Socialist icon, Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan dies aged 74
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, a socialist and anti-Emergency crusader who broke through Bihar’s deeply caste-stratified society to establish himself at the highest level of Indian politics in a career spanning five decades, died of heart failure in New Delhi on Thursday. He was 74.Updated: Oct 09, 2020, 01:15 IST
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, a socialist and anti-Emergency crusader who broke through Bihar’s deeply caste-stratified society to establish himself at the highest level of Indian politics in a career spanning five decades, died of heart failure in New Delhi on Thursday. He was 74.
Paswan, one of India’s tallest Dalit leaders who nurtured relationships across political parties, held the portfolios of food, public distribution, and consumer affairs. He was an eight-time Lok Sabha member from Bihar’s Hajipur and, since 2019, was a member of the Rajya Sabha from Bihar.
Paswan was admitted to Delhi’s Fortis Escorts Heart Institute with heart failure and kidney problems on September 11. He was subsequently put on ventilator and Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), but his condition deteriorated in the past 24 hours. He passed away at 6.05pm, read a statement from the hospital.
“Papa... Now you are not in this world but I know you are always with me wherever you are. Miss you Papa,” tweeted Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan.
The national flag will be flown at half mast on Friday in Delhi and capitals of all states and Union territories, and Paswan will be accorded a state funeral, the government announced.
Often called a “kingmaker” in Bihar, Paswan was known to be affable and approachable. His death capped an eventful and consummate political career that saw him become a national leader, serve as a minister under six different prime ministers and earn for himself the sobriquet of “weathervane of Indian politics” for his ability to gauge the mood of the electorate.
“Saddened beyond words. There’s a void in our nation that will perhaps never be filled. Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise is a personal loss,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
President Ram Nath Kovind also paid tribute. “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,” he said.
Born in pre-Independence India in Khagaria district of Bihar, Paswan was selected as a state police officer but chose a life in politics, winning his first assembly election in 1969 as a member of the Samyukta Socialist Party. In 1974, he joined the Lok Dal, of which he became general secretary. When the Emergency was imposed next year, Paswan hit the streets and was arrested.
In 1977, he stormed into the Lok Sabha on a Janata Party ticket from Hajipur, setting a record at that time for the highest victory margin of 424,000 votes. He would go on to win seven more Lok Sabha elections.
He first became a minister in 1989 under prime minister VP Singh. In 1998, Paswan, who was then minister of railways, quit the United Front government and was back as minister in the ministry headed by Atal Bihari Vajyapee who came to power the next year. In 2002, he quit the Vajpayee Cabinet — only to be back two years later as minister of chemicals and fertiliser when the United Progressive Alliance won the elections.
Paswan’s death came at a time when his Lok Janshakti Party, now led by his son 37-year-old son Chirag, is at a crucial juncture: it ditched the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance to fight the upcoming Bihar assembly elections on its own.
Since 1990, Bihar’s politics was said to revolve around the big three socialist leaders — Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Paswan. Along the way, Paswan fell out with the others politically but continued to enjoy warm personal relations. In 2000, walked out of the Janata Party to form his own outfit, Lok Janshakti Party.
“I am devastated by the untimely death of Ram Vilas. The unbroken ties of the past 45 years and the social and political fights we waged together is flashing before my eyes. You left too soon,” Lalu Prasad’s office tweeted.