Gopinath Munde may have moved to Delhi as union minister but he had his sights set on the October 2014 assembly elections in Maharashtra, where he hoped to see a BJP-led grand alliance or mahuti come to power. He kept it no secret that he wanted to lead such an alliance, only modifying his wish from a “Yes, I will return to Maharashtra if I am CM” to “Yes, the CM of Maharashtra will be from the mahauti”.
Only two days ago, he had convened a core committee meeting of state BJP leaders to discuss the roadmap for the state elections. If anyone could have held together such a grand alliance or mahauti, it was Munde. With Munde’s death, the Maharashtra BJP will miss his firefighting skills which often came in handy while dealing with alliance partners.
There are no obvious names in the organisation at this moment. State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis has acceptance among party cadres and could lead the party in the assembly elections. Eknath Khadse, the leader of the opposition in the assembly, and Vinod Tawde, leader of the opposition in the legislative council, may be given greater roles in dealing with alliance partners or even take the lead in drawing up strategies ahead of the elections. But none among the existing leaders displays the experience and chemistry which Munde had earned by virtue of his three-decade hold in the organisation when it came to tackling alliance partners. Munde had mastered the art of shrewd manipulation on critical issues relating to electoral politics within the grand alliance and it is this skill that the second-rung leadership will miss the most.
Since 2006, Munde had been steering negotiations between the Shiv Sena and the BJP in both assembly and parliament elections. In the 2009 assembly elections, when there was growing unrest in the BJP over the Sena’s demand for more seats, Munde worked out an amicable solution and the BJP finally contested from 119 seats and the Sena from 169. The same election, when Uddhav Thackeray and Nitin Gadkari couldn’t agree over a couple of seats in Vidarbha, it was Munde who stepped in to avert the crisis.
More recently, when Sena mouthpiece Saamna took a critical stand against Narendra Modi, even calling Sushma Swaraj a better PM candidate, it was Munde who held discussions with Uddhav Thackeray and persuaded the ally to stop the criticism ahead of the elections.
Despite the existence of two poles — Nitin Gadkari and Munde — in the state BJP, it was Munde who had the final say on organisational matters. This was evident even after the death of Pramod Mahajan, when the party took a conscious decision to accept Munde as their unchallenged leader.
Eknath Khadse said, “His personal rapport with alliance partners the Shiv Sena, the RPI, the Swabhinami Shetkari Shanghata and the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha always gave the BJP an edge while dealing with critical matters.”