150 BJP elected local representatives in Beed resign in protest against Pritam Munde's exclusion from the Union ministry.
While Pankaja Munde -- the politically sidelined daughter of the late Bharatiya Janata Party heavyweight Gopinath Munde -- is publicly placating supporters from her home turf of Maharashtra's Beed, the spate of resignations from local BJP leaders to express their anger over two-time MP from Beed Dr Pritam Munde's exclusion from Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi's recently rejuvanted Union ministry continue unabated.
Political commentators and Munde detractors in the BJP claim that the Munde sisters' behind-the-scenes rebellion, riding on the shoulders of locally elected party representatives, is akin to a storm in a tea cup and it won't help them to either maintain their stranglehold over the family's political turf in Maharashtra's Beed district or hold onto their late father's legacy and popularity among the OBC Vanjari community to which the family belongs.
The curtain on the Munde rebellion began to lift soon after Pritam, whose name, her supporters claim, was in the reckoning for a ministerial berth, did not make it apparently because of the animosity of some BJP leaders in Maharashtra towards the Mundes.
While the sisters maintain a silence over the younger Munde's exclusion from the Union ministry, Pankaja was "upset", says a BJP leader from the Munde camp, "and that resulted in mass resignations of elected members from local self-governments in Beed."
According to this Munde camp follower, the sisters were hopeful that Modi-Amit Shah's OBC-outreach would land a ministerial post for Pritam. Instead, a ministerial postion went to Dr Bhagvat Karad, the BJP Rajya Sabha MP, a protégé of their late father Gopinath, who also belongs to the Vanjari caste, a powerful OBC group in Maharashtra.
That is when the spate of resignations of local BJP corporators, taluka presidents, councilors, members of panchayat samitis and grassroots workers from Beed district began, giving credence to the fact that the sisters, especially Pankaja -- who nurses resentment against former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who she reportedly believes, played a big role in her defeat in the 2019 assembly election against her cousin Dhananjay Munde of the Nationalist Congress Party from the Parli constituency in Beed -- engineered the resignations of more than 150 elected loyalists from the district.
"After Gopinathrao's death, the people of Beed were hoping for a Munde to take his position in the Union ministry," says Rajendra Maske, the BJP's district president in Beed. "When they did not see Pritamtai's name in the list of 43 ministers who were sworn in on July 7 it was only natural for them to feel angry and disheartened."
"As true BJP soldiers we accept the decisions of senior party leaders, but sentiment among grassroots party workers is that we deserve respect and much more than what we have got," says Maske, who is in receipt of scores of resignation letters of elected representatives from Beed.
"Such political blackmail is well past its due date," insists Prakash Akolkar, a keen observer of politics in the state, who in his four-decade career as a journalist has seen several such instances.
Pritam Munde won her first Lok Sabha election from Beed in a bypoll necessitated by her father's untimely demise in a road accident in Delhi on June 3, 2014 soon after he was inducted in Modi's maiden Cabinet as rural development and panchayati raj minister.
In a sympathy wave that swept Beed given her father's sway over the region, Pritam Munde created history by defeating Congress minister Ashok Patil by a record margin of a few thousand votes shy of the 700,000 mark.
Modi, the same year, had won the Vadodara Lok Sabha constituency by a margin of 570,000 votes.
"People were emotional and did get swept away because of Gopinathrao's sudden demise. They did vote overwhelmingly for Pritam Munde, and she did win a second term from the same constituency, but does that make her eligible for a ministerial berth? Does she have her father's appeal as a mass leader?" asks Akolkar.
"These resignations are just political tamasha, a stunt,that will misfire badly eventually on both Pritam and Pankaja," warns a senior Maharashtra BJP leader with whom Pankaja had often exchanged heated arguments when she was the women and child welfare minister in the Fadnavis government and had faced charges of corruption related to alleged irregularities in awarding contracts for school children worth Rs 2.06 billion.
Pankaja Munde secured a clean chit in 2016 from the Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau and her supporters have often hinted that Fadnavis was trying to sabotage her political ascendancy in the state BJP as he saw in her a threat to his chief ministership.
Fadnavis, says this senior BJP leader, played a significant role in recommending the names of Bhagvat Karad, Narayan Rane, Dr Bharati Pawar and Kapil Patil as ministers. "This could well be yet another game played by Fadnavis to cut the Munde clan to size," he avers.
"Pankaja has been cleverly sidelined in the state BJP, by making Bhagvat Karad a Union minister of state, yet another attempt to reduce the influence of Mundes on the Vanjari community and that is perhaps why they have staged this resignation drama," says a Munde detractor in the state BJP.
Nevertheless, the meeting between Modi and Pankaja Munde, in her capacity as a BJP national secretary, on Sunday, July 12, does underline the importance of keeping the politically vocal Munde sibling in good humour. The prime minister also met Vinod Tawde and Vijaya Rahatkar, two other BJP national secretaries from Maharashtra, on Sunday even as BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda met Munde after she met Modi.
"It was after these meeting that Pankaja Munde has been asking her loyalists to fall in line," says a former Maharashtra BJP minister.
"After Pankajatai and Pritamtai spoke with their supporters and explained their position to them I think the issue has been resolved at the ground level. As per the district president (Maske), the number of resignations has come down and many of them are withdrawing their resignations," says Madhav Bhandari, chief spokesperson, Maharashtra BJP.
Rajendra Maske, the BJP's Beed president, however, offers a different take.
"I have received more than 150 resignation letters from our local elected representatives," he says. "People who are hurt because of tai's exclusion (from the Union council of ministers) are putting in their papers to express their hurt and disappointment in the strongest manner possible.
"As a two-time MP and a popular leader of the (Vanjari) community she commands lot of respect in this region," he says, adding, "I am getting almost 50 resignations a day since the last three days."
"While she has been calling all her supporters and telling them that she is not upset, and mass resignations can't be the solution," Maske says, "sentiments are so strong that I am expecting more (resignations) in the coming days."
Pankaja Munde has called an urgent meeting of important district leaders from Beed at her Mumbai residence where she is likely to reiterate that all is well between the sisters and the BJP's national leadership over the issue of Pritam not being inducted into the Union ministry.
"I will be there," says Maske. "I will be giving them the resignation letters that have come to me. It is my duty to let them know how strong the sentiments of grassroots workers are."