On the contrary

It’s not just about air bags

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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A freak accident has no explanation because it is a freak accident

Many things have to come together for a Union Minister like Gopinath Munde to die in an accident. Someone has to break a signal. It must be early morning when many drivers think the signal need not be followed because there are next to no policemen and few vehicles. The crashing vehicle must come at a right angle. It must side-end the rear door right beside where Munde is sitting. He must not be wearing a seat belt. Even though the dent to the car seems not very big and Munde had no external injury, the shock to the body should be just enough to throw him about to fracture his cervix and rupture his liver. A little less and he would just be nursing a sprain.

There is then the underlying fact that it happened to Munde because he is a successful politician, a profession that entails relentless travel. It is not a coincidence that newspapers found it so easy to come out the next day with lists of leaders who died in road accidents. It includes former Union Ministers like Rajesh Pilot and former presidents like Zail Singh. The probability of an accident increases the more a person is on the road, and by that reckoning, Munde was at high risk. That is also why so many of them who hold high office, like former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy, also die in helicopter crashes.

And yet when their followers, the media or commentators try to understand Munde’s death, they zone in on isolated causes. It is argued that Munde’s death is a symbol of the state of India’s road discipline. There are not enough policemen implementing traffic laws, which are too lenient, vehicles lack adequate safety measures (air bags are optional for car manufacturers, and especially in the back seat, no one really bothers), passengers don’t use seat belts when they are in the backseat.Although these are legitimate safety measures, they only explain what could have reduced the probability of a death and that too in retrospect. Europe has better traffic discipline than India by any reckoning, but Diana still died in a car crash. And even now there are conspiracy theories about it—just last year, the police were once again investigating it. Some of Munde’s followers are demanding a CBI investigation. Death seeks answers.

The plain truth,however, is that it is futile to look for an explanation because none is needed. He died in an accident that had the minutest of probability. No one could have foreseen it and no single agency is responsible for it. You can call it fate, if you are the believing sort, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Or you can say it is part of the chaos that life is. A desperate search for an answer leads nowhere. In Andhra Pradesh, many still suspect Reddy’s helicopter crash was a murder. When I put this to one person in his home district, he said the cause was Reddy’s arrogance—no one else would have taken a helicopter in that weather.

Death is the greatest fear of the human race. All of evolution is about postponing death. When it does happen unexpectedly, it is a reminder of how vulnerable we are. People who never heard of Munde are now interested in him only because of the nature of his death. Explaining it, they think, brings some measure of order to the certainty of their end. Except that it doesn’t.