The Maharashtra unit of the BJP will be vastly handicapped by the absence of its senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, especially with the assembly elections just four months away. The party had decided that if it secures more seats than its ally Shiv Sena, it will recommend Munde's name for the CM's post.
Now, even if the party has more MLAs than the Sena, it lacks a leader who enjoys mass following like Munde did and the stature to occupy the CM's chair. Union minister Nitin Gadkari is not keen to return to the state and so, in all probability, the party will accept Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray for the coveted post.
With Munde's demise, it will take a long time for the state BJP to find a leader of his calibre to lead the party. State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis is extremely articulate and enjoys the full backing of the RSS, but he is not known to have a mass base outside Vidarbha – region where he hails from. Also, he belongs to the Brahmin community, which has a relatively small presence in the state.
Thus, the power equation between the Sena and BJP will change in favour of the former in Munde's absence as Uddhav is politically far more experienced than any state BJP leader. Also, the Sena chief has the advantage of being accepted as a pan-Maharashtra leader as was evident during the Lok Sabha elections. Munde was the only leader in the state unit who had followers across every district and taluka of the state.
The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power in Maharashtra in 1995 on the back of a storm generated by Munde across the state by campaigning against Sharad Pawar for his alleged links with some controversial people. Munde believed there were only two stalwarts in the state – his friend Bal Thackeray and opponent Sharad Pawar. Therefore, he attacked Pawar and ensured a victory for the saffron alliance.
Even before the Pramod Mahajan-Munde combine was promoted by RSS leader Vasantrao Bhagwat, Munde brought dividends for a Brahmanical party like the BJP by attracting the OBCs, especially the Vanjari community into the fold. He also spread the party across the state and also in Marathwada.
There will be a void in the OBC leadership in the BJP as well as the state after Munde's death as there are no major OBC leaders except Chhagan Bhujbal who have a following of their own. Munde managed to mobilise the OBCs in Maharashtra in a massive way post the Mandal Commission in favour of the party.
More importantly, Munde was one of the architects of the Sena-BJP alliance and was the go-between for the BJP and Thackeray family. After Mahajan's death, Munde had taken over the role of placating late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and Uddhav whenever relations soured between the alliance partners. Munde was one of the few leaders in the BJP who the Thackerays trusted and had an open house at Matoshree. The younger generation of BJP leaders do not have that kind of connect with the Shiv Sena leadership and the political maturity to overcome the vagaries of the alliance.
"It will be a difficult period for the Sena too as Munde used to handle tacky issues tactfully. It's a huge loss... we are not confident of the new generation of leaders," said a Sena leader.
Munde never lost an election and won the Lok Sabha polls this year too despite Pawar launching a sustained subtle caste campaign against him. He also managed to stitch an alliance of five parties along with the Sena to ensure that they swept the polls. Munde also roped in strong Congress-NCP leaders into the BJP and got them to fight elections against the opposition heavyweights. Eventually, they managed to defeat Congress-NCP candidates.
Now, the BJP lacks a mass leader to lead the election campaign in the assembly polls. The party will also need to find a good negotiator to ensure that it gets its due while negotiating with the Sena for seat-sharing and resolving contentious issues like contenders for chief ministership.
Political analyst Surendra Jondhale told dna: "The BJP will have to face difficult times now. Munde was the social face of the BJP and mobilised the OBCs heavily post Mandal. After Mahajan's death, Munde, by his sheer hard work, managed to rise above other leaders in the BJP. It has to be seen whether the BJP can manage to capitalise on its massive win in the recent elections in the absence of Munde."