Veteran Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal died at a hospital in Gurgaon on Tuesday following a brief illness.
The 89-year-old, who as at the forefront of the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s Ram temple movement, was admitted to Medanta-The Medicity last week after complaining of breathlessness.
“He had multi-organ dysfunction, ARDS (respiratory distress) and sepsis (infection) and was being treated by a team of specialists,” said Dr AK Dubey, medical superintendent of the hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the death a “deep personal loss” and described Singhal as a “force behind several noble deeds and social work”.
“…He was an institution in himself, whose life was centred around serving the nation,” he tweeted. “Ashok Singhal ji was the force behind several noble deeds & social work, which benefitted the poor. He is an inspiration for generations.”
The firebrand leader was a key architect of a mass campaign that led to religious activists pulling down the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Though critics dubbed him a “Hindu fundamentalist” and “India’s Ayatollah Khomeini”, Singhal was widely respected for his knowledge of ancient Hindu scriptures.
Weeks before his death, the religious leader went on a month-long tour of various countries to oversee the VHP’s activities.
Singhal will be cremated at Delhi’s Nigambodh Ghat on Wednesday.
“His body will be placed at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad office at Jhandewalan for (people to pay their) last respects,” the right-wing group said.
Born in Agra, Singhal was a trained metallurgical engineer who had links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, since the early 1940s. He was deputed to the VHP in 1980 and became its joint general secretary.
He took over as the organisation’s general secretary four years later and was then promoted as its working president, a post he held till December 2011.
Singhal was a pivotal organiser of the VHP’s first “Dharma Sansad” in 1984 in Delhi that drew hundreds of ascetics and Hindu holy men to discuss ways to rejuvenate Hinduism. It was here that the movement to “reclaim” the Ramjanambhoomi in Ayodhya was born
“The Ram Mandir will definitely be constructed very soon after being cleared by Parliament,” said Pravin Togadia, the VHP’s international working president. “This was his dream and the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya will be the real tribute to this great leader”.
Several senior political and religious leaders, including Togadia and Rajnath Singh, had visited Singhal at the hospital since Saturday. Sources said the Prime Minister too was scheduled to meet him on Tuesday evening, but the visit was cancelled following the news of his demise.
(With inputs from agencies)