Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ananth Kumar died at a private hospital in Bengaluru in the early hours of Monday after battling lung cancer for several months, hospital authorities said.
The 59-year-old Bangalore South MP breathed his last around 2 am at the Sri Shankara Cancer Hospital and Research Centre where he was under care after returning home in October following treatment in the United States and Britain.
His wife Tejaswini and two daughters -- Aishwarya and Vijetha -- were by his side, B R Nagaraj, the chairman of the board of trustees of the Sri Shankara Cancer Foundation that runs the hospital, told PTI.
There was no official bulletin from the hospital.
The Union minister, who passed away from complications following cancer and infection, had been on the ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit for the last few days, Kumar's office here said in a statement.
The mortal remains of Kumar were kept at his residence in Bengaluru on Monday where a large number of people paid their homage.
The last rites will be performed Tuesday, the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew in to Bengaluru from Varanasi and drove straight to the residence of Kumar at Basavanagudi and paid his last respects to his colleague by placing a wreath.
Modi spoke of words of comfort to Tejaswini and the two daughters during his 15-minute visit.
The body will be taken to the state BJP office and the National College ground, which falls in his constituency, before the funeral at Chamarajapete crematorium in the afternoon, the BJP said.
The national flag will fly at half mast throughout the country on Monday as a mark of respect to Kumar, the Home Ministry announced in Delhi.
The Karnataka government has declared three-day state mourning and a holiday on Monday as a mark of respect to the leader, who was groomed in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh stable before the stupendous rise in his political career graph.
A steady stream of BJP leaders, relatives, family friends, party workers and people made a beeline at Kumar's residence to pay homage to the ‘most-loved’ Bengaluru MP, known for his affability and cordial ties with rivals.
Besides BJP president Amit Shah, Union Ministers, including Rajnath Singh and Piyush Goyal, would pay homage Tuesday, party sources said. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivaraj Singh Chouhan and union ministers Prakash Javadekar, J P Nadda and Vijay Goel paid their last respects on Monday.
Foraying into politics in 1987, Kumar became a Union minister in the Vajpayee cabinet in 1998 when he was only 38.
He remained in the inner circle of the central leadership of the BJP -- be it during the heyday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Modi now.
He served as an important link between the central and state units of the party.
President Ram Nath Kovind, the prime minister, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and leaders across the political spectrum condoled the death the six-time MP.
The President said, ‘This is a tragic loss to public life in our country and particularly for the people of Karnataka. My condolences to his family, colleagues and countless associates.’
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu described Kumar as a ‘colleague for years together, from students' movement to Parliament’ and hailed him as a ‘dedicated statesman’.
The prime minister, earlier in tweets, said he was extremely saddened by the passing away of a ‘valued colleague and friend’ and described him as a remarkable leader, who entered public life at a young age and went on to serve society with utmost diligence and compassion.
‘Ananth Kumar Ji was an able administrator, who handled many ministerial portfolios and was a great asset to the BJP organisation. He worked hard to strengthen the party in Karnataka, particularly in Bengaluru and surrounding areas,’ he said.
Rahul Gandhi, his message, said: ‘I'm sorry to hear about the passing of Union Minister, Shri Ananth Kumar ji, in Bengaluru, earlier this morning. My condolences to his family & friends. May his soul rest in peace. Om Shanti.’
Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy described Kumar as a ‘value based’ politician who made significant contribution to the country as an MP and a Union minister.
Kumar made his parliamentary debut in 1996 from Bangalore South, where he remained unconquered till his death.
He had defeated software icon Congress's Nandan Nilekani in the highly politically conscious constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Kumar joined the BJP in 1987 and never looked back, holding the posts of state secretary, state president of the Yuva Morcha, party general secretary and national secretary.
Teaming up with state BJP chief Yeddyurappa, Kumar is among the few party leaders who can be credited for the growth of the BJP in Karnataka, bringing it to power in 2008 and making it the first saffron party government in the South.
Under Kumar's stewardship as the state party chief in 2004, the BJP had emerged as the single largest party but the Janata Dal-Secular led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda joined hands with the Congress to form a coalition government then.
In his capacity as Union minister, Kumar had held multiple ministries, including the civil aviation, tourism, sports, youth affairs and culture, urban development and poverty alleviation and chemicals and fertilisers.
Kumar is widely credited for implementing Neem Coated Urea and setting up of Jan Aushadhi Kendras with focus on affordable quality health care.
Incidentally, Kumar and his family were closely associated in the setting up of the Sri Shankara Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in his Lok Sabha constituency.
His wife Tejaswini is among the board of trustees, along with Cricket icon Anil Kumble.