Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde, the OBC face of the BJP in Maharashtra, died of injuries in a road accident early Tuesday morning in the heart of New Delhi, plunging his party and state into grief and gloom.
Munde, 64, was on his way to the Delhi airport when the Maruti SX4 he was travelling in was rammed by a speeding Indica car at the Aurobindo Marg-Tughlak Road intersection at 6.20 am, police said.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, among the first to reach the AIIMS Trauma Centre where Munde was taken by his personal assistant and driver, said death was caused due to severe injuries to the cervical spine and liver.
“The fracture of his cervical spine C1 and C2 cut off blood supply to the brain stem. This led to failure of his respiratory and cardiac centres. This was caused by the impact between the two cars. There were also two to three tears in the liver which led to collection of blood in his abdomen,” Harsh Vardhan told reporters.
The driver of the Indica, Gurvinder Singh, 40, who called the police control room to say his car had been hit by a vehicle with a red beacon, was arrested and booked. He was granted bail later in the day by a local court.
“We have registered a case of rash and negligent driving resulting in death. We have arrested the accused and are investigating the matter,” Mukesh Meena, Joint Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, said.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari, who also reached the hospital, announced the death of Munde to reporters. In an official statement, a spokesperson for AIIMS said when Munde was brought to the hospital “there was no spontaneous breathing, no blood pressure, no pulse, bilateral pupils were dilated and fixed and no cardiac activity was present… immediately theCPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) was started and continued for the next 50 minutes…. he could not be revived and was declared dead at 7.20 am.”
A panel of doctors conducted the post-mortem. No external injury, other than an abrasion on the nose, was visible. The post-mortem report, expected in a day or two, will reveal the extent of internal injures.
Ministers, leaders, officials and partymen gathered at the hospital and waited for Munde’s family who flew in from Mumbai to receive the body. At 12.40 pm, an Army truck carrying the body moved out of the hospital and headed for the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road where leaders, cutting across party lines, had assembled to pay tribute. Those who turned up included Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
In a tweet soon after Munde’s death, Modi called him a “friend” and a “true mass leader”. “My tributes to a dynamic leader whose premature demise leaves a void hard to fill,” he said.
Munde’s body was later flown to Mumbai in a special aircraft. It will be taken to Latur on Wednesday morning and then to Parli in Beed — Munde’s Lok Sabha constituency — where he will be accorded a state funeral in the afternoon.
Police said Munde was on his way to Delhi airport from where he was to fly to Maharashtra for an election victory rally. His car approached the Aurobindo Marg intersection from Prithviraj Road and was headed to Safdarjung Road. It was then that the Indica, speeding down Aurobindo Marg, rammed his car. Munde was in the rear left seat at the time of the collision.
Police claimed Gurvinder was overspeeding and jumped a traffic signal. “In his statement, Munde’s driver said that he still had 23 seconds left for the light to turn red and that it was Gurvinder’s fault since he did not stop even though he could see the minister’s car crossing the junction,” police said.
A traffic police officer posted at the junction said Gurvinder must have seen Munde’s car from a distance but since he was overspeeding, he could not stop the car though he did appear to have applied the brakes. “The first skid mark was at ten feet, the second at 20 feet and the car finally stopped after 31 feet. The skid marks on the road show that he tried hard to halt the car,” the officer said.
Police said Gurvinder was an employee of Silver Service Pvt Ltd which had been hired by Hotel Imperial to fetch and drop guests.
In a statement, Imperial Hotel said it had “no concern” with either the Indica or its driver Gurvinder: “Hotel has an agreement with M/s Silver Service for provision of transportation services for hotel guests and the driver, Gurvinder Singh, is an employee of the Silver Service… the car and driver were not on duty of Hotel Imperial in any manner whatsoever.”