In the 1970s, Parli, a pilgrimage town 500 km from Mumbai, was famous for being home to one of the seven thermal power projects in the state. Over the years, the town came to be identified with another ‘powerhouse’ — Gopinath Munde, who went on to dominate Maharashtra’s political landscape.
Munde, the third of farmer Pandurang Munde’s five children, was born to a Vanjari family in Nathra village on December 12, 1949. The Vanjaris are traditionally traders, but Munde, a known risk taker, had other plans.
His earliest political role was as a student leader at Arts and Commerce College in Ambejogai in Beed, where he earned his BCom degree and where, as he wrote on his blog, he played the role of “kingmaker”.
The Ambejogai years led to two important events in Munde’s life, personal and political. It was here that he met Pramod Mahajan with whom he would go on develop a lifelong friendship and which later allowed him to have a virtual stranglehold on the functioning of the BJP in Maharashtra. The other event, his marriage to Mahajan’s sister Pradnya, pointed to Munde’s doggedness. Munde, an OBC, married Pradnya, a Brahmin, despite facing a lot of opposition since caste biases run strong in Marathwada.
Munde’s first major political victory came in 1980 when he was elected to the assembly. Mahajan’s rise in the BJP at the national level allowed Munde an almost unchallenged run in the state BJP. He was made party president of the state unit in 1986 and became leader of the opposition in the assembly in the early 1990s.
Munde, however, is best known for his ability to take on Sharad Pawar, then chief minister of Maharashtra. The open challenge to the Maratha leader almost led to the Congress’s rout in 1995. It was Munde’s high-pitched campaign questioning the alleged underworld links of Pawar that brought Munde on centre-stage in 1994-95. This was followed by the Sena-BJP coming to power in 1995. He also famously dared Pawar over the Enron power plant, saying the project was steeped in corruption and that it would be “thrown into the sea” if the Sena-BJP came to power. But after coming to power, Munde, who became deputy chief minister and also held charge of home and power, instead renegotiated the Enron deal.
Munde was also the target of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign, which seriously dented his image. Hazare released documents on