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Taking on Pawar will help Munde in polls

Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s unexpected love for the game of cricket was as curious as his ambition to trounce NCP chief Sharad Pawar in the elections for the post of president of Mumbai Cricket Association, an influential cricket body in the country. The aspiration was all the more interesting since Munde neither had the backing of any of the three contesting panels nor the support of a sizeable group of voters.

So what does Munde’s fight against Pawar indicate, specially since he is obviously aware of Pawar’s clout in the association? Now that the result is out, it will be fun to see how long the battle continues as Munde has decided to approach the judiciary and raise certain controversial points related to the functioning of the MCA and the Garware Club House affiliated to it.

Today, BJP’s deputy leader in Lok Sabha who is also its state election chief, seems charged to take on the NCP in general and the uncle-nephew Pawar duo in particular. 

The roots of discord are in Beed, Munde’s home district. After his nephew Dhananjay -- who used to control the local politics while Munde would be away in Mumbai and Delhi -- joined NCP and got elected to the state council on the party ticket, it was a huge setback for Munde.

The younger generation of the Munde supporters, particularly from Wanjari community to which they belong, is with Dhananjay. So its quite obvious that Munde Senior has a bigger challenge to face at home, given his hopes to play a big role in the state and national politics. He has spoken of his ambition to become chief minister. Recently, he announced he was going to be the next Union agriculture minister if his party wins the Lok Sabha under Narendra Modi’s leadership.

To realise the dream, Munde needs to expand his party base besides ensuring his own win in Beed. But the presence of Dhananjay and his father Panditanna in Beed, along with seven legislators and two NCP ministers from the district, can become a direct threat to his chances.

That’s why he has decided to declare war against the NCP chief and his nephew Ajit Pawar, who indirectly controls the party’s affairs in Beed.

So determined is Munde that, for the first time, he decided to make inroads in Baramati. His MLA daughter Pankaja Munde Palwe, who heads the BJP’s youth wing, led a march to Baramati. Rarely in the past has the BJP taken interest in the area and attacked the Pawars on their home turf. History says the BJP has never fielded any serious candidate against the Pawars in the general or state assembly elections.

This is scene two of the political action-drama starring Munde and Pawar. The state saw the first one play out in 1993-95, when Munde spared no efforts to expose Pawar on all fronts. And Pawar faced challenges not just from Munde, but also from social activist Anna Hazare and now-deceased Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who targeted him at public rallies. As things went, Munde was acknowledged as leader of the sugar factory workers by the federation of sugar cooperatives, an influential body controlled by Pawar.

After the state elections in 1999, it was said that a section within the BJP was responsible for the victory of Congress-NCP. Munde was nursing hopes of being chief minister, which were difficult to fructify since the post was with Shiv Sena. And though the Sena-BJP had the required number of MLAs, the saffron alliance did not form the government. Congressman Vilasrao Deshmukh was sworn in as the chief minister.

Moreover, the BJP along with the Sena wholeheartedly supported Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule’s entry in politics, with a bye-election to Rajya Sabha in 2006. Both the parties decided not to field candidates against Sule even when they had the numbers to challenge her. Sule made it to Rajya Sabha unopposed. Later, during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, NCP fielded a young, rather weak, candidate against Munde.

Munde won by a margin of 1.40 lakh, but all his party candidates except his daughter lost the state elections held just four months later. Such developments look interesting, but there is no permanent friend or foe in politics. Now, Munde is getting the maximum attention as he has challenged the Pawars, which will help him in the coming elections.  

— The writer is Political Editor of MiD DAY 

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