Family members and thousands of supporters bid a tearful farewell to union minister Gopinath Munde in his hometown Parli in Beed district of Maharashtra on Wednesday. His daughter Pankaja Palve Munde, who is also the MLA of Parli, performed the last rites and lit the funeral pyre as slogans like “Gopinath Munde amar rahe” rent the air.
The cremation at the Vaidyanath Cooperative Sugar Factory ground was, however, marred by violence as angry supporters torched a police van and pelted vehicles of union and state ministers with stones, demanding a CBI inquiry into Munde’s death.
The 64-year-old union rural development minister was killed in a car crash in Delhi Tuesday morning as he was on his way to the airport to take a flight to his home state to attend an election victory rally in Beed.
District Collector Navalkishore Ram blamed rumour-mongering for the violence. “Rumours were floating around about foul play in the accident. They had spread like wildfire and may have been responsible for the violent crowd behaviour,” he said.
The vehicles of union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, who had also flown in, were pelted with stones but no one was injured. Vehicles of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and state minister Nitin Raut were also pelted with stones and gheraoed by the angry mob.
The crowd first jostled to get to the stage to get a closer view of Munde’s body, forcing police to resort to lathicharge. The crowd soon became violent and started pelting police with stones, injuring two policemen. Pankaja, who till then was acknowledging the condolences on the stage, had to take charge of the proceedings.
Public address system in hand, she appealed to the people to stay calm. However, as the crowd swelled, demands for a CBI inquiry into Munde’s death grew louder and the mobs then went on the rampage leading to the lathicharge.
Among others who attended the cremation were Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, RPI leader Ramdas Athavale, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Goa Chief Minister Mohan Parikkar.
Sena chief Thackeray also supported the demand for a CBI probe. “The sentiments of the (party) workers should be respected,” he was quoted by PTI as saying.
Anticipating the huge crowd, the district authorities had changed the earlier plan to keep Munde’s body at a ground near his home. Instead, the body was directly flown to the ground of the sugar factory for the cremation.
Ramesh Lad, a resident of Latur, said he had taken a day off to have a last glimpse of Munde.
“He was a leader of the masses and had always taken the side of the poor,” he said. All shops and commercial establishments in Beed remained closed on Wednesday as a mark of respect to Munde.
Dhananjay Munde, the estranged nephew of the late minister, credited his uncle for the stature of the Munde family. “The need of the hour is to support the family. I have spoken to Pankaja and have told her to count on us for all help,” he said. Dhananjay had fallen out with Munde over the latter’s decision to field his daughter from Parli for the assembly elections. Subsequently Dhanajay had joined NCP and was rewarded with a seat in the upper house of the state legislature.