I want to fulfil my father's unfinished dream of building a five-star industrial department zone, says Munde's daughter

“I have come here not to seek your votes but your blessings,” says 30-year-old Pankaja Munde Palve to a motley audience at Dawoodpur village, one of the 168 in her constituency of Parli.

Dressed in a light churidar kurta, with a Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) scarf elegantly tied around her neck, Pankaja connects with rural audiences the way she learnt from her father Gopinath Munde, MP from Beed and BJP national general secretary. Mr. Munde’s not inconsiderable influence will be the prop to his daughter’s sure-fire victory from this Assembly constituency, one of the six in Beed district.

Pankaja means lotus and she explains how that is also the symbol of the BJP, which has given her the ticket. Her appeal is also centred on the fact that she is the first woman to stand from this constituency which was her father’s for 25 years before delimitation.

Dispelling the notion that she will work only for women, she says: “Women’s problems are every one’s problems. Women want nothing for themselves; their worries are the farmers’ suicide, jobs for their children.”

She makes frequent references to her father and her uncle, the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan. “My father has set up sugarcane factories here and these have changed the picture of this district. I want to fulfil his unfinished dream of building a five-star industrial development zone here,” she says to much clapping.

Rail connection to Beed is long pending and she tells the crowd that she has already extracted a promise for its completion from “Papa” after he became an MP in the last election. The emotional quotient is strong in her speech and women rush to garland her and assure her of their vote.

Pankaja began her campaign earlier this week. Drought is an issue here though late rains have brought some relief. Unemployment and lack of water are high on the agenda. She starts her campaign around 7.30 a.m. daily and covers about 15 villages.

During the Lok Sabha elections, Pankaja played a major role in her father’s campaign. However, her stint abroad has led people to think she may have forgotten local customs. “People tell me jowari roti is eaten here and they tell me to take off my chappals at a temple,” she says. For six years now she has been with the party and worked in her father’s constituency.

An MBA, Pankaja wrote computer programmes for her father’s sugar factory and ran a small software company in Pune. After marriage, her son kept her busy and now that he is seven, she can find time for politics.

“I don’t deny that people accept me because of my father’s work. I would like to relate to my father and I don’t want to portray myself as an individual, I want to be his daughter,” she says. Yes, she agrees that dynastic succession is an accepted thing in other political parties, but not in the BJP.

Pankaja was never interested in active politics. “In rural politics, people find it difficult to relate to a girl. I was hesitant at first but now I am a little more confident. After all, it’s my father’s constituency, every one has known me since I was a kid. I am happy about one thing; Dad had said he would never force me on people. It was the people who wanted me,” she explains.

Mr. Munde usually does not accompany her on her campaigns. “I am not worried about victory, only the margin,” she says. “I am born lucky and my father has given me a lot,” she confesses.

The Beed zilla parishad is controlled by the BJP and her cousin Dhananjay Munde is its vice-president. She says that with the party in control of the district, her father an MP, and if she gets elected MLA, it will be easier to improve the infrastructure and use funds in a cohesive manner.

The road to Loni, her next stop is rough and in poor shape. Again it’s a simple meeting under a neem tree. Two small wooden chairs and tables make up the stage and local leader Radhakrishna Gite sets the tone by saying, “Mundeji’s daughter is our daughter.”

People sitting around start complaining about the road. An old man gets up and tells her: “If you fix this road it will be a major favour.”

Pankaja listens to them before beginning her speech. “Since childhood, I’ve seen people wearing colourful turbans, with a worried look on their faces coming to meet my father. They usually went back with a smile and my father used to say to make people smile was very difficult,” she says. Now that her understanding of politics is better it’s a little more than bringing a smile to people’s faces.

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