Indian minister Gopinath Munde killed in road accident, big blow to BJP government


New Delhi (IANS): The week-old government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was dealt a blow Tuesday when Gopinath Munde, a senior cabinet minister who looked after three portfolios, including rural development, died after an early morning road accident in central Delhi.

Munde, 64, a senior BJP leader who was once deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, was going to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, to catch a flight to Mumbai, in his Maruti Suzuki SX4 car when he was hit by a Tata Indica on the Prithviraj Road five-point crossing around 6.20 a.m., police said. 

Munde’s personal security officer (PSO) was sitting in the front next to the driver and the minister was seated behind him. The Tata Indica hit SX4 with great force from the side where Munde was seated.

Due to the force of the impact, Munde fell down in the car and was helped to sit up by his PSO. Munde asked for water and told his driver to rush him to hospital before losing consciousness.

AIIMS public relations officer Amit Gupta said: “Munde was brought to the emergency department of Jai Prakash Narain Apex Trauma Centre, AIIMS at 6:30 a.m by his personal assistant and driver.”

“On his arrival at the Trauma Centre, there was no spontaneous breathing, no blood pressure, no pulse, no cardiac activity. So immediately Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) was started and continued for the next 15 minutes. Despite resuscitative measures, Munde could not be revived and was declared dead at 7:20 a.m.,” Gupta told reporters. 

“There were no grievous external injuries. It seems, he had a cardiac arrest after the impact,” Gupta said, indicating the minister may have died of shock caused by the accident and internal injuries. Munde was a diabetic patient. 

The spot where the accident is just a kilometre away from the prime minister’s 7 Race Course Road residence.

Gurvinder Singh, 32, driver of the Indica car, was arrested. Police are checking whether he had consumed alcohol the night before.

Munde’s death came a day after his name was mentioned as a contender for the post of Maharashtra chief minister after the assembly elections this year.

Munde, a farmer’s son, was adept at building bridges with other parties in the state and became the foremost BJP leader in Maharashtra after the sudden death of his brother-in-law, party strongman Pramod Mahajan in May 2006.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Munde as “a true mass leader” and said he was “extremely saddened and shocked” by the minister’s death. Modi was one of the first to be informed of the tragedy. 

Besides rural development, Munde, also held the portfolios of panchayati raj as well as drinking water and sanitation – all crucial portfolios from the perspective of rural India. 

Among his first callers after taking over as minister last Tuesday, was his predecessor Jairam Ramesh. 

Following a post-mortem, the body was brought to the BJP headquarters at Ashoka Road. The body was accompanied by senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari and members of Munde’s immediate family, who had rushed to the capital after hearing the news.

As a mark of respect to Munde, the national flag will be flown at half-mast in the national capital, capitals of states and union territories Tuesday, the government announced. 

The cabinet, chaired by Modi, later passed a resolution condoling Munde’s death.

Briefing the media, parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said : “The cabinet passed a resolution and observed a national mourning today (Tuesday). Tomorrow the cremation will be held in his native place with full state honours.” The cremation will be held in Beed. Munde was an MP from Beed.

At the BJP headquarters, there were many with moist eyes as senior leaders and party workers paid their homage. 

Munde’s body wrapped in white sheets and covered in rose petals was kept in a transparent coffin as senior leaders, including Modi, L.K. Advani, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar and Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav paid tributes. 

Munde’s daughter Pankaja Munde-Palve, a Maharashtra legislator from Parali, touched Modi’s feet as he came to pay his tributes and appeared shaken. Munde is survived by his wife, who is Pramod Mahajan’s sister, and three daughters. 

President Pranab Mukherjee, vice-president Hamid Ansari and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were among those who expressed their profound sorrow and grief at Munde’s sudden death.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also visited BJP headquarters to pay tributes.