Former Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, who played a pivotal role in strengthening the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, died on Thursday after prolonged illness, family sources said.
Patel, 92, who recovered from coronavirus infection recently, was rushed to a hospital in Ahmedabad on Thursday morning following health complications, the sources said.
The BJP veteran was the state chief minister in 1995 and again during 1998-2001. Narendra Modi had succeeded him as Gujarat chief minister.
The state government has declared a day's state mourning on Thursday, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told reporters. Keshubhai's last rites will be performed with full state honours, he added.
Hospital authorities said Patel died due to cardiac arrest.
Patel was rushed to the hospital after his pulse and oxygen level dropped on Thursday morning, his son Bharat Patel said. "He recently recovered from coronavirus, but his health kept deteriorating," he added.
The ruling BJP has postponed all its by-poll related programmes, including public rallies, following Patel's death.
"All state government work was also put on hold today as a mark of respect," Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said.
Rupani cut short a poll rally at Ghadhada and visited Keshubhai's residence in Gandhinagar, where the body was kept, to pay tributes.
"He was like BJP's Bhishma Pitamah in Gujarat. He had a tremendous socio-political acumen. He spoke less, but his every word was a command for BJP workers.
"Being a farmer himself, he worked for their welfare. We passed a resolution in the state cabinet meeting to express grief over this loss," Rupani told reporters.
Patel was a member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly six times. He quit the BJP in 2012 and floated the Gujarat Parivartan Party, which performed poorly in 2012 assembly polls and merged with the BJP in 2014.
Born in Visavadar town of Junagadh district in 1928, Patel joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1945 as a pracharak. He started his political career as a worker for the Jan Sangh.
Patel was also the chairman of the Shree Somnath Trust, which manages the famous Somnath temple in Saurashtra region.
Several dignitaries, including President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, paid tributes to the BJP stalwart.
President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted, "With the demise of Keshubhai Patel, former Gujarat chief minister, the nation has lost a stalwart leader. His long public life was dedicated to improving the lives of millions, especially in villages. As champion of farmers causes, he enjoyed extraordinary rapport with masses."
Modi remembered Patel through a series of tweets and shared some old photographs showing him with the BJP veteran.
"Our beloved and respected Keshubhai has passed away. I am deeply pained and saddened. He was an outstanding leader who cared for every section of society. His life was devoted towards the progress of
Gujarat and the empowerment of every Gujarati," Modi tweeted.
"Keshubhai travelled across the length and breadth of Gujarat to strengthen the Jana Sangh and BJP. He resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. Issues of farmer welfare were closest to his heart. Be it as MLA, MP, Minister or CM, he ensured many farmer friendly measures were passed," Modi said.
"Keshubhai mentored and groomed many younger karyakartas including me. Everyone loved his affable nature. His demise is an irreparable loss. We are all grieving today. My thoughts are with his family and well-wishers. Spoke to his son Bharat and expressed condolences. Om Shanti." he tweeted.
Gujarat Governor Acharya Devvrat and Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala, were among those who remembered Keshubhai and paid their tributes.
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia and state Congress chief Amit Chavda also paid tributes to Keshubhai.