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Pankaja looks set to take over Munde's mantle

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
Last updated on: June 04, 2014 15:04 IST
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Pankaja Munde next to the body of her fatherPankaja Munde, who is the MLA from Parli, led the campaign for Gopinath Munde during the Lok Sabha elections against the single-minded, ‘undo the Mundes’ campaign by the Pawars and the Nationalist Congress Party. She is now set to take over his mantle, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

The huge gathering of people, even if unruly, is not the first time that Parli, a nondescript town in Beed district, has seen. It was as big when Pankaja, Gopinath Munde’s daughter was married to a IT professional Amit Palwe. The only difference was the wedding feast for his constituency was spread over a couple of days prior to the wedding. They call it gaon jewan in Marathi.

Pankaja, who later hyphenated her maiden surname with her husband’s, has shown courage hard to come by in rural or even semi-rural regions, especially a hidebound Marathwada, by deciding to perform the funeral rites for her father.

Because of her status of an MLA, and a daughter of a leader like her father, it may well be an unintended social message. Munde himself was a non-conformist of another kind: He would call his rivals who lost at the polls and console them. He never took political rivalry to a personal level.

His is an extended family not without males who, normally and by tradition, are required or entitled to undertake the task of lighting the pyre. There is Pandit Anna, elder to Munde, and two younger sibilings, Manikrao and Venkatrao. Her deciding to break the mould may have other family reasons, but the social message comes out stronger.

It also marks a public transition from one generation to another. Pankaja is the local MLA and held the fort for her father and campaigned in his constituency, phenomenally successful against the single-minded, ‘undo the Mundes’ campaign by the Pawars and the Nationalist Congress Party during the Lok Sabha polls.

Also, perhaps, uniquely, a pair of women politicians from a family: Pakaja’s cousin, who is Pramod Mahajan’s daughter, Poonam Mahajan Rao, is a BJP MP from Mumbai, having defeated Priya Dutt of the Congress. The Mahajans and Mundes are related: Gopinath Munde is married to Pramod Mahajan’s sister, Pradnya. 

Televised images of the funeral where the commoners and the titled gathered in droves, the former surging, with a few anxious moments which saw stone pelting and few policemen swinging their batons, showed a grief-stricken Pradnya on stage with her daughters. Most of the time, it was only Pankaja and Poonam in sight. 

Though other BJP leaders kept calling for order, and even advanced the last rites to avoid further worsening of the situation, it was Pankaja who got up once in a while to try and pacify the crowd. Then she would resume her seat at the edge of the platform, accepting condolences,

The emotional surges are understandable. After all, he was to have returned to a hero’s welcome and be feted in a public rally for which arrangements had been made.

When Pankaja moved to the US with her husband, Amit, it was natural for the father to pay her a visit, to “see I she was settled well”. When he went there, the former deputy chief minister was appalled that she had to do the household chores herself. He was astounded that domestic help is not easy to get, say, as in Parli.

He had once described how one “has to drive miles for a late night ice cream cone!” He asked her to return to the “comfort and ease” of Indian life, even in cities such as there are. She did, and got to become an MLA from Parli. She apparently seems to know her onions well. Now the girls get to take over the mantle.

Image: Pankaja Munde next to the body of her father at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi

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