Parli (Maharashtra): Gopinath Munde’s elder daughter Pankaja Munde lights the pyre at his native village Parli in Beed district of Maharashtra on Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of mourning supporters and distraught family members bid a tearful farewell to Gopinath Munde, Maharashtra BJP’s tallest mass leader and architect of its impressive victory in the Lok Sabha elections.
A sea of humanity converged at his home town to pay last respects to the towering leader from the backward Marathwada region amid roars of “Gopinath Munde amar rahe” and “Munde Saheb parat ya (Munde Sir, come again)”.
Munde died in a road accident in Delhi while he was on way to Parli for a felicitation following his own and BJP’s resounding victory in the Lok Sabha elections, which saw him re-elected for a second time from Beed.
AIIMS doctor Dr Amit Gupta said autopsy report of Gopinath Munde has been sent to the Delhi Police. Gupta informed that contrary to previous claims, Munde did not suffer heart attack but internal injuries caused the heart to stop.
However, in a cruel twist of fate, he could not reach there alive and only his mortal remains were brought to the Baidyanath Sugar Factory compound for performing the last rites, a few kilometres away from ‘Totla Maidan’, the venue of the felicitation that never happened.
The BJP veteran is survived by his wife Pradnya and three daughters including Pankaja, BJP MLA from Parli and heir to his political legacy.
Pankaja lighting her father’s funeral pyre marked a departure from the Hindu tradition of a male member of the family doing duty and signalled her taking over the leader’s political mantle.
Several senior BJP leaders including Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, a close associate of Munde since his days as a student leader in Pune, party general secretary Rajeev Pratap Rudy, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray, MNS boss Raj Thackeray, RPI’s Ramdas Athavale and several state ministers and legislators were in attendance.
As soon as Gopinath Munde was cremated, some agitated supporters went on a rampage, demanding CBI probe into the accident and set ablaze police vans, other vehicles and gheraoed Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s car, while he was on his way to helipad.
TV footage showed Chavan seated in his car as protesters angrily thumped the bonnet with fists, forcing the police to cane-charge.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who was present at the funeral, supported the demand for a CBI probe. “The sentiments of the (party) workers should be respected,” he said.
The body was kept at the BJP office in Mumbai overnight after being flown from Delhi last evening. The Indian Air Force aircraft carrying Munde’s body landed at Latur at around 10 am.
In deference to the people’s wishes, the casket containing Munde’s body was kept on a raised platform outside the airport so that people could pay their last respects.
Munde’s wife Pradnya and daughter Pankaja were at the airport and were consoled by his followers.
Leaders of other parties, including Congress’ Minister of State Amit Deshmukh and NCP’s Cabinet minister Jitendra Awhad, were present at Latur airport.
The body will be kept for “antim darshan” (last respects) at the Vaidyanath sugar factory premises near Parli and the funeral will take place after 2 pm.
Meanwhile, chaos happened at Munde’s funeral venue. Police and late Munde’s supporters clashed. BJP leaders and late Union Minister’s daughter appeal to the supporters to stay calm.
Munde, a backward class leader, who started his political career as a student leader and rose to become the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1995, when BJP-Shiv Sena came to power in the state for the first time, was to lead his party’s assembly campaign.
He was also seen by many as a formidable contender for the Chief Minister’s post in the event of the alliance forming its government after the assembly elections four months from now.
But fate willed otherwise and Munde died in a crash a week after being sworn in as Union minister but before he could take oath as MP.
With his brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan, another towering BJP leader from Maharashtra whose promising political career was snuffed out in May 2003 after he was shot by his younger brother, Munde was an architect of the BJP-Sena alliance which has stood the test of time.
He was considered the glue that still binds the two saffron allies.
As Narendra Modi launched a spirited Lok Sabha campaign and was looking for new allies, Munde’s political astuteness and acceptability across the political spectrum came in handy as he brought Ramdas Athavale’s RPI, Raju Shetty’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Mahadeo Jankar’s Rashtriya Samaj Party into the ‘Mahayuti’ (Grand Alliance), which contested Lok Sabha polls together, winning 42 of state’s 48 seats.
His departure from Maharashtra’s political scene has left BJP bereft of a charismatic leader months before the crucial electoral battle for control of the key western state.
The 64-year-old BJP veteran is survived by wife and three daughters.
Munde died following a road accident in Delhi on Tuesday, a week after taking over as Union Rural Development Minister in the Narendra Modi-cabinet.