Shiv Sangram chief Vinayak Mete, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an important voice of the Maratha community, died in a tragic accident that occurred on the Mumbai-Pune-Expressway Sunday morning. He was 52.
Mr. Mete, a former member of the Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) and an influential leader from Beed district in the Marathwada region, was heading for a meeting called by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde over the Maratha reservation issue in Mumbai later in the day.
According to the Expressway police, Mr. Meter SUV (a Ford Endeavour) rammed into a vehicle ahead of them after his driver reportedly lost control of the car. The accident occurred a little after 5 a.m., said the expressway police.
A severely injured Mr. Mete, his driver and his bodyguard, police constable Ram Dhoble were rushed by ambulance to Navi Mumbai’s MGM Kamothe Hospital (in Panvel).
According to medical authorities, Mr. Mete was declared dead after an examination at 6:20 a.m. While his bodyguard Mr. Dhoble is said to be “critical” with “severe liver and chest injuries”, the driver is said to be out of danger.
All top political leaders including Mr. Shinde, along with Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to the MGM Kamothe Hospital on hearing the news.
Expressing his condolences to the bereaved family, Mr. Shinde said a thorough probe would be carried into the circumstances of Mr. Mete’s death.
Tributes flowed across the political spectrum following the accident.
Known as a tireless advocate of rights for the backward sections among the Maratha community, his death cast a pall of gloom over Maratha outfits, whose refrain was that the community “felt orphaned” by Mr. Mete’s untimely passing.
Expressing his condolences in a statement, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari said: “Shocked and saddened to know about the demise of Vinayak Mete, President, Shiv Sangram Sanghatana in a road accident. His dedicated work for the upliftment of backward classes was noteworthy. I convey my deepest condolences to the members of the bereaved family on this occasion.”
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, in whose party Mr. Mete had been till 2014, said Mr. Mete’s death was a “shocking start” to the day.
“Mr. Mete was born in a small family of farmers in the Marathwada region, but rose high through sheer dint of his hard-work… His focus was always more on social than political issues. He was with us at one time. Even then, he was passionate about social change and social issues like Maratha reservation,” Mr. Pawar said.
Stating that with Mr. Mete’s demise, the Maratha community had “lost its voice,” BJP State President Chandrashekhar Bawankule said his death was “a big blow to the Maratha quota agitation.”
A visibly aggrieved Ajit Pawar, the Maharashtra Leader of Opposition, who reached the hospital soon after the accident, said that Mr. Mete had fought for the rights of the Maratha community till the very end.
“The very fact that he drove all night from Beed to attend a meeting called by the CM on Maratha reservation shows how passionate he was on this issue… We might have been in different parties, yet our personal relations were always very warm,” said Mr. Ajit Pawar.
A distraught Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, a former BJP MP and Kolhapur Royal who himself is an influential Maratha community leader, said: “I think he was the only legislator in the Legislative Council who was a vociferous advocate of the rights of the poorer sections of the Maratha community and presented issues in such an effective manner. I am too shocked and saddened by the news. We are unable to decide what our future course of action will be.”
Last year, Mr. Mete had cranked up the pressure on the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government over the Maratha quota issue and had staged a number of demonstrations across the Marathawada region, often by ignoring pandemic norms.
Instrumental in goading the powers that be to act after the Supreme Court scrapped the Maratha quota legislation, Mr. Mete had often acted as a bridge between the politicos and Maratha community leaders.
His body will first be taken to Mumbai while the final rites are to be performed later at his ancestral village in Beed district, said sources.