AURANGABAD: BJP's sulking leader Pankaja Munde on Monday sat on a symbolic hunger strike for what she said was to "draw the state government's attention to the water woes in Maharashtra".
However, the former minister grabbed more attention than the cause she is fighting for as a host of top party leaders visited the protest site outside the Aurangabad Divisional Commissionerate.
Flanked by her sister and MP Pritam Munde, Pankaja was joined by a host of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders including Union Minister of State Raosaheb Patil-Danve, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Devendra Fadnavis, Leader of Opposition in the Council Pravin Darekar and ex-speaker Haribhau Bagade.
Several other seniors leaders planned to join her during her daylong hunger strike, though it was not clear whether state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil will also be present at the spot in a show of strength.
In her brief address, Pankaja said she was not there to criticise the Maha Vikas Aghadi government led by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, but "draw the government's attention to the serious water crisis plaguing the parched Marathwada region".
She urged Thackeray to immediately take steps to implement the 'Marathwada Water Grid' announced by the previous Fadnavis government to resolve the water problems of the people in Marathwada.
In September 2019, before the October 21 Maharashtra Assembly elections were announced, then Chief Minister Fadnavis had announced a Rs 3,122-crore project to create integrated pipe networks to permanently tackle the water shortage issue in parts of Marathwada for drinking, industrial and agriculture purposes.
The 11 dams in Marathwada districts were proposed to be interlinked to move water from excess to deficient ones, and distribute it through pipelines to the people.
Speaking at the protest venue, Fadnavis said there were fears that the MVA government will discontinue the scheme and deprive the Marathwada people of their rightful share of water. He warned that this would not be tolerated.
In response, Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat said that the project is merely under review and an appropriate decision would be taken once the exercise was over.
Taking a swipe at Munde, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal said that "if they had worked for five years, the situation would not have warranted the launch of an agitation now".
After suffering a rout in the October 2019 Assembly elections at the hands of her cousin and NCP leader Dhananjay Munde, Pankaja Munde had kept the BJP on tenterhooks by blowing hot and cold at some leaders.
On December 12, while speaking in Beed, she had announced the January 27 agitation during the birth anniversary celebrations of her father and late Union minister Gopinath Munde.