New Delhi: The week-old Narendra Modi government was dealt a blow yesterdaywhen Gopinath Munde, a senior 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 Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, was going to the Indira Gandhi International Airport to catch a flight to Mumbai when his driver jumped the red light and was hit by a Tata Indica on the Prithviraj Road five-point crossing around 6.20am, informed sources said.
However, there was no official confirmation that the driver jumped the signal.
Munde’s personal security officer (PSO) Surender Nayar was sitting in the front next to the driver, Virender Kumar, and the minister was seated behind him. The Tata Indica skidded over 30 feet and hit Munde’s Maruti Suzuki SX4 with great force on the side where he was seated.
Due to the force of the impact, Munde fell down 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. Police said the Indica car driver, Gurvinder Singh, 32, made a call to police that a red-beacon car had hit his vehicle and had fled the spot.
Police said when they reached the spot, Singh was found to be standing near his car whose bonnet was damaged.
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 am by his personal assistant and driver.” Gupta said they found “no blood pressure, no pulse, no cardiac activity” and immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)”. Doctors finally declared Munde dead at 7.20am.
“There were no grievous external injuries. It seems he had a cardiac arrest after the impact,” he said, indicating the minister may have died of shock caused by the accident and internal injuries.
Munde was a diabetic and hypertension patient.
N K Mehra, acting director, AIIMS, said: “Munde’s viscera report is also being preserved because his personal assistant informed us that the minister complained of uneasiness in the morning before leaving his house.”
Mehra also said that one external injury was found on his nose. “He had multiple internal injuries,” he said, adding that a detailed post mortem report will be released today.
Additional Commissioner of Police S B S Tyagi said that the Indica driver had been arrested.
“Prima facie it was found that minister’s car had crossed two-third of the signal but we are yet to confirm whose vehicle was at fault. As there are no CCTVs at the spot we are taking time to verify the facts.”
A minister’s aide said that many ministers tell their drivers to drive fast if they are getting late and on many occasions jump the red light.
Police, while opposing the driver’s bail, said that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Special Cell are investigating to find out any possible conspiracy behind the incident and sought Gurvinder’s custody. But the Delhi court rejected their demand and granted him bail on a personal bond of `30,000 and like amount of security bond.
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.
A farmer’s son, Munde was adept at building bridges with other parties and became the foremost BJP leader in Maharashtra after the sudden death of his brother-in-law, party strongman Pramod Mahajan in May 2006.
One of the first to be informed of the tragedy, Prime Minister Modi described Munde as “a true mass leader” and said he was “extremely saddened and shocked” by the minister’s death.
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.
Following a post mortem, the body was brought to the BJP headquarters at Ashoka Road. It 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 was flown at half-mast in the national capital, capitals of states and union territories yesterday, the government announced. The cabinet, chaired by Modi, later passed a resolution condoling Munde’s death. Parliamentary Affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said:
“The cabinet passed a resolution and observed national mourning today. The cremation will be held in his native place (Beed in Maharashtra) with full state honours today.”
At the BJP headquarters, there were many with moist eyes as senior leaders, including Modi, L K Advani, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar and Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav paid tributes. Munde is survived by his wife, who is Mahajan’s sister, and three daughters. President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party Vice President Rahul Gandhi were among those who expressed grief at his death.