Mukta Tilak, the wife of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s great-grandson Shailesh, is all set to be the new mayor of Pune. On Wednesday, she filled up the form as a mayoral candidate of the BJP, which has got a resounding majority, winning 98 wards out of 162.
Mukta Tilak has won from the Narayan Peth-Sadashiv Peth area in the heart of Pune city. She lives with her extended family at the iconic Kesari wada, where Lokmanya Tilak spent his life. Incidentally, this is the centenary year of Tilak’s famous slogan ‘Swarajya is my birth right and I shall have it’ that had shaken the roots of the British empire in India.
Fifty-one-year-old Mukta is proud of her great-grandfather-in-law. She says she gets inspiration from Lokmaya's work, which "people here haven't forgotten". Why is she then in the BJP and not in Lokmanya's Congress?
"Now the political situation has changed. Congress during Tilak's time was different. Those national leaders would think of the nation first. The were led by principles. Today's Congress is more about a personality. And BJP gave me an opportunity."
Lokmanya Tilak was a radical nationalist. So, when a moderate Mahatma Gandhi, a protege of Tilak’s bete noire Gokhale, got control of the Congress, Tilak followers had little space left. Yet, a part of Tilak’s family continued to be with the Congress. Mukta Tilak’s nephew Rohit Tilak was INC’s candiate for 2009 Maharshtra Assembly elections.
But Mukta Tilak and her husband Shailesh have always been with the BJP. Mukta, who is a marketing MBA by education, was earlier in the Munde camp of the state BJP. After Munde's accidental death in 2014, she joined the faction of Girish Bapat, who is now a cabinet minister and controls Pune BJP.
Empty Chairs And Jokes
Mukta Tilak and BJP leaders in Pune spent sleepless night when Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis's campaign rally on 18 February in Pune had to be cancelled, as only 50 people turned up!
Punekars love their afternoon nap and the timing of the rally was 2pm! So, although they later voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, they didn't sacrifice their afternoon siesta for their beloved party! The rally was organised in Mukta Tilka's historical ward, which is close to the residence of Bajirao Peshwa.
Brahmin vs Maratha
One of the biggest challanges for Mukta Tilak will be to tackle the growing Maratha vs Brahmin fight in Pune city, which has taken an ugly turn since Bhandarkar Institute was attacked in 2004.
Under NCP's Maratha rule, the statues of Dadoji Konddev, Shivaji's now controversial guru and playwright Ram Ganesh Gadkari were removed in the last few years. Now Brahmins feel that a Brahmin mayor will take their side. In fact, while Tilak was filing her application, Brahmin Mahasangh passed a resolution demanding reinstatement of both the statues.
Talking with The Quint on the phone, Mrs Tilak said: “We had done campaigns against removal of these statues and have been fighting cases that have been slapped on us. No one can erase history. I will stand with my party’s position. We will definitely think about reinstatement of the two statues.”
With Marathas uniting across Maharashtra, BJP will think twice before actually touching the issue of controversial statues. But it also cannot afford to upset the Brahmin voters, who have traditionally voted for the BJP.
The Real Challenges
Apart from the dirty politics, ask her about her priorities and she lists them one by one.
"Traffic is the most important issue. I'll give priority to Pune Metro project. Waste disposal is also a big problem here. I'll periodically review and try to resolve these issues."
Mukta Tilak's formal election is on 15 March. After that, she will get little time for her three hobbies: Reading, gardening and playing badminton.