Ahmednagar (Maharashtra), Oct 11 (IANS) On Dussehra day, Maharashtra Minister Pankaja Munde and her Lok Sabha member-sister Pritam Munde on Tuesday put up a massive show of strength, virtually cementing their claim to the socio-political legacy of their father, the late Union Minister Gopinath Munde and leader of the marginal Vanzari community.
The display of support took place symbolically at the Bhagwangad temple on the hills bordering Ahmednagar-Beed districts of the backward Marathwada region.
Though estimates varied, more than seven to eight lakh people from all over the state turned up, giving a major boost to the Munde sisters, especially Pankaja, who was embroiled in an ugly spat with the head priest of the Bhagwangad temple, Mahant Namdeo Shastri Sanap, over the past few weeks.
The controversy arose after the temple management declined Pankaja Munde permission to address the annual Dussehra rally at the temple, but Munde’s supporters said she should be permitted as her father addressed his supporters for 20 years from Bhagwangad.
Later, addressing a rally at the base of the temple, Pankaja virtually threw a challenge at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine — in whose state government she is the Rural Development Minister — by asking why Dalits suffer atrocities everywhere.
“Why should Dalits not get justice? If they don’t get justice, then what is the use of power?” she asked, as the crowds roared in approval.
Pointing at the huge gathering, she added: “This is not a political rally, but a social gathering with the blessings of Saint Bhagwan Baba. We have come to power for you and because of you. I shall not let the rulers forget this. Now, you see who the masses are supporting?”
Referring to the ongoing Maratha and other castes’ rallies in the state, Pankaja said it is sad that now there are rallies in the name of castes for Maratha reservations.
Continuing in a style which reminded many of her father, she said: “I am not your leader, I am your Mother… I want to vanquish the demons of caste, dowry, female foeticide…”
Without taking names, she referred to the recent controversy on a potential law and order situation her rally could create: “Am I a terrorist, or a goon… I am a devotee like you… When I brought my father’s ashes to the temple, I became Saint Bhagwan Baba’s daughter. I shed my pride and climbed down today to address you here…”
Several other speakers, including Pritam Munde and Mahadev Jankar, took the opportunity to lash out at the Nationalist Congress Party and called estranged cousin Dhananjay Munde, Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra legislative council, as “a traitor” who has taken a contract to politically finish off Pankaja Munde.
Dhananjay Munde responded subsequently, saying that he would “give a reply at the appropriate time”.
Earlier in the day, Pritam Munde led a motor convoy of over a 1,000 big and small vehicles from Beed to Bhagwangad with several thousand supporters joining en route.
Later, Pankaja arrived at the base of the Bhagwangad temple in a helicopter, sending the huge crowds into raptures. Along with a handful of supporters, she then went up to the temple for a ‘darshan’ of Saint Bhagwan Baba.
Pankaja was accompanied by her husband Amit Palwe, backward castes leaders of other friendly parties, including Raju Shetti, Jankar, Sadabhau Khot and Ram Shinde.
However, at the temple, she avoided meeting the Mahant, who had said she was welcome to the place of worship, but would not be permitted to speak there.
The massive turnout stumped many in political circles, prompting former minister and senior-most BJP leader Eknath Khadse to throw his weight behind Pankaja Munde.
“I am with Pankaja-tai (Pankaja). This is not a ‘shakti-pradarshan’ (show of strength) but a ‘bhakti-pradarshan’ (show of faith) here,” he added.