BHOPAL: Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Babulal Gaur, who passed away on Wednesday, belonged to a rare breed of BJP leaders who had accepted the RSS discipline without slipping into right-wing straitjacket.
He was close to the league of stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sunder Singh Bhandari and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. He rose to prominence in early 1990s when he was made Urban Minister in the state cabinet of Sunderlal Patwa.
In his death Madhya Pradesh has lost a gutsy, tall and liberal leader who commanded immense respect across the parties. It is no overstatement to suggest that he earned more respect outside the BJP than within the party with his broad outlook.
The Congress invited him to contest after he was marginalised within the party. Like former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Gaur was finding it hard to be relevant among leaders who have no time or inclination for niceties in political dialogue.
Gaur's bearing on the state political scene was reflected in state Chief Minister Kamal Nath's gesture to airlift him to Delhi a month ago. Kamal Nath visited him during hospitalization when most of his own party men were shy of doing so lest they offended the state leadership.
Privately he would take pot-shots at the Modi-Shah duo calling them a political version of 'Jay' and 'Veeru' of 'Sholay' fame.
"This pair could spell the death of democracy by marginalising the opposition", he had told some journalists.
Gaur's ruthless drive against encroachments when he ordered bulldozing of unauthorised structures in the old city of Bhopal earned him the sobriquet of 'Bulldozer Minister'.
Though a large number of Muslims lost their dwellings during Gaur's anti-encroachment drive, his popularity among them was intact.
He carried on regardless in the face of strong protests from the Congress.
He had opposed the mushrooming of temples on encroached land as well.
Though he hung his boots last year, Gaur, an OBC, took keen interest in politics before he slipped in semi-comatose state and eventually died of cardiac arrest.
After two MLAs voted for a Congress-sponsored bill in the MP assembly last month, Gaur remarked to some journalists, "This Nath is more of a manager than a politician", quoted one of them.
With the backing of Jana Sangh, Gaur had defeated trade union leader and Congress candidate Mohan Lal Asthana during the pre-emergency election in 1974. The tide had begun turning against Indira Gandhi then.
In the next assembly election Gaur fought from Govindpura constituency, dominated by Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (BHEL) workers and went on to represent the constituency nine times.
Due to his old age, Gaur was dropped as Minister from the state cabinet of Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2016. His relations with Chouhan soured later.
In a chat with media persons a month ago, Gaur recalled how he resigned as Chief Minister in 2005 to pave the way for Chouhan when party patriarch L.K. Advani rang him up to step down. He had succeeded Uma Bharti who had led the party to victory in 2003 but lost the confidence of the central leadership.
Last year, he pushed for his daughter-in-law Krishna Gaur's nomination as BJP candidate from Govindpura seat which he had served for decades. She got the ticket and won. Now Krishna, a former mayor of Bhopal and Gaur's political face, the tall order of living up to high expectations that her father-in-law had created will be a big challenge.