Gopinath Munde, India’s rural development minister and a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, died after an accident today as he traveled to New Delhi’s airport. He was 64.
Munde died at 8 a.m. at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, 1 1/2 hours after his car was struck by another vehicle, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari told reporters outside the hospital. Munde suffered a ruptured liver and cervical fractures from the accident and lost one to two liters of blood ending in cardiac arrest, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on NDTV and other television channels.
“My tributes to a dynamic leader whose premature demise leaves a void hard to fill,” Modi said on his Twitter account.
Munde, from Beed in the western state of Maharashtra, was sworn in on May 26 after the Bharatiya Janata Party under Modi swept to power in India’s general election. Modi is due to pay his last respects later today, Gadkari said.
“Munde was a committed leader to the progress of this country,” Gadkari said in New Delhi. “For his family, for the BJP and for the country, this is a tremendous loss.”
Munde was born into poverty in 1949 to farmers in a district known for its long stretches of drought. He grew to become the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra in 1995 before becoming a member of parliament in 2009.
After spending time with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu nationalist group aligned with the BJP, Munde entered politics as a member of the opposition to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 when she suspended India’s constitution. Pramod Mahajan, his brother-in-law and a leader of the opposition at the time, brought Munde into the movement before they were arrested and jailed for protesting Gandhi’s rule.
“The 16 months of imprisonment in the central jail was a turning point in my life,” he wrote on his website. “I was more determined than ever to work ceaselessly to overthrow the political system that was oppressive and corrupt.”
Munde won a seat in the Maharashtra state assembly in 1978, his first electoral victory, before being made party secretary in the state in 1982 and then president in 1986. He won his first national election in 2009.
Munde retained his seat in elections that ended on May 16 by a margin of about 140,000 votes before joining Modi’s cabinet.
He is survived by his wife Pradnya and three daughters.
(An earlier version of this story was corrected because the ninth paragraph contained an erroneous reference to Munde once being chief minister of Maharashtra.)