"Keshav, I tell you and always remember this. I will work in the cooperative sector. I may be engaged in politics of sugar mills. But will never compromise with the ideology which I followed through my career. I will carry BJP flag till death." Gopinath Munde made this comment about four years ago. I remember those words when I saw his dead body, wrapped in the party flag, kept in the central office. He kept his word even in his death.
Those were the days when there were rumors all around that Gopinath Munde is upset and would join Congress party. But I told everybody who called me that 'Saheb' will never deceive BJP. Everybody was making speculations and the media was reporting every possibility. There were news about what was he doing and with whom he was meeting. And even though, I was always be in touch with him, there was a phase when he was not reachable to me. Suddenly, one late night, he called. I updated him about the days' developments, and asked him, "Saheb, what is the truth?" He told me, "I grew up in this party. I will die here. Don't follow the news and get confused. I will never lie to you and I will never deceive those millions you love me."
It is rare to find such a leader who remains loyal to the political party for the sake of ideology, when we see many politicians who change parties for personal gain. His comment that he would never compromise with the party's ideology. I had various communications with Gopinath Munde for last 12 years. It ended on Tuesday. There might not be a single day during last decade when did not talk. In fact, even though he was the boss and I was a common party worker. But unknowingly there was a bond that had developed between us. I knew how he thought, so he never needed to give me too many instructions.
I saw Gopinath Munde's many 'avatars' closely. He was a fighter. He had strong determination and was strongly rooted into the ground realities. He valued friendship. He spoke from heart about social issues. He inspired people. And he played like a child with his grandson. I always wondered how he had so much determination and ability to struggle. He was in power only for four and a half year. And barring this period he was always an opposition party leader. But even those in power would have envied his majestic style and the popular support he enjoyed.
It was certain that he would be appointed as leader of opposition in the Vidhan Sabha after former chief minister Narayan Rane left Shiv Sena. We reached Vidhan Sabha by 12 noon. Many journalists and officers congratulated him for his new role. But then in the afternoon, the situation changed. Speaker of Vidhan Sabha did not declare Munde's name as leader of opposition. It was an embarrassing moment. But Munde handled even this situation gracefully. He answered a volley of questions by journalists. He accepted the decision by the Speaker without criticism.
He always rose to every situation with determination and with ease. This had become clear by on the day of results in 2009 assembly election that the BJP–Shiv Sena alliance would not get majority. We, workers of the party, were disappointed. When Munde saw our faces, he said, "We are used to working as an opposition party. Come on, start working and reach out to people."
Gopinath Munde personified determination and struggle. He was cornered by political opponents, but he never gave up. NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar were determined to defeat Munde in Beed constituency. They made efforts to make Munde's supporters to desert him. Ultimately they divided the Munde family by luring away an important member. That was a moment when Munde was seriously upset, and had felt hurt that his own people treating him like this. He was upset that those he supported by heart had deserted him.
Munde even helped party workers build a career. He empowered the common party members and ensured recognition for their work. I can name so many of them who were blessed by Munde. He was really upset when one of such activists who grew successful due to his blessings, later on criticised and deserted him. After talking to so many people through the day, he used to call me after midnight and talk and relieve emotional stress. I never realised for how long we spoke.
Many times local activists used to get unhappy due to decisions regarding seat sharing with alliance partners. But such decisions were necessary for the larger interest of the party. These decisions were taken collectively. But still he owned responsibility for them. He used to say, "Yes, I have taken this decision. This is an unpleasant decision, but it is necessary." BJP had to part with Guhagar constituency which was represented by Vinay Natu. After that decision, hundreds of angry party workers from Guhagar rushed to Mumbai. They gheraoed Gopinath Munde in party's state headquarters. Angry workers expressed their feelings in strong words. Munde listened to them patiently. He agreed with them that it was injust to Vinay Natu. He had great ability to listen to people patiently.
He was organically linked to the society and had deep compassion about social issues. It was his inspiration. He never lost hope due to election defeat and never displayed arrogance after a victory. I had once asked him, how come he was always smiling and never depressed despite having faced such a hostile situation. And he replied, "I will never be depressed as long as I have the support of people. I may or may not get designations; I may or may not be in power, but my true source of strength is the affinity to the common people."
Munde passed away suddenly. About a half a million people had gathered for his funeral. But for us he left the legacy of determination—to fight against the odds and social commitment. We will consider ourselves blessed if we could live up to his legacy, even a little.
(Author is a spokesperson, BJP Maharashtra Follow him on @keshavupadhye