NEW DELHI: A doughty fighter, Union Minister Gopinath Munde's heart was always in Maharashtra and was seeing himself as the next Chief Minister after the Assembly polls due later this year. While 64-year-old Munde himself did not say so much in words, he was seeing himself as a top claimant to the top position in the premier state notwithstanding ally Shiv Sena's open claim over the Chief Ministership.
A Deputy Chief Minister in the Sena-BJP Government from 1995-99, the OBC face of BJP had been a stalwart of the papery in the state and was from the beginning known as a detractor of Sharad Pawar.
This was notwithstanding the fact that his brother-in-law, the late senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, was known to be close to the Maratha strongman.
Munde had chosen the state as his field of activity with Mahajan looking after the national affairs. The tragic demise of Mahajan in May 2006 forced Munde to come to national politics and was the Deputy leader of the party in the last Lok Sabha.
The success to the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in the just- concluded Lok Sabha polls was due to the social engineering brought about by Munde by bringing together various social groups.
Munde brought into the combine Ramdas Athavale's RPI, Mahadeo Jankar's Rashtriya Samaj Party and Raju Shetty's Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana to stunning electoral effect.
Only two days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting with Munde and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari apparently to discuss the strategy ahead for the Maharashtra Assembly polls at a time when the Shiv Sena was getting uneasy over BJP's plans.
Munde's feeling was that his strategy which paid dividends in the Lok Sabha polls could be repeated in the Assembly polls at a time when anti-incumbency feelings against the 15-year rule of the Congress-NCP alliance was growing.
The growing confidence of the BJP was but natural after the Modi wave had worked wonders in Maharashtra, the second largest state in the country having 48 Lok Sabha seats, in which the combine had bagged 42 seats.
It was also the first election after the death of Shivsena supremo Bal Thackarey.
Munde used to count the solid backing by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a shield at a time when he had some powerful detractors and felt that this could help him sail through.
Shiv Sena is the oldest ideological ally of the BJP and has been playing complementary roles to each other. BJP had been given more seats to contest the Lok Sabha polls while Sena has been allocated more seats for the state Assembly.
Only yesterday, the Shiv Sena, had in an editorial in party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ taken a dig at Munde over his chief ministerial ambitions.
"We have always had this understanding with BJP, that the prime minister will be from the BJP and the chief minister in the state will be from Shiv Sena and all our cadre, everyone wants Uddhav Thackarey to be chief minister if our grand alliance comes to power," Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut had said yesterday.