New Delhi: Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, one of the most prominent Dalit leaders of the country who had been a part of several governments headed by rival parties, died on Thursday at the age of 74.
The Lok Janshakti Party founder and Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution was admitted to a private hospital in New Delhi for several weeks and had recently undergone a heart operation.
His condition deteriorated over the past 24 hours and he breathed his last at 6:05 pm, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute said in a statement.
Always at the forefront of raising issues concerning the disadvantaged sections of society, Paswan was also a skilful grassroots politician who enjoyed good equations with leaders across the spectrum, and his dedicated following in his home state of Bihar ensured that every national party courted him in his over five decades of experience in politics.
His demise could not have come at a more inopportune time for his 37-year-old son, Chirag Paswan, who is now leading the party his father founded in 2000 into crucial Assembly polls in Bihar, beginning October 28.
“Papa, you are no more in this world but I know you are with me wherever you are. Miss you papa,” Chirag Paswan tweeted in Hindi.
No longer in the ruling National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, Chirag Paswan is taking on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U) as well as the RJD-Congress-Left opposition alliance in the assembly polls and will miss out on his father's experience of deftly navigating several such crises in the past.
A stalwart of the socialist movement who later emerged as Bihar's foremost Dalit leader, Ram Vilas Paswan was instrumental in the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in the 1990s.
Condoling his demise, President Ram Nath Kovind said: “In the demise of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, the nation has lost a visionary leader. He was among the most active and longest-serving members of parliament. He was the voice of the oppressed, and championed the cause of the marginalized.”
“A firebrand socialist in youth, mentored by the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan during the anti-Emergency movement, Paswan ji had an enviable rapport with the masses and he ardently strove for their welfare. Condolences to his family and supporters,” Kovind said in another tweet.
Expressing his grief at Paswan's demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened beyond words as his death had left a void which will perhaps never be filled.
“Shri Ram Vilas Paswan ji's demise is a personal loss. I have lost a friend, valued colleague and someone who was extremely passionate to ensure every poor person leads a life of dignity,” Modi said in his condolence message.
The prime minister also said Paswan “rose in politics through hard work and determination. As a young leader, he resisted tyranny and the assault on our democracy during the Emergency. He was an outstanding Parliamentarian and Minister, making lasting contributions in several policy areas.”
Several leaders, including his cabinet colleagues, chief ministers and governors, also expressed their condolences over Paswan's demise.
Born in Khagaria in 1946, Paswan was selected as a police official but chose the calling of politics and became an MLA for the first time in 1969 on a Samyukta Socialist Party ticket.
He was elected to Lok Sabha eight times and also held the record of winning his constituency, Hajipur, with the highest margin for several years.
He was a minister in central governments headed by parties of contrasting ideological persuasions, ranging from the Janata Dal to the Congress and the BJP, since 1989.
Whoever his ally might be, he took pride in describing himself as a socialist and secular politician by conviction.
He served as a minister in governments headed by V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi.
A meeting of the Union Cabinet has been convened on Friday to express condolences over the minister's demise, officials said.
A state funeral will also be accorded to the Union minister.
Paswan had long suffered from a heart condition.
In a statement, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute said Paswan was admitted with heart failure and his kidney shut down. He managed on medication and subsequently by dialysis. He was later put on ventilator and ECMO support for failing heart and lungs and also underwent surgery.
Paswan's body will be brought to his Janpath on Friday and then flown to the party's office in Patna in afternoon. Cremation will take place in Patna on Saturday.