Even in death, Gopinath Munde departed from tradition. Fittingly, it was his daughter Pankaja who performed his last rites at Parli in Beed district of Maharashtra on Wednesday. Union Rural Development Minister Munde, killed the previous day in a road accident at the Safdarjung Road-Aurobindo Marg crossing in New Delhi, was without doubt the leader who counted the most for the BJP in Maharashtra. Snatched by death barely a week after being sworn in as a member of Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, Mr. Munde, ironically, was en route to his Beed constituency for a victory celebration when the accident happened. A man for the big moment, Mr. Munde, became Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister in March 1995, handling the sensitive Home portfolio. He was the BJP’s mass face in the State. If his late brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan worked the levers of power in Delhi, it was Mr. Munde who spent his time with party workers, activists and supporters, slowly chipping away at the image of the BJP as an urban and upper- caste party in Maharashtra. Unassuming and likeable, Mr. Munde was a mass leader of the old style — accessible and available. He brought these qualities to his relationships with other parties as well. Mr. Munde invested a lot in the smooth functioning of the BJP’s alliance with the Shiv Sena, and was known to have a good equation with Uddhav Thackeray. In fact, when his colleague and rival, Nitin Gadkari, made overtures to Maharashtra Navnirman Sena boss Raj Thackeray ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, it took Mr. Munde to smoothen ruffled feathers with the Shiv Sena.
As the October Assembly elections approach, the BJP is keen to rework its seat-sharing arrangement with the Shiv Sena. Here, Mr. Munde’s coalition-building skills will be missed by his party. It also goes to the late BJP leader’s credit that unlike the Sena and some of his own colleagues, he did not resort to extreme language in his public utterances. Significantly, Hussain Dalwai, Congress MP, in his tribute to Mr. Munde, said the BJP leader was very disturbed by the 1992 communal riots. On his personal website, the BJP leader described himself as an average student, not very bright, not a dullard either. In these days of political showmanship, such a statement is rare. Inevitably, Mr. Munde’s death in New Delhi raises basic issues of respecting traffic signals and rules. In October 2013, well-known environmentalist Sunita Narain escaped a tragedy not far from where Mr. Munde was killed almost at the same time of the morning, while cycling. There is something rotten in how we drive and behave on the roads. It’s tragic that Minister Munde had to join the ranks of those Indians who didn’t make it to their destination while on the road.