PUNE/AURANGABAD, 4 June-2014, TNN: The state mourned the loss of a people’s leader, but Gopinath Munde’s school and college friends recalled the leader as a determined youth from rural Maharashtra, who won friends even among political opponents and made it big in national politics.
The first signs of Munde’s leadership skills emerged in 1962, when he at the age of 13, staged a protest against a teacher who had abused a student. The ZP Multi-Purpose High School, where he studied, had to close down for a day, recalls his childhood friend Sham Dande. “We were in Class VII then. He managed to get the school of 600 students closed,” Dande said.
Years later, he began his political journey in Pune. Ravi Ghatpande, who was the co-chief at the RSS shakha of Deccan gymkhana in Pune, still remembers the day their leader, Sharadbhau Sathe, visited the shakha and announced Munde as its karyawah (chief). “Everyone was shocked and wondered why this young man with a clear rustic demeanor had been picked. But in a matter of 15 days, Munde had won over everyone. Within no time, we set up eight shakhas in Deccan area,” he recalled.
Munde used his rural background to his advantage through his political career. When he was planning to contest the youth representative election from ILS Law College in Pune, he had consulted Ghatpande. “He asked me ‘Me ubha taku ka (should I contest)? It was a completely different style of speaking Marathi, a distinct Marathwada dialect, which he retained through his life. He had great oratory skills,” Ghatpande said.
He won that election easily, ending the trend of Congress-backed leaders representing the college. The win did not surprise his friends, who recall, how Munde’s hostel room was always filled with people.
In 1974, a meeting was called in Gokhale hall where a young Arun Jaitley, also newly elected president of the student’s union of Delhi University, had come. Munde’s political career started here. Shripati Shastri, then a prominent leader of Pune RSS circle, had predicted Munde would become a prominent state leader.
Bhagwan Bhargude, his junior from college, said, “We spent a lot of time discussing politics. When he decided to contest the assembly elections from Parli, some of us, his friends from Law college, went and campaigned for him.”
His teacher from Law College, advocate Bhaskar Avhad, said he and Munde both belonged to the Vanjari community. “Students are usually self-centered and demand things from parents. But, Munde had an element of social service and organization skills. During Emergency, he said he would go to jail. How many students these days have that sort of conviction,” he asked.
Friends recall his meticulous execution of tasks assigned to him. “He used to walk almost 22km daily from his native Nathra village to attend school at Parli,” said Dande.
His schoolmate, Subhash Dagadgunde, said Munde could swim against the tide, not just political. “He would swim against the current in a river to reach another village where his maternal uncle lived. We used to gather at his maternal uncle’s home to relish puran poli and aam ras.”
He was once asked to speak against RSS in a debate, which he refused to initially, but once he decided he was going to speak in opposition, he won the debate listing all that the Sangh would never do.
But then Munde never really took decisions he couldn’t go ahead with.
He scaled political heights, but remained grounded and visited friends’ homes.
Another schoolmate, Jagatkar Janardan, said Munde was someone who rose above politics for his friends. “His political career started during his student life, but as school friends we would share our favourite Chivda every day after finishing a game of football.”
He wanted his name to be Uddhav
In a recent programme in Pune, Munde had shared how he didn’t like his name. “When I was a school boy, I used to fight with my parents and wanted them to change my name to Uddhav. My grandfather thrashed me once and said he had named me Gopinath and I should not complain,” Munde had said. He added that he had a liking for the name Uddhav. Of course, Uddhav Thackeray was not in the picture that time.