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Munde's death changes the state's political game

Soon after senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde passed away, NCP party men announced their chief Sharad Pawar’s name as a candidate for the chief minister’s post.

After the Lok Sabha elections, the state will go through yet another spell of political churnings with general elections to the State Assembly. The Congress-NCP combine which has been in power for the last 15 years, will face a formidable challenge from the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.

The stellar performance under PM Narendra Modi’s leadership in Lok Sabha has clearly put the BJP at a commanding position. At Vidhan Bhavan, where the last session of the current assembly is on, legislators and leaders of different political parties can be spotted discussing pros and cons of joining the BJP or the Shiv Sena.

And, just a stone’s throw away, maverick leader Sharad Pawar can be seen discussing the nuances of the impending elections with his colleagues, at NCP’s state headquarters.

The untimely death of Gopinath Munde has shaken the BJP and its cadre. Though the party never encouraged dynastic leadership or allowed an individual to call the shots, Munde was a non-Brahmin face of the party, astute in judging changing trends of politics and equations of caste.

He evolved himself on the lines of Sharad Pawar, who is well-versed with the role of caste and religion in electoral politics. Not just that, Munde’s foray into the co-operative movement, which is the hotbed of rural politics, also paid dividends for his party.

With his passing away, the BJP finds itself with a big void. The party has cultivated regional-level leadership like Nitin Gadkari in Vidarbha, Eknath Khadse in north Maharashtra, Vinod Tawde in Mumbai and Konkan etc. Munde’s absence will be strongly felt in western Maharashtra, an NCP and Congress bastion. So it goes with Marathwada as well. Munde, an OBC candidate, enjoyed formidable support in a significant vote bank.

Munde rose to prominence with his bold decision to target Sharad Pawar in the early 90s, and making headlines regularly. People who have been witness to his tenure as leader of opposition may remember him for his sensational allegations against Pawar on the issue of criminalisation of politics.

It was due to his and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s sustained campaign against Pawar that the Sena-BJP could unseat the Sharad Pawar-led Congress government. The animosity lulled for a brief while, but both Munde and Pawar were always known as political adversaries.

It’s a rather coincidence that the NCP workers have proposed Pawar as the CM candidate. If Munde were alive, he would have challenged it and spearheaded his party’s campaign – as he did during the state assembly elections in 1995. His absence as a strategist and a star campaigner for the Mahayuti will be felt.

Congress-NCP will use this to their benefit, as Munde had, in the past, successfully wooed prominent leaders from their ranks into BJP’s fold. He was abreast with political intricacies of rural Maharashtra, particularly the sugar-rich western belt.

For BJP, it will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is expected to call the shots. The state BJP unit also expect Modi’s blue-eyed boy Amit Shah to play a decisive role, but it is going to be a limited one when elections are just five months away.

Being from the neighbouring state, Modi may take the state elections seriously and wish to add Maharashtra into his kitty. Before that, he will have to intervene in the process of seat allocation to ensure maximum seats come in favour of the BJP, in order to have a CM of his choice.

While the Congress is still indecisive about whether to fight the assembly elections under the leadership of CM Prithviraj Chavan or someone else, the NCP, on the other hand, is doing its homework well. At 74, Pawar is spending hours together at the party’s state headquarters to devise poll strategies.

With the demand to lead the party as a CM candidate, it becomes clear that the experiment of ‘generation next’ has failed. Though he may or may not accede to his party men’s wishes, it is clear that the state cadre is concerned over the party’s prospects.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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