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Ram Vilas Paswan, Union minister and LJP founder, passes away at 74

New Delhi: Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, one of the most prominent Dalit leaders of the country, died on Thursday at the age of 74. The Lok Janshakti Party founder and Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution had undergone heart surgery last week and was due to undergo another one in a few days. He was in critical condition with multiple organ complications.

Announcing the minister's demise, his son Chirag Paswan tweeted, "Papa, you are no more in this world but I know you are with me wherever you are. Miss you papa."

According to his close family members, Paswan breathed his last on Thursday evening at around 8.20 pm at the Fortis Hospital. Union Ministers Dr Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ramdas Athawale reached the hospital as soon as they learned of the news.

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.

Born in Khagaria in 1946, Paswan was selected as a police officer 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.

Always at the forefront of raising issues concerning the disadvantaged sections of society, he was also a skillful grassroots politician who enjoyed good equations with leaders across the spectrum, and his dedicated following in his state ensured that every national party courted him in his over five decades of career.

It is an ode to his politics that believed in building bridges across social or political divides that he was one of the most liked state leaders among the upper castes even as he drew his support mostly from Dalits, a group which at times shared antagonistic relations with the more prosperous communities due to a number of social and political reasons.

He was a minister in central governments headed by parties of contrasting ideological persuasions, ranging from the Janata Dal to the Congress and the BJP, since 1989.

Whoever might be his ally, he took pride in describing himself as a socialist and secular politician by conviction.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President JP Nadda and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis spoke to Chirag Paswan over phone to extend their condolences. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too expressed deep grief over the passing away of union minister.

Condoling his demise, President 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 marginalized."

Expressing grief at Paswan's demise, Prime Minister 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.

Mamata Banerjee extended her condolences to his family members, colleagues and admirers.

"Deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing away of Ram Vilas Paswan Ji. He was a veteran politician, leader and a long-time Parliamentarian. My condolences to his family, colleagues and his many admirers," Banerjee tweeted.

His demise comes days before Bihar goes to Assembly polls in three phases beginning October 28.

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