There is very little difference between sly gossip mongers and perpetrators of unlikely conspiracy theories. Both the subsets of our society thrive on very slender pieces of evidence or for that matter even non-evidence to spin stories that catch your imagination. Their business flourishes only when the names involved are celebrities. Now in so far as Maharashtra is concerned, 64-year-old Gopinathrao Pandurangao Munde was the kind celebrity politician who was a perfect candidate for conspiracy theories. His brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan was killed by his brother Pravin in a fit of fratricidal angst, later Pravin too died and then Pramod’s confidant Vivek Moitra also died after a drinking bout. So, when Munde died after being injured in a freakish accident within days of becoming a union minister, the conspiracy theorists got to work. “There is someone who is out to finish anyone connected with Pramod Mahajan,” they declared without any iota of evidence. Adding juice to their theory is the near certainty that Munde would have been Maharashtra’s chief minister for sure after the assembly elections due later this year. “This someone does not want that anyone connected with Mahajan should be politically powerful,” the theorists add for emphasis.
But then in the world of realpolitik there is no room for such theories. Anyone peddling such stuff is simply dismissed as someone who is out of his mind. However, we cannot forget that Uddhav Thackeray who has made a departure from his illustrious father late Balasaheb’s studied refusal to run for a political office or accept one, and declared himself to be the chief ministerial candidate, has made a demand for a CBI probe into the accident. We cannot take this lightly, but the fact remains that this time there is no Congress government at the centre that can be blamed for anything. Rather there is an all powerful Modi Sarkar that can unearth any foul play in that early morning 6.30 am accident that snuffed the light of Munde’s life. Besides, from visual evidence on the television channels, it was clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi too was deeply moved by the tragedy. His slow sombre walk to the casket containing Munde’s mortal remains, and his emotional moments with the grieving family members left no one in doubt that here was a prime minister deeply upset by the tragic loss of a valued colleague.
This expression goes beyond the usual expression of formal grief at such occasions. Munde’s induction into the union cabinet was a clear sign of empowering him, and acknowledging him as the tallest leader of the BJP in Maharashtra. This was an honour that was long due to him, and we also now have evidence from his supposed rival in Maharashtra, Nitin Gadkari, that the Delhi stint was just a prelude to the bigger assignment that was waiting for Munde in Mumbai’s Mantralaya. But now all this is in the realm of the impossible, and in its place what stares the BJP in its face is that there is simply no leader who can replace Munde. By this one does not imply that there would be no solutions, but the simple fact that the BJP would have to redraw its plans. Under Munde, for instance, the seat sharing ratio of 117-171 between the BJP and the Shiv Sena could have been easily altered, even though the Sena claims to be the big brother in Mumbai. He would have been able to persuade the Sena bosses that their success in getting 18 out of the 20 seats they contested in the Lok Sabha elections was largely due to the Modi factor. It was as a consequence of this factor that the rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena could not make any dent in the Shiv Sena contested seats, but in the state assembly elections this equation would change.
But the larger issue is of leading the campaign, and this is where Munde’s tragic absence would be felt more acutely. Gadkari can handle the task in his own way in the Vidarbha region, and perhaps some urban pockets, but by and large the massive advantage that would have come with the Modi momentum being driven home by Munde’s grassroots campaign style is not there now.
However, this is not a time for Munde’s rivals to contemplate that the BJP’s loss is their gain. Plainly it is the BJP’s loss and if there are any gains they are there for Shiv Sena alone. The Nationalist Congress Party could benefit from Munde’s absence, but its alliance with the Congress is a big drag as of now.
In Munde’s loss, it is not just the loss of chief ministership of Maharashtra for the BJP. The implication is that the BJP would be subject to the tantrums of its ally in Mumbai, and to that extent be hobbled in its exercise to shape the commercial capital of the country. This would extract an untold price from the BJP and its realisation could make the Munde tragedy more than unbearable.