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CBI chant, batons at funeral

Mumbai, June 4: Gopinath Munde’s supporters ran amok at his funeral today, demanding a CBI investigation into his death in a road accident and creating such a din that his bereaved daughter Pankaja was forced to appeal for calm so the last rites could be performed.

Later, after the cremation in Munde’s hometown of Parli in Latur was over, many in the crowd hurled stones, including one that damaged Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s car, blocked senior leaders and fought police.

An upset Pankaja, who is the local MLA, demanded a probe into the ruckus saying those behind such incidents could not be her “father’s followers”.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray supported the call for a CBI probe. “It is a shock and a jolt (to me.) It is difficult to believe that Gopinath Munde is no longer with us. There are questions not just in my mindů the sentiments of party workers here must be respected. A probe, if possible a CBI probe, should be conducted.”

The Sena president’s comments came against the backdrop of a perception that he could be a rival to Munde as a possible chief minister if the BJP-Sena alliance won the state elections that are months away.

Munde’s funeral was held on a ground near his sugar mill, Vaidyanath Co-operative Sugar Factory.

A victory celebration for his Lok Sabha win had been planned on the ground and the Union minister was on his way to Parli for that when his airport-bound sedan was hit by another car in Delhi yesterday.

Thousands of Munde supporters and Sena-BJP activists turned up today to catch a last glimpse of the departed leader, with police estimating the crowd at around 40,000.

The crowd chanted slogans like “Gopinath Munde amar rahe, Gopinath Munde parat ya (Long live Gopinath Munde, return him to us)” and “CBI chaukashi jhalich pahije (CBI probe must be ordered)”.

The crowd kept swelling and became unruly as the scheduled 2pm time for the last rites drew closer.

State BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis and others sought to bring order by telling the gathering that a CBI probe would be ordered, but the appeals went unheeded.

Pankaja then took the mike. “Please do not run. Please stay calm. It may cause a stampede,” she said.

The words restored calm for a while, allowing Pankaja — the eldest of Munde’s three daughters — to light the pyre around 1.45pm, watched by her two sisters and mother Pradnya.

Munde’s elder brother Anna was there too, as were members of his late brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan’s family.

The BJP leaders present included Rajnath Singh, L.K. Advani, Prakash Javadekar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Manohar Parrikar, the Goa chief minister.

Maharashtra chief minister Chavan attended the funeral with ministers R.R. Patil and Chhagan Bhujbal. Maharshtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray was also present.

After the funeral, the crowd blocked the roads demanding a CBI probe, holding back Rajnath, Advani and other VIPs. They had to be escorted out by the police.

Chief minister Chavan was held up for several minutes and his car pelted with stones, one of which shattered a window.

The police then resorted to a baton charge.