President, Prime Minister and other leaders pay rich tributes
He played an important role in post-Independence India: Kalam Commanded respect from all, says Sonia
NEW DELHI: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram died here on Monday. He was 72.
The Dalit leader suffered a paralytic stroke two years ago and remained bed-ridden at the official residence of his political heir and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati. The end came when he developed complications caused by multiple ailments.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani, paid homage to Mr. Ram, describing him as a powerful voice of the downtrodden and the underprivileged.
"Kanshi Ram played an important role in post-Independence India for the rights of the underprivileged and spoke up for them and for their self-respect and honour. In his passing away, the nation has lost a public leader who always had the interests of the downtrodden close to his heart," the President said.
Describing Mr. Ram as one of the "greatest social reformers of our time," Dr. Singh said "his political ideas and movements had a significant impact on our political evolution."
Dr. Singh added: "He had a larger understanding of social change and was able to unite various underprivileged sections of our society and provide a political platform where their voices would be heard. His loss will be deeply felt by the nation and by the millions of his followers all over the country, who were inspired by his enlightened ideas on bringing about social equity and justice in the country. I have no doubt that the legacy of his social and political philosophy will continue to guide the political class in the future."
Just before his departure to the United Kingdom and Finland, Dr. Singh visited Ms. Mayawati's residence and paid tributes to the departed leader. He also offered his condolences to relatives, friends and admirers of Mr. Ram.
Ms. Gandhi, accompanied by her son and MP Rahul Gandhi, also visited Ms. Mayawati's residence and laid wreaths on the body of the former BSP chief.
In her condolence message to Ms. Mayawati, she described Mr. Ram as one who opened the doors for giving maximum opportunities to the Dalits in the country's political arena. Though he never occupied any post, his personality and power of his thoughts were such that he commanded respect from each class of society. His fight for social justice was an important chapter in the country's political history.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said Mr. Ram took up the cause of the welfare of people belonging to the socially oppressed sections to which he gave a strong identity as the Bahujan Samaj.
The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, called up Ms. Mayawati to offer his condolences.
Describing Mr. Ram as a "very senior and serious politician," a BJP spokesperson said he was the "voice and strength" of the Dalits. In a matter of about 20 years, he established a party that became a force to reckon with.
Mr. Advani visited Ms. Mayawati's residence along with BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley and vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and laid wreaths on the body of the departed leader. Recalling his first meeting with Mr. Ram, Mr. Advani said he was an "original thinker and a complete political organiser."
CPI (M-L) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said the BSP leader would be remembered for his catalytic role in changing the complexion of power politics in Uttar Pradesh and for imparting a strong sense of strength and identity among the socially oppressed people of India.
Describing the departed leader as a "Dalit messiah," Union Chemical and Fertilizers Minister Ramvilas Paswan said Mr. Ram cared for the poor people.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said the country had lost a great leader who inspired Dalits to lead a respectful life.
Among others who paid homage included the former Prime Ministers, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and BJP president Rajnath Singh.