New Delhi, Oct 9 (UNI) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder leader Kanshi Ram, called the Messiah of Dalits, died shortly after midnight here last night following multiple ailments stemming from a crippling cerebral stroke.
Announcing his death BSP chief Ms Mayawati, who had been declared by Mr Kanshi Ram as his political successor in 2001, expressed her resolve to carry forward the mission of her mentor and political guide as elections to the UP assembly loomed on the horizon.
Mr Kanshi Ram was out of active politics for quite some time due to his illness and during this period, he lived at Ms Mayawati's residence.
Members of his family had alleged that Ms Mayawati had been holding him captive in order to control the BSP.
Finally, the Supreme Court in its decision of April 8, 2005 ordered a team of doctors to examine his physical and mental condition. The team of doctors allayed all apprehensions regarding the medical treatment being given to Kanshi Ram.
As the body of the BSP supremo was taken in a huge procession to Nigambodh Ghat where the cremation took place at around 1630 hours, chants of 'Buddham Sharnam Gachchami' and 'Kanshi Ram Amar Rahe' (long live Kanshi Ram) rent the air. The procession passed through various areas of Central Delhi on its way to the cremation ground.
Kanshi Ram's transformation from an organiser of Scheduled Caste and Backward Class government employees to the architect of Dalits' rise to political power would always be the most engaging chapter of the country's post-independence history.
The process started the day when Mr Ram, hailing from a Dalit family in Ropar district of Punjab, read Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar's 'Annihilation of Caste' thrice in one night without going to sleep.
The book in fact acted as a catalyst to a process of revolt against high caste prejudice which he had encountered during late 1960s when he was caught up in a struggle launched by Scheduled Caste employees to prevent the abolition of a holiday commemorating Dr Ambedkar's birthday.
President A P J Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the nation in mourning the death. Dr Manmohan Singh in his condolence message said Kanshi Ram was an important voice of Dalits. President Kalam in a message said Kanshi Ram played an important role in the post-independence India for the rights of the under-provileged and spoke for them and for their self-respect and honour.
''In his passing away the nation has lost a public leader who always had the interest of the down-trodden close to his heart,'' he said.
Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat while expressing shock at the death of Kanshi Ram, said the poor and the deprived of the country had lost one of the great saviors.
''His death is an irreparable loss to the political and social life of the whole nation,'' said Mr Shekhawat who went to the Nigambodh Ghat and offered floral tributes at the mortal remains of Mr Kanshi Ram.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee too expressed deep sorrow at the death of BSP leader Kanshi Ram.
''Shri Kanshi Ram took up the cause of the welfare of the people belonging to the socially oppressed sections to which he gave a strong identity as the bahujan samaj,'' Mr Chatterjee said in his condolence message to the bereaved family.
Kanshi Ram was born in 1934 as a Raedasi Sikh, a community of Punjabi Scheduled Castes converted to Sikhism. He was the son of a small landed farmer Hari Singhin Khawaspur village of Ropar district who had managed to educate all his four daughters and three sons.
In an attempt to promote the interests of government employees belonging to weaker sections, Mr Ram formed an organisation of government employees called the Backward and Minorities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) in 1973.
He transformed it into a political outfit in December 1982 when he formed the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti.
The organisation was finally transformed into the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1984 with the aim of organsiing Dalit classes into a political force.
According to political observers, though Mr Kanshi Ram's absence will be an emotional loss for the party, he has left the party strong enough to carry on.
The BSP first entered the election fray in 1984 but fared badly losing 207 seats. It came into limelight when Mr Ram fought the Allahabad Lok Sabha bypoll in 1987 against V P Singh, who eventually won the election. However, later Mr Kanshi Ram was elected to the Lok Sabha twice. He had also been a member of the Rajya Sabha.
The BSP, under Mr Kanshi Ram's leadership became a political force in UP in the 90s during which Ms Mayawati emerged as number two in the party. The party got political power for the first time in 1993 when it formed the coalition government with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party (SP).
The party later went out of power in the state, but it continued to be a major political force and is now a strong contender in the coming Assembly election next year.
Besides, Dalits, the BSP has in recent years extended its vote base to other castes also.
The party sent 19 MPs to the Lok Sabha from UP in the last elections.
All Punjab government offices today remained closed as a mark of respect to Mr Kanshi Ram.
Leaders from across the political spectrum thronged the 11, Humayun Road residence of Ms Mayawati to pay their last respects to the founder of the BSP.
Prominent among the callers were Congress President Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Union Chemical and Fertilizers Minister Ramvilas Paswan, Union Railways Minister Lalu Prasad, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, former Prime Minister V P Singh, BJP leaders L K Advani, Arun Jaitley, Kalraj Mishra and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and JD(U) leader George Fernandes.
Mrs Gandhi, who came along with son Rahul Gandhi MP and Union Home Minister Patil, spent some time at Mayawati's residence.
Mr Advani, whose party BJP ran a short-lived government with BSP in Uttar Pradesh, also laid a wreath on the body. The opposition leader also credited Kanshi Ram with making the BSP a national party. Union Chemical and Fertilizers Minister Ramvilas Paswan, who did not share a cordial relationship with BSP leadership, called the departed leader a 'dalit messiah' who cared for the poor people.
As soon as the news of Kanshi Ram's death came, hundreds of BSP workers, leaders and party MPs gathered outside 11, Himayun Road to pay their respects to the departed leader.
The two sisters of the BSP supremo also reached 11, Humayun Road in the morning.
A group of Buddhist monks also paid their tributes to the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Later, the body of the departed leader was taken to the 12, Rakab Ganj Road office of the BSP to enable party workers and the public to pay their last respects.
Among those who paid their last respects to Mr Kanshi Ram at the BSP office was Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.