pawar deserted him after Bhujbal was sent to jail on charges of money laundering six months back.
It was then that Pankaja Munde hit a masterstroke by meeting Bhujbal when he was admitted to JJ Hospital for treatment when she sensed the opportunity to establish control over OBC community.
The meeting caught all the senior political leaders, including the stalwarts of NCP, on the wrong foot.
And now despite the political and administrative hurdles, Pankaja Munde managed to gather millions of people at Bhagwangad to celebrate Dussehra. She came down heavily on her cousin and the NCP for miserable state of the Maratha community and squarely blamed Sharad Pawar and the party for the dirty political games being played in the state.
Her remarks evoked sharp reactions from NCP leaders, including Dhananjay. But even though Pankaja has managed to win the round one, the real battle is far from over.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu