Mumbai: BJP’s top leader in Maharashtra after the sudden death of his brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan in May 2006 until his erstwhile junior ministerial colleague Nitin Gadkari was suddenly elevated as party chief in 2009, Gopinath Munde was known as the deputy chief minister who gave police a free hand against criminals.
The third among five children of a middle-class farmer in Beed district of the backward Marathwada region, Munde, born Dec 12, 1949, initially studied in a government school where classes were conducted under a tree, before joining the district high school and later graduating from a college in Ambejogai.
During his college days in the 1970s, he met the suave, soft-spoken Mahajan who coaxed him to join the RSS student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Later, Munde was jailed for nearly three years during the Emergency.
His true political calling came after his release in 1977 when he attended a training camp of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Pune after his release. Munde subsequently took over an executive committee member of the Pune unit.
In 1980, when the BJP was born out of the former Bharatiya Jana Sangh after the Janata Party coalition collapsed, Munde became state president of the new party’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, and was elected a Maharashtra legislator.
Meanwhile, Munde’s friendship with Mahajan blossomed into a family relationship when he married his sister, Pradnya Mahajan.
Over a decade after his entry into the state assembly, Munde was in December 1991 made leader of opposition and held the post till March 1995.
Later that year, in the Maharashtra assembly elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was the surprise winner routing the then undivided Congress.
While the Sena’s Manohar Joshi became chief minister, Munde was made deputy chief minister and home minister.
His tenure as home minister became famous for the free hand he gave the Mumbai and state police to eliminate mafia dons and gangsters in what came to be known as the dreaded “encounter killings” or staged shootouts.
Many ordinary policemen, virtually given a free hand, went around killing the baddies in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and other places and were publicly eulogised.
After Mahajan’s death, Munde gained prominence as the senior-most BJP leader in the state until Gadkari’s elevation. Fighting and winning his first Lok Sabha election in 2009, Munde became deputy leader of opposition in Lok Sabha.