Plane crashes, terrorist victims, accidents, tragedies... seem to have haunted Congress
party eerily in its recent history. The shocking news of the crash of a plane carrying
charismatic Congress leader and a scion of Gwalior royal family, Madhavrao Scindia, near Mota village in
Bhogaon tehsil of Mainpuri district of central Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday
afternoon, killing all eight persons on board is the latest in this series of misfortunes to have hit the beleagured party.
There were seven more persons on board apart from Scindia, including four journalists,
when the ten-seater private plane carrying them crashed in a paddy field near here
in heavy rains and poor visibility.
Scindia's personal secretary Rupinder Singh, Delhi-based journalists -- Anju Sharma (Hindustan Times), Sanjeev Sinha (Indian
Express), Ranjan Jha (Aaj Tak) and Gopal Bisht (Aaj Tak TV cameraman), Pilot Ray
Gautam and co-pilot Ritu perished when the engine of Cessna C-90 aircraft caught
fire and the plane nose-dived into the field in Motta village bursting into
flames around 2.30 pm.
Poor visibility because of rains also appeared to be one of the reasons for
the crash, district police chief Sridhar Pathak said.
All the bodies, charred beyond recognition, were being taken to Agra by road
from where they would be brought to Delhi by a special IAF aircraft sent by
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whom Scindia had defeated in Lok sabha poll
in Gwalior in 1984.
Scindia, a veteran parliamentarian and rated as a Congress prime ministerial
candidate before the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in the aftermath of controversy
over Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, was on his way to address a rally in Kanpur.
For the Congress, it is the second loss of a young leader after the death of
Rajesh Pilot in a road accident last year.
Home Minister Advani told reporters in New Delhi that Scindia's son Jyotiraditya is going in the
plane to identify his father's body alongwith one member from each of the
Replying to a question, the home minister said all the bodies had been
recovered and postmortem would be conducted tomorrow morning.
The plane, a chartered flight belonging to Jindal Strips, took off at 12.39
pm and was en route to Kanpur, where Scindia was to address public meetings. The plane was to reach Kanpur at 1.50 pm,
but it abruptly lost contact with Lucknow Air Traffic Control at 1.20 pm.
Scindia, 56, was on his way to Kanpur to address a party rally later this
evening. Mani Shankar Aiyer, who was supposed to accompany him, told Star News
that Madhavrao had requested him to change plans so as to accomodate the
journalists whom he had already invited.
Politicians cutting across party lines -- Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with daughter Priyanka and Home Minister Lal
Kishinchand Advani were among the first to arrive -- Union Law Minister Arun
Jaitley, Congress leaders R K Dhawan, Najma Heptullah and Dr Manmohan Singh, and
former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral were among the many thronging the
Sophisticated, suave, articulate, Madhavrao Scindia, with the distinction of
beating Atal Behari Vajpayee, in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections was long seen as
prime-ministerial material by those within and outside the Congress party.
Indeed, he had emerged as the defacto and even de jure Number Two in the party
with his appointment as the Deputy Floor
Leader in the Lok Sabha and was largely seen trusted lieutenant of Congress president
and Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. Scindia was one of those few who joined the Congress in 1977, when Indira
Gandhi lost power and was handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 to set up a new
office, when Congress lost the elections under Rajiv and served with distinction
in various ministerial positions. He is widely regarded as one of the best
Railway Ministers India ever had and the various Shatabadis will remain as his
contribution to Indian railways commuters.
After having served in Narasimha Rao's cabinet with distinction, he was denied party ticket to contest the
elections in 1996, in the wake of the Hawala scandal. That is when he floated his own Madhya Pradesh
Vikas Congress (MPVC), but returned to the Congress, within a year, soon after Sitaram Kesri became Congress president.
Scindia had the distinction of being elected
in all the successive elections since 1971 till 1999. Extremely charismatic, and
articulate in both Hindi and English, the former Maharaja of Gwalior was one of
those rare Congress leaders at the centre with a mass base of his own.
A Sporting Politician
Despite hectic schedules he had to keep as a politician, Scindia always had
time for sports and welfare of sportspersons.
An active weekend cricketer and a keen amateur golfer, Scindia brought all
his administrative and diplomatic acumen he was famous for, in the running of
sports in the country both as an administrator and as a minister.
Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi said it was a "big blow
to the sporting community. Personally I have lost a very, very good friend and
the country has lost yet another good leader".
Cricket Board vice-president C K Khanna said the death of the sport buff was
a "tremendous loss to Indian sports in general and cricket in
Scindia's tenure as Human Resource Development Minister (in charge of Sports
too) in 1995-96 in the P V Narasimha Rao government was too short for him to do
much. But it was Scindia's ability to look at the problems from a sportsperson's
angle too that marked him out.
To him goes the credit for taking big time cricket to his hometown Gwalior
where the stadium is curiously named after one of the hockey legends of the
country Capt Roop Singh - younger brother of the immortal Dhyan Chand.
He also spurred the Madhya Pradesh cricket team to rise from the level of
poor country cousins to that of one of the front-runners on the domestic scene.
In a message, Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association secretary Sanjay Jagdale
said the death of Scindia was a personal loss to the state unit which rose to
great heights during his stewardship and had the distinction of hosting many
Always lending a sympathetic ear to the troubled, Scindia was a sporting
politician, a rare breed indeed.
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