India's food minister Paswan dies after weeks in hospital

By Mayank Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Veteran Indian politician Ram Vilas Paswan, federal minister and ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling coalition, died on Thursday after being hospitalized for weeks, his son Chirag Paswan said in a tweet. He was 74 years old.
Paswan, India's Minister of Consumer Protection, 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 led the world's largest nutrition program. India's government is giving ultra-cheap rice and wheat to millions of poor people as part of its multi-billion dollar food aid program.
"I am indescribably sad," said Modi in a tweet, responding to the news of his death. "There is a void in our nation that may never be filled."
In his long political career, Paswan has worked with many prime ministers, including India's minister for mines, steel, and telecommunications and information.
As head of the Lok Jan Shakti (People's Power) Party (LJP), Paswan joined the right-wing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of Modi, which won the 2014 parliamentary elections in India. The NDA was re-elected to power with a larger majority in 2019.
Paswan and his party represented India's socially disadvantaged classes, who make up about three-quarters of the majority Hindu population, equivalent to about 80% of India's 1.3 billion people.
The LJP enjoys significant support in Paswan's home state of Bihar in the east.
The state elections in Bihar begin at the end of October and last for three days. The legislator Chirag Paswan introduces the LJP to the state parliament vote.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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