While having tea after PM Narendra Modi’s meeting with his council of ministers on Monday, Union Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde had told Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu that he might be late for the oath-taking ceremony of MPs on Wednesday as he had to return from his village in Maharashtra. Hours later, Munde was no more.
But in the hours preceding his tragic death, those close to him said it was the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra that dominated his thoughts.
After returning from the meeting, he had given is last television interview at 10.30 pm to ANI. He hit out at the Congress in Maharashtra and had said, “The cabinet expansion in Maharashtra is happening too late. Elections are in two months and it has been five months since these posts in the Cabinet have been lying vacant. This is wrong.”
He said there was no rivalry between the BJP and its ally, Shiv Sena, over the choice of Chief Minister. He had said, “If Shiv Sena gets more people (elected), then they will get the chief ministerial position and we have no opposition to it.” He added that the BJP has not declared any chief ministerial candidate, neither does it intend to.
Those close to him said Munde, whose political career was reaching its zenith, was heavily involved in the BJP’s pre-election preparations in Maharashtra. “Because of his knowledge of the state and the fact that it was felt that Nitin Gadkari would be extremely busy in Delhi, Munde was to look after most of the campaigning,” a close aide of Munde said.
A source added that his daughter, Pankaja-Palwe Munde, was busy preparing for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra. After winning the Parli constituency in the 2009 Assembly elections, she had run her father’s Lok Sabha campaign. Now, she is expected to take forward his political legacy.
“In the days before his death, he was very normal and very relaxed. He knew that he had made it to the big league and was looking forward to the challenges ahead of him,” a senior BJP leader said. A week ago Munde, who was also the Minister for Panchayati Raj and Sanitation, had issued a statement that he intended to give priority to provide proper sanitation to every household in developing districts.
But sources said Munde also had plans to integrate small-scale irrigation projects, particularly in the drought-prone areas of Maharashtra. “As someone who was very closely connected to farmers, who made up the majority of his electorate, he knew their needs. He believed that small-scale, integrated irrigation schemes would help small farmers in times of drought,” a close aide of Munde said.