Union Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola died at a hospital in Gurgaon on Sunday, after being admitted for treatment of an eye infection and a cardiac problem. The 86-year-old Congress leader from Rajasthan had been suffering from various ailments for some time. He is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Mr. Ola was an influential Jat leader hailing from the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The octogenarian leader nurtured the hope of becoming Chief Minister by virtue of his agricultural background, but it never materialised.

Born on July 30, 1927, Mr. Ola briefly served in the military and turned to social work and promotion of girls’ education at an early age. He started a girls’ school, Indira Gandhi Balika Niketan, in his native village Ardawata with just three students in 1952. His second son, Surjeet, runs the school now.

Mr. Ola was a member of the State Assembly from 1957 to 1993. He was a Cabinet Minister for 10 years with varied portfolios of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Forest and Environment, Irrigation, Transport, Cooperative, Excise, Groundwater and Soldiers’ Welfare. He was given several important responsibilities in the Pradesh Congress Committee.

From 1972 onwards, Mr. Ola was a member of the All-India Congress Committee and was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1996. Thereafter, he was elected to the Lower House for three terms and was appointed Union Minister of State twice with the portfolios of Chemical and Fertilizers and Water Resources.

He was appointed Cabinet Minister this June, ostensibly with the hope for political gains in the Rajasthan Assembly elections. He played an important role in the distribution of tickets in the Shekhawati region and faced allegations of ignoring several strong contenders, which led to the crushing defeat of the Congress in his region.

Prominent among the Congress MLAs in the Shekhawati area who rebelled after having been denied seat and fought as independents were Rita Chaudhary from Mandawa and Rajkumar Sharma from Nawalgarh. Mr. Ola was conferred Padma Shri for social service in 1968. His efforts to promote girls’ education brought Jhunjhunu district to third rank in literacy in the desert State.

Mr. Ola banked on his caste and agricultural background to stake claim for becoming the Chief Minister when the Congress came to power in the State in 1998 and 2003. The party high command’s decision in favour of Ashok Gehlot led to resentment among a section of Jats, who wanted to see a politician of high stature from their caste in the saddle.

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