Chief from Bihar who turned voice of Dalits

Ram Vilas Paswan (July 5, 1946—October 8, 2020)

KV Prasad

Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who passed away after a brief illness following a heart surgery, was a product of the socialist movement that gripped the country in general and Bihar in particular during the late seventies. A follower of Karpoori Thakur and Raj Narain, Paswan was elected to the Bihar Assembly in 1969 and in less than five years catapulted to the national stage.

Drawn into the vortex of ‘sampooran kranti’’ of Jayaprakash Narayan, he spent the 1975-1977 Emergency period in jail like hundreds of political leaders in the country. He announced his arrival in Parliament winning the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat with a record margin boasting of an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Since then, barring 2009, Paswan was elected to the Lok Sabha for eight terms and to the RS twice.

Associated with several parties — the Sampooran Samyukta Party, Janata Party, Lok Dal and Janata Dal — at the turn of the century he formed the Lok Janshakti Party. He served several PMs, including VP Singh, HD Deve Gowda, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi as a Cabinet Minister, handling the Railways, Chemicals and Fertilisers, Communications, Parliamentary Affairs and Food, Civil Supplies and Public Distribution.

Paswan possessed the uncanny acumen of reading the political tea leaves right and switching sides ahead of elections to ally with a party that eventually formed the government at the Centre. Of course, in 2002 Paswan quit the Vajpayee government over riots in Gujarat and worked with the Congress-led UPA, finally coming back to the BJP in 2014, a move he credited to his son Chirag.

Forming the Dalit Sena in 1983, Paswan worked to consolidate his position as a leader of the Dalits at a time the Bahujan Samaj Party under Kanshi Ram and later Mayawati was emerging a strong voice for the oppressed classes.

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