Gopinath Munde

A Leader of the People

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A snapshot from the life of a remarkably apolitical politician
On the fateful day earlier this week when Gopinath Munde, Union Minister for Rural Development, died in an accident, he was running late. This was a constant theme in his life— he was always running late, causing appointments to run into one another and long queues to form outside his door. Though he wore a watch, it seems that it was a mere adornment, for he hardly ever glanced at it.

On the day of the accident, Munde was rushing to the New Delhi airport, from where he was to proceed to his village Parli, in Maharashtra’s Beed district, for a felicitation rally. This time, the rush proved fatal. Instead of him, it was his body that reached Parli—only to be cremated.

Yet, no one could accuse Munde of being ‘a man in a hurry’. He took his time to understand people and situations; but once a decision was made, it was final. His interaction with people—predominantly the poor and the backward—was also conducted in the same, unhurried manner. He met everyone who came to his doorstep in the firm belief that if they had made the journey, it was for a good reason.

During the days that the Shiv Sena-BJP combine was in power in Maharashtra, while Munde occupied the Deputy Chief Minister’s office, he always kept some money—in small denomination notes— in the upper drawer of his table. This, he often said, was for the poor who came to meet him; he would give them money for their return journey to their villages. The notes were in small denominations as those who met him travelled by low-priced state transport buses, he would say.

In Munde, the BJP had a mass leader. Without him, the party now has none in Maharashtra. A fine orator, Munde could hold an audience enthralled for long periods at political rallies. His tongue-in- cheek speeches even made the audience forget about his late arrivals.

However, though he had a strong hold on his fiefdom in Maharashtra, it was not too easy for him to carve a niche for himself in national politics.

His political career had not been without its share of mistakes. One of his biggest blunders as Maharashtra’s Home Minister was to declare well-known music director Nadeem (of Nadeem- Shravan fame) as one of the main conspirators in the murder of music moghul Gulshan Kumar. Though the then Mumbai Police Commissioner Ronnie Mendonca was against making such an announcement without concrete evidence, Munde ignored the plea. This resulted in Nadeem fleeing to London— where he has been ever since.

Subsequently, the courts exonerated Nadeem of all charges.

Munde was probably one of India’s few leaders who had no political enemies. He enjoyed long, enduring friendships across the political divide; and besides sharing his 12 December birthday with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, he also regarded the latter as a political icon.

A stylish man, Gopinath Munde was extremely particular about his hairstyle too. A small comb, which he always kept in the pocket of his jacket, was frequently used in full public view. During an election rally some years ago, the leader, sitting on the dais, is said to have combed his hair 25 times in a span of 15 minutes!

Munde had often said that it was his close friendship with the late Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh that introduced him to the pleasures of stylish dressing. Deshmukh had apparently told him that a style statement was as important as breathing!

It will take the BJP considerable time to recover from this loss.