Are the Munde sisters, Pankaja and Pritam, jumping ship?

"I am in BJP, but the party is not mine," says Pankaja; Pritam is the first BJP leader to come down in support of wrestlers

Pritam Munde (left) and Pankaja Munde (right)(Photo: Twitter: @DrPritamMunde
Pritam Munde (left) and Pankaja Munde (right)(Photo: Twitter: @DrPritamMunde @Pankajamunde)

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

Is former Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde about to jump ship and join the Nationalist Congress Party?

All indications point to the frustration of the Munde sisters - Pritam Munde is a Member of Parliament from Beed in Maharashtra - with their existing party which has sidelined them over the past few years.

Both are daughters of the late former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde and nieces of one of the tallest leaders of the party, the late  Pramod Mahajan. However, their commitment to the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) seems to be swaying in the absence of any particular significance or role accorded to them in party affairs.

Pritam Munde, so far, is the only BJP leader, to come down in support of the wrestlers protesting in New Delhi against their sexual harassment by their federation chief.

On Wednesday, she issued a categorical statement, "As a woman and as an MP, I am deeply ashamed that our wrestler sisters are having to undergo such harassment and exploitation."

This is quite a departure from the position taken by Union Minister Smriti Irani who has ignored the issue and Minister of state for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi who literally took to heels when reporters asked her to comment on the treatment meted out to the wrestlers.

Amid intermittent reports that Pankaja was considering joining Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena, she has openly stated at an event in New Delhi, "I am in the BJP but the party is not mine."

She went a step further by hinting that she could easily gravitate towards her "brother" - presumably, her first cousin Dhananjay Munde who is in the NCP and had defeated her at the Assembly elections in 2019 from the Parli constituency in Beed.

It is significant that Pankaja made the statement in the presence of Union Transports Minister Nitin Gadkari at an event organised by the RSP (Rashtriya Samaj Paksh) which was an ally of the BJP in the Devendra Fadnavis government between 2014 and 2019.

During the event to mark the birth anniversary of Ahilyabai Holkar, Pankaja said, “I am in BJP but BJP cannot be mine. If someone has a quarrel with her father, she can always seek out her brother." 

Pankaja has been repeatedly passed over for a Rajya Sabha nomination by Fadnavis who calls the shots in the Maharashtra BJP.  In recent weeks, her Vaidyanath Sugar Factory in Beed district, which was running at a loss for several years and had already become non-operational, was raided by Goods and Services Tax officials, making her the rare BJP leader targetted by her own party's government.

At the event, Pankaja said, "I am not afraid of anything. Fear is not in our blood. If I am left with nothing, I will go to the fields to cut sugarcane. I am not selfish and do not desire anything. I belong to BJP but I am very little for the BJP.”

However, it is also likely that she may join the RSP whose founder Mahadeo Jankar, she said, had been like a son to her father and she and Jankar had "a brother-sister relationship".

Sources close to the BJP claim that Pankaja is upset with the party these days. However the party's state president Chandrashekhar Bawankule denied it. "In fact, her statements were misrepresented. Whatever she spoke, she said in the presence of our senior leader Nitin Gadkari. Therefore, we know the truth,” he said. However, Gadkari too is said to be not on very good terms with party leaders both in the state and at the Centre.

NCP Maharashtra president Jayant Patil seemed to confirm  that injustice was being done to Pankaja as the loyal workers of the BJP were being passed over for important posts in favour of defectors from the Congress-NCP. 

Shiv Sena (UBT)  spokesperson Sanjay Raut, however, exhorted Pankaja to stop dilly-dallying and make the leap of faith by breaking from the BJP without bothering about the consequences. 

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