Ahmednagar (Maharashtra): Maharashtra Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde has locked horns with Bhagwangad hill temple's head priest Mahant Namdeoshastri Sanap after he refused her permission to address a Dassehra rally.
The annual Dassehra rally at the temple in Ahmednagar district attracts over a million members of the Vanjari community, the political base of the Munde family. The rally was earlier addressed by late Union Minister and Pankaja's father Gopinath Munde for two decades.
This year, however, the Mahant declared that she will not be allowed to make any political speech at the venue.
Incidentally, Bhagwangad is the memorial to the Vanjari community's saint Bhagwan Baba, atop the hills situated on the border of the Beed-Ahmednagar districts.
The minister vowed to visit Bhagwangad along with her supporters, following which the Mahant accused her of threatening him for his decision.
A purported video of her issuing threats to Namdeoshastri and his supporters has since gone viral. She has insisted on continuing with the 20-year-old tradition set by her father.
Speaking to the media, the Mahant said the state minister's utterances did not behove of her as late Munde's daughter, and said he continued to treat her like his own daughter.
"She is welcome to come and pray at the temple, but she can make her political speech at her father's memorial -- Gopinathgad. She has already announced that Bhagwangad will be the spiritual centre and Gopinathgad will be the political centre (of the community)," the Mahant pointed out.
In a bid to claim the political legacy of her father who died in June 2014, Pankaja got constructed the imposing Gopinathgad memorial in December 2015 in Beed, the family's home district adjacent to Ahmednagar.
Apprehending a law and order problem, Namdeoshastri has now written to the state government, while Munde has made it clear she will go to Bhagwangad on Dassehra for the annual Vanjaris' congregation.
Her estranged cousin and Nationalist Congress Party's Leader of the Opposition (Council) Dhananjay Munde threw his weight behind the Mahant and demanded Munde's resignation from the state Cabinet.
Incidentally, Dhananjay had bitterly criticised the Mahant and accused him of bias towards the Bharatiya Janata Party when his motorcade was stoned during a thanksgiving visit to Bhagwangad in January 2015 after he was elected the Leader of the Opposition.
On the other hand, the Vanjari community appears to be divided over the clash between their spiritual head and political leader and have appealed to keep politics and religion separate.