Munde was BJP's man of the masses in Maharashtra

Along with Mahajan, he brought larger social acceptability for the Sangh Parivar

ajay

Ajay Singh | June 3, 2014


Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pankaja (right) at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, where the minister’s body was kept before it was taken to Mumbai late Tuesday afternoon. On her right is HRD minister Smriti Iraani.
Arun Kumar/Governance Now

Life is often so cruel that it transcends logic. Nobody understood the essence of this illogicality of life better than rural development minister Gopinath Munde who died this morning while on his way to Delhi airport. He is believed to have died following a cardiac arrest after his car was hit by another vehicle.

Few would now realise that Munde was the symbol of the BJP's rejuvenation in Maharashtra. Till the late 1980s, Maharashtra was inaccessible to the RSS-BJP combine, which was largely seen as a brahminical organisation not rooted in the state’s soil. In fact, the RSS’s headquarters in Nagpur had influence limited only to the precincts of its office.

The anti-brahminical sentiment in the state was too pronounced immediately after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi as all the culprits were Brahmins. The assassination ranged the powerful Maratha, the biggest chunk of the social groups in the state, against Brahmins and completely marginalised the latter. At the same time, the rising dalit consciousness in the state following Ambedkar’s radical politics further inhibited the growth of the RSS.

In such a setting, the RSS and its political adjuncts had been virtually at their wit’s end before they found a potential in the unique combination of two close friends, Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan. Coming from the OBC background, Munde displayed a combination of rare political skills in mobilising scheduled castes/tribes and OBCs to the Hindutva fold. What enhanced his credibility and standing with the RSS leadership is his matrimonial alliance in a Brahmin family. He was married to Mahajan’s sister.

This unique coalition of extremes – brahmins with OBCs and tribals – enabled the BJP to forge a social combination which could effectively flex its muscles in the state politics. Mahajan-Munde combination further roped in the Shiv Sena despite its image of an organisation often resorting to non-traditional and confrontational politics. In the post-Babri mosque demolition phase, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine captured the state. Munde became the deputy chief minister with the Shiv Sena foisting Manohar Joshi, a brahmin, as chief minister. Mahajan who was an architect of this coalition had already moved to the centre and was playing a crucial role in cementing the social coalition that the BJP-Shiv Sena nurtured.

After the rout of the NDA in 2004 elections, the cosy relationship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP came under strain several times but the coalition remained intact due to the deft management of the Mahajan-Munde combine. Things became difficult for Munde when Mahajan was shot dead in a fratricidal feud whose cause still remains a mystery. Munde carried a fatally wounded Mahajan to the hospital where he succumbed later.

After Mahajan’s death, Munde became a lonely figure often marginalised within his own party by a brahmin leader, Nitin Gadkari, who subsequently became the party president. In 2011-12, he even toyed with the idea of leaving the BJP but was prevented by the intervention of his colleagues. His hold over the state was weakened as he was often outmaneuvered by Gadkari and his supporters.

What prevented his frustration from snowballing into an outright rebellion was the realization of the party’s top leadership about the immense contribution of Munde in building the base of the BJP. The fact that he commanded respect among the OBC and tribals made him indispensable for the Sangh Parivar’s larger political project of Hindu consolidation. His induction into the Narendra Modi cabinet was the recognition of his critical importance in the RSS-BJP politics. Coming only a week after he was sworn in, Munde’s death is a tragedy that will have its impact in Maharashtra politics.

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