Union rural development minister and BJP’s Maharashtra leader Gopinath Munde’s death, after his car was hit by another at a Delhi roundabout, left a vacuum in a number of political spaces.
First, in Beed, which elected him a second time to the Lok Sabha last month, at the BJP high table, where he had made a place for himself in the last few years as an astute organiser and mass leader, then in Maharashtra, where the party leaned on his extensive knowledge, network and affability, and lastly in managing the party’s challenging coalition with the Shiv Sena.
Munde had led the BJP campaign in the state for the 2014 general elections, propelling the party from nine seats in 2009 to an impressive 23 of the 24 seats it contested this year.
HT Explains: After Gopinath Munde, what next for BJP in Maharashtra
He was a front-runner for the chief minister’s chair if the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance were to wrest power from the incumbent Congress-NCP government later this year. With Munde at the helm and aided by the
Narendra Modi wave, the BJP believed it had its best chance ever.
There isn’t a paucity of leaders in the state BJP — indeed, the internal battles have begun — but Munde occupied a special place in the pantheon. Handpicked by the late RSS ideologue Vasantrao Bhagwat from the party’s student wing and mentored by the late Pramod Mahajan, Munde, a Vanajari by birth, quickly learned the ropes.
From a zilla parishad president, he went on to become Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister in 1995 and a member of the Union Cabinet last week. Munde developed his brand of politics — a social coalition of OBCs and farmers fused with the party’s traditional base of Brahmins and Banias.
He became the face of this socially-engineered BJP in Maharashtra, and knew the state and its regional peculiarities better than his colleagues. In his death, the party has lost not only a splendid organiser, skilful negotiator and a good orator but also its best mass leader.
He wasn’t untouched by controversies but managed to put them behind him. For 25 years, the BJP was happy to play the younger partner but after the 2014 general election results, it wants to lead the coalition and contest a larger number of seats. With Sena president Uddhav Thackeray unwilling to concede ground, the BJP will sorely miss Munde’s negotiating skills.
Munde’s death has a peculiar poignancy. Married to Mahajan’s sister, Pradnya, Munde had steered both the families to sanity in 2006 after Mahajan was murdered by his brother.
He groomed Mahajan’s daughter Poonam, who won the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha seat last month as much as his daughter Pankaja, an MLA.
Munde’s rivals in the BJP sought to sideline him then but Munde fought back right up to the Union Cabinet. If his death can be a catalyst to bring discipline and order on our roads, there would be some consolation.