The mood was somber, and leaders known for their political aggression could not hold back their tears. Just a week after celebrating its most impressive election win, the color and joy at the BJP office on Delhi's Ashoka Road had gone on Tuesday morning. A senior leader, a cabinet minister, and the man who was expected to script an electoral comeback in Maharashtra later this year, was no more.
In death, Gopinath Munde achieved the impossible – of uniting the Indian political class, which, across the spectrum, mourned the loss of a remarkable democratic mass leader, who overcame caste and class barriers to shine in the most competitive arena of public life.
PM Narendra Modi came and paid his respects to Munde, whose body was kept at the party HQ. He called Munde a 'true mass leader', who 'hailed from backward sections of society' who 'rose to great heights'. Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Munde's daughter, Pankaja, who could be seen explaining the circumstances of the death. A little earlier, HRD Minister Smriti Irani was holding the utterly inconsolable Pankaja, holding her hand, and rubbing tears off her cheeks.
But it was not just the BJP leaders – L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari – who were mourning the loss of their valued colleagues. It was also those Munde had fought through his life.
In a much-appreciated gesture, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat, came by to pay his respects. Sharad Pawar, Munde's bête noire in Maharashtra politics, showed grace in coming. And so did Sharad Yadav, long time NDA convenor, now on the other side of the fence.
Munde had a strong connection with the larger Sangh Parivar. A swayamsevak since his student days, he was in ABVP and then entered BJP. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat paid his respects and later issued a statement condoling Munde's death General Secretary, Suresh 'Bhaiyaji' Joshi visited when PM Modi was present, and both spoke to the family together.
Even the media, cold and cynical at the best of times, did not remain unaffected. A journalist on the beat was heard recounting Munde's popularity and ability to strike a chird with the masses when he covered rallies in Maharashtra. Another observer said, "He may have been low-profile in Delhi, but was a star in the state, which is where his heart was." For Munde, Delhi mourned with Mumbai, where his body was taken later in the day.