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Gopinath Munde—BJP’s OBC face who helped build the party

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-06-2014 Makarand Gadgil

Mumbai: “I’m coming to Delhi for the first time after Pramod’s (Mahajan) death. I don’t like Delhi, it is a mean city,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gopinath Munde’s wife Pradnya had told friends who had gathered at the Munde residence in Delhi after her husband was sworn in as the Union minister for rural development.

In 2006, Pradnya lost her brother Pramod Mahajan, another prominent BJP leader, who was killed by his younger brother Pravin Mahajan.

Early on Tuesday morning, Gopinath Munde died in a tragic road accident in Delhi.

Munde, a prominent OBC (other backward class) leader from Maharashtra, began his political career in the early seventies as an activist in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthee Parishad (ABVP), a Hindu students’ group that is currently affiliated with the BJP.

During his days as an ABVP activist, he met his future brother-in-law Mahajan—both belonged to the backward region of the Marathwada and both were jailed during the Emergency. During this period, Bharatiya Jan Sangh’s (the predecessor of BJP) organizing general secretary Vasantrao Bhagwat spotted the duo and persuaded them to work as full-timers for the party.

Munde, who was made president of BJP’s Maharashtra unit at the age of 35 in the mid-1980s, was instrumental in building the party, travelling across the state in buses and on motorcycle to reach out to the people.

The high point of Munde’s political career came in the 1990s, when he launched a campaign against then Maharashtra chief minister Sharad Pawar on the issue of criminalization of politics.

His relentless campaign was one of the main reasons behind Maharashtra’s first non-Congress government—a BJP-Shiv Sena combine that assumed power in 1995.

After Mahajan’s murder in 2006, some party leaders in the state and the Centre tried to sidline Munde but he bounced back to become the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha after the 2009 general elections and cabinet minister in the newly formed National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Narendra Modi.

He was expected to lead the party’s campaign for the assembly elections, which are scheduled to be held in October-November. It was expected that he would be the party’s chief ministerial candidate, but that was not something destiny had in mind.

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