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 career.
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 to a 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.
No longer in the ruling National Democratic Alliance in Bihar, Chirag Paswan is taking on Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United as well as the Rashtriya Janata Dal-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 with following across the country, 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 marginalised.'
'A firebrand socialist in youth, mentored by the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan during anti-Emergency movement, Paswan ji had enviable rapport with masses and he ardently strove for their welfare. Condolences to his family and supporters,' Kovind said in another tweet.
Expressing grief at Paswan's demise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened beyond words as his death has left a void in the nation that 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 hardwork 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.'
'Working together, shoulder to shoulder with Paswan Ji has been an incredible experience. His interventions during Cabinet Meetings were insightful. From political wisdom, statesmanship to governance issues, he was brilliant. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti,' Modi said in another tweet.
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 Bharatiya Janata Party, since 1989.
Whoever might be his ally, 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 Gujaral, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi.
The Union home ministry has announced the national flag will fly at half mast in Delhi and capitals of all states and union territories on Friday as a mark of respect to Paswan.
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 kidney shut down and 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.