Indian minister Ram Vilas Paswan,74, dies

India's Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi November 12, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
India's Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi November 12, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

VETERAN Indian politician Ram Vilas Paswan, a federal minister and an ally of prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling coalition, died on Thursday(8) after weeks in hospital, his son Chirag Paswan said in a Tweet. He was 74.

Paswan, India’s minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, was admitted to a city hospital on September 11 and underwent heart surgery on October 4.

In his role as food minister, Paswan oversaw the world’s biggest food welfare programme. Under its multi-billion dollar food aid, the government gives ultra-cheap rice and wheat to India’s millions of poor people.

“I am saddened beyond words,” Modi said in a Tweet reacting to news of his death. “There is a void in our nation that will perhaps never be filled.”

In his long political career, Paswan worked with many prime ministers and served as India’s mines, steel, and telecommunication and information minister among other portfolios.

As the chief of the Lok Jan Shakti (People’s Power) Party (LJP), Paswan joined Modi’s right-wing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that swept India’s general election in 2014. The NDA was voted back to power with a bigger majority in 2019.

Paswan and his party represented India’s socially disadvantaged classes, which make up about three-quarters of the majority Hindu population that is about 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people.

Born in a Dalit family in 1946 in Shaharbanni, Khagaria district of Bihar. He held a Bachelor of Laws and a Master of Arts degrees from Kosi College, Khagaria and Patna University.

A nine-time Lok Sabha member and Rajya Sabha MP, he started his political career as member of Samyukta Socialist Party and was elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1969.

Later, he joined Lok Dal upon its formation in 1974, and became its general secretary. He opposed the emergency, and was arrested during this period. He entered the Lok Sabha in 1977, as a Janata Party member from Hajipur constituency.

In 2000, Paswan formed the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) as its president. Subsequently, in 2004, he joined the ruling United Progressive Alliance government and remained a union minister. Paswan won the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, but lost the 2009 elections.

After being a member of a Rajya Sabha member from 2010 to 2014, he was elected again to the Lok Sabha in 2014 from Hajipur constituency.

The LJP enjoys considerable support in Paswan’s home state of Bihar in the east.

State elections in Bihar will start at the end of October and will be spread over three days, and Chirag Paswan, a lawmaker, is leading the LJP into the voting to the state legislature.