Gopinath Munde: Indian minister dies in car crash

image sourceReuters
image captionGopinath Munde was appointed last week to Narendra Modi's new government

Gopinath Munde, India's newly-appointed Rural Development Minister, has died in a car crash in the capital, Delhi.

Mr Munde was on his way to the airport to take a flight to his home state of Maharashtra when his car was hit by another vehicle, officials said.

Doctors at the AIIMS hospital said he was not breathing when brought in and efforts to resuscitate him failed.

Mr Munde, 64, was appointed just last week to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new government.

India has some of the most dangerous roads in the world - nearly 140,000 people died in road accidents in India in 2012, according to the government's National Crime Records Bureau.

Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari told reporters: "An accident took place earlier in the morning, following which he was taken to hospital in Delhi. Doctors declared him dead at about 8am [02:30GMT]."

"Mr Munde was brought to the emergency department... by his personal assistant and driver. He was sitting in the back seat of his car which was hit by another car or any other vehicle... from the side he was sitting," Dr Amit Gupta of the AIIMS Trauma Centre told reporters.

"On his arrival at the Trauma Centre, there was no spontaneous breathing, no blood pressure, no pulse, no cardiac activity."

Dr Gupta said there were "no major external injuries on his body... clinically we might say that he had a sudden cardiac death".

The minister's driver and secretary escaped unhurt.

Prime Minister Modi was among the first to mourn Mr Munde's death.

"Extremely saddened and shocked by the demise of my friend and colleague Gopinath Munde. His demise is a major loss for the nation and the government," Mr Modi tweeted.

He described Mr Munde as "a true mass leader" and said that "hailing from backward sections of society, he rose to great heights and tirelessly served people".

Analysis: Yogita Limaye, BBC News, Mumbai

One of the most popular politicians in Maharashtra, Gopinath Munde wielded great clout at the national level too. He was deputy leader of his party, the BJP, in the last parliament.

Mr Munde was a politician who had risen from the masses. He came from a small area in central Maharashtra called Parli and belonged to a low-caste grouping known as the OBCs, or the Other Backward Classes. They constitute a large voter base for any party, and Mr Munde's popularity among them made him an important leader for the BJP.

His home district of Beed is infamous for female foeticide, and given that he has three daughters and no son, he was often hailed as an example for others to follow. One of his daughters, Pankaja Munde-Palve, is a member of the Maharashtra state assembly.

Mr Munde's body was being flown later on Tuesday to his village where his funeral will take place on Wednesday.

He was deputy chief minister in Maharashtra from 1995 to 1999 and elected twice to the lower house of parliament in 2009 and 2014.

Reports said Mr Munde had been on his way to Maharashtra to address a victory rally in his constituency, Beed.

Although he had recently been appointed rural development minister in the new federal government, he was a popular choice to become the chief minister of Maharashtra, should his party win state elections due in a few months.

His is the second big loss for the BJP in Maharashtra in the past eight years - in 2006, senior party leader Pramod Mahajan was shot dead in his home in Mumbai.

Mr Mahajan was Mr Munde's brother-in-law and correspondents say their closeness to some extent helped Mr Munde rise within the BJP.

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