Pankaja Munde at a rally on the birth anniversary of her father, Gopinath Munde, in Parli. (PTI Photo)
The knives were out against former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis as rebels within the BJP used the birth anniversary of late Gopinath Munde to assert themselves within the organisation on Thursday.
At a public rally held at Gopinath Gad in Beed district’s Parli, former minister Pankaja Munde raised the banner of revolt against Fadnavis in the presence of state BJP president Chandrakant Patil, who spoke at the event and assured that all voices in the party would be heard. Senior leader and party rebel Eknath Khadse too invoked Munde senior to point out that he had changed the party’s upper caste-Brahmin image in Maha-rashtra and given it wider appeal. Like Pankaja, he, too, did not mention the former chief minister, who is a Brahmin, by name.
The BJP’s lotus symbol and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pictures were missing from event banners at the venue.
Declaring that she would begin working from her father’s former office in Mumbai, Pankaja announced that she would begin a statewide tour from January 26, and hold a day’s fast on January 27 at Aurangabad — the headquarters of Marathwada region — “to highlight the drought” situation.
She also made it clear she would not quit BJP. “This is my father’s party, I will not leave. Let the party leave me, if there are problems,” she said, amid thunderous applause from the crowd at regular intervals. “Yes, my father built the party, it is my father’s party,” she stressed.
She spoke about her contribution to BJP’s victory in the 2014 Assembly elections. “I have some contribution towards the government formation. I worked to get several MLAs elected.” she said.
Throughout her speech, Pan-kaja refrained from naming any BJP leader, even as it was evident that her attack was aimed at Fad-navis. Justifying her public tirade, she said, “If we didn’t have leaders with rebellious minds, India wouldn’t have got Independence.”
Dismissing rumours that she was quitting the BJP, Pankaja said rebellion was not in her blood. “I expect the BJP leadership to find out who accelerated media debates of me leaving the party,” she said. “Is there a deliberate attempt to malign my image that I am pressurising my party to gain some post... I am not lobbying for any post like the Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council,” she added.
While the rally was attended by state leaders and elected MLAs and office-bearers, Fadnavis stayed away. Among those whom were denied ticket by the BJP in the October 21 elections, Ekanth Khadse and Prakash Mehta attended the rally, but Vinod Tawde and Chandrashekhar Bawankule skipped the event.
Khadse, who has openly rebelled against the party, also directed his attack against Fadnavis without naming him.
“I have never stabbed anybody in the back Whatever I have experienced in the party after serving it for last 40 years is extremely painful. I only pray nobody should go through such an experience. Even our great leader, late Gopinath Munde, who made the party a mass-based organisation giving it a new identity from shetji bhatji (upper caste Brahmin), was subjected to a lot of hardships. Today, I recall Gopinathji who often said hum tau dubenge sanam, tumhe bhi le dubenge,” he added.
He blamed insiders in the party for Pankaja’s defeat from Parli to her estranged cousin Dhananjay Munde of the NCP. “Pankaja didn’t lose, she was defeated. The sad thing is that she was defeated in Gopinath Munde’s home constituency. Our own people are destroying our leaders,” he said. “Those who became minister or MP or MLA or CM should remember that they succeeded because of Munde’s efforts to build the party,” he added.
Khadse invoked Gopinath Munde after every two lines. He said, “If Munde was here, I may have been the chief minister.”
Warning that the party should not believe that Pankaja was alone in the battle, he said, “I will always stand by her side. I have nothing to gain or lose. I can speak endlessly and reveal a lot of things. But I was asked by Pankaja not to speak much against the organisation and leaders. Therefore, I am withholding a lot of information.”
But he did give expression to his ire. “In my life and political career, I have seen many ups and downs... I was denied ticket in the state polls. I was sure to win. But at the last minute, my daughter Rohini was given ticket. She was not keen to contest. Even then, party insiders worked against her to ensure her defeat.”
“Yet, I am refraining from stating everything. I know they (leaders) are watching the video. And if I speak, they will also not hesitate to serve a showcause notice to me,” Khadse added.
He also claimed that without his nod, Fadnavis would not have become the state BJP chief. “It was Gopinath Munde who asked me to approve Devendra Fadnavis’s appointment as state president. I could not say no in the face of his (Munde’s) insistence.” Fadnavis was made state BJP president in 2013, when Khadse was the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.
Khadse aimed another barb at Fadnavis’s 80-hour government when talking about Munde’s proposed memorial. “I want to thank Devendra Fadnavis who formed 80-hour government with the help of NCP leader Ajit Pawar on November 23 and immediately sanctioned further approvals and issued work order for Gopinath Munde’s memorial in Auran-gabad. Fadnavis took the decision in those three days and quit on November 26,” he said. “He formed the government only to take such decisions,” Khadse added.
“Gopinath Munde was a generous and liberal leader. The current party leadership, however, possesses traits of grudge and envy,” he further said.
at the event, Chandrakant Patil said, “Let us not fight in the open. I understand your concerns and complaints. It will be noted. Mistakes were made but by the people, not by the party. Why should you express your anger against the party? I reassure the party will take note of all complaints and take necessary action. All the issues that have been raised will be addressed and resolved.”
He said senior leaders like Khadse should not talk about leaving the party. “Instead, he should adopt a stand saying ‘I have made the party and I am going to stay... you people who have come after us should go out of the party’.”
A senior leader said: “When the party is in Opposition, such power tussle is obvious. It shows individual leaders, who were denied ticket or faced defeat, are united in targetting the former CM. They are demanding their pound of flesh.”
Explaining the party’s decision to allow the rally to be held, a BJP leader said, “By giving rebels a platform to ventilate their grievances, the party is ensuring that there is no defection. Moreover, it also wants to convey a message to the Maratha and OBC constituencies by putting Khadse, Munde and Patil on the same stage.”