Mumbai: More than the good over evil as the Dussehra traditionally symbolises, it is now the politics of the time that glows even more than the burning effigy of Ravana. In an apparent show of strength, Maharashtra Minister for Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde exploited the opportunity on Tuesday when she organised a massive rally at Bhagwangad in Ahmednagar defying the ban imposed by the district administration.
Although shockwaves rippled across the state machinery as the minister personally led a massive crowd of over three lakh to defy the very law she is under oath to protect, the political significance of the entire event was unmissable. Following the death of her father Gopinath Munde and with NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal in jail, Pankaja is well aware of the huge vacuum as far as a tall OBC leader in Maharashtra is concerned.
Pankaja belongs to Wanjara community which is a part of the other backward class (OBC).
What was even more interesting politically were the people who joined her during the rally. Apart from her sister and Beed Lok Sabha MP Pritam Munde, three senior ministers — Ram Shinde, Mahadev Jankar and Sadabhau Khot — of the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet were also present. Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangle constituency Raju Shetty was there as well.
"I have kept my resignation ready in the helicopter. I am not arrogant but a self-esteemed person. People both from within and outside the party are deliberately targeting me," Pankaja said in the rally openly indicating at the turbulent phase she is going through.
Although Pankaja did not name anyone from the BJP, it is hardly a secret that the minister is not having a great rapport with the Chief Minister. There was little doubt that the show of strength was a subtle message to the Chief Minister. She went on to say that both Jankar and Khot are like her "brothers" and because of her they got their ministerial berths.
"They are trapping me like Abhimanyu, but I am born to defend myself. They have levelled all kinds of allegations against me. Now they are trying to malign my image to show I am a hooligan," Pankaja said in the rally. "I am not scared of anyone," she thundered.
Rashtriya Samaj Paksha president and Cabinet Minister Mahadev Jankar, however, did not spare NCP leader Ajit Pawar and Pankaja Munde's cousin and opposition leader in the council Dhananjay Munde as well.
The tradition of holding a Dussehra rally at Bhagwangad was started by the late Gopinath Munde. However, this time, things got little complicated as the Mahant Namdev Shastri of Bhagwangad opposed Pankaja's rally from a largely religious platform. Following Shastri's call, the district administrative became wary of an unfolding law and order crisis and clamped a ban on the rally.
"This is not a political rally, but a social gathering of the society. Now, you see with whom are the masses with. I am with Pankaja. This is not shakti pradarshan (show of strength) but a bhakti pradarshan (show of loyalty)," senior BJP leader Ekanth Khadse told Firstpost.
Khadse, who was forced to quit the Fadnavis cabinet for alleged corruption in June this year, apparently do not share a smooth relationship with the Chief Minister as well.
Already worried over the series of silent but huge Maratha protests over reservations, the latest display of strength by Pankaja along with her ministerial colleagues, further pushes Fadnavis into a knotty situation. Upping the ante, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray also backed the Maratha cause putting the state government even more in a difficult position. The recent violence in Nashik over an alleged rape of a minor girl forcing the government to ban data on the internet and mobile offered little help to the Chief Minister.
Things have come to such a pass that an all-weather friend like the Shiv Sena has likely to fight the Mumbai civic polls next year alone although the party shares an alliance with the BJP at the Centre, state and in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
Indications that the Maharashtra Chief Minister is now charting on a rough terrain are evident from the fact that BJP alliances like the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatan are siding with Pankaja.