At a time when the BJP is wooing the Dalit community by getting leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan, Ramdas Athawale and Udit Raj to join the NDA bandwagon, Bangaru Laxman — party’s lone Dalit president — died Saturday at the age of 74 after a prolonged illness in Hyderabad. Suffering from partial paralysis, Laxman had been confined to a wheelchair for 12 years.
Laxman, who served as a minister in the Vajpayee government, came to prominence when he became the BJP president in late 2000. However, his downfall came soon after he was caught on camera accepting money from a purported arms dealer in a sting operation by Tehelka. Embarrassed, BJP made him quit the post in 2001.
Since then, Laxman has been on the sidelines in the BJP as he waged a lonely battle in the case. He was convicted by a special CBI court in 2012 and sentenced to four years in jail. He was arrested on April 27, 2012 before being released on bail in October.
“He has been in and out of hospitals several times. Last week his health deteriorated and we shifted him to Yashoda Hospital,” his wife Sushila said. The BJP tried to shed the impression of abandoning him after the sting by getting his wife elected to Lok Sabha in 2004.
BJP leaders rushed to offer condolences. “I am deeply saddened to hear the news of former BJP president Bangaru Laxman’s sudden demise. He dedicated his life serving the weaker sections of the society. My heartfelt condolences to his bereaved family,” BJP president Rajnath Singh said.
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi tweeted: “Sad to know about Bangaru Laxman’s demise. May his soul rest in peace. Condolences to his family.”
Born in a Dalit family in 1939, Laxman joined the RSS in 1953 but took up various jobs before formally entering politics. He worked in state State Electricity Department in 1958, Railways in 1962 and Accountant General office in 1965 before resigning from government service in 1969 to enter politics by joining Jan Sangh.
“It is a very sad news. I spoke to him only a week back and he said that he was recovering. He was dedicated and ideologically committed. He gave up his job to serve the cause of nationalism. My condolences to his family,” former BJP president Venkaiah Naidu said.
After joining politics, Laxman participated actively in the agitations against Indira Gandhi’s regime and was detained under MISA during the Emergency for more than 16 months. He has also been a trade unionist and headed trade unions of several organisations.
Laxman was made the convenor of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the newly-formed BJP in 1980. Subsequently, he became the party’s state general secretary (1980-85) before he was elevated as state unit chief (1986-88). Bangaru served as chief of party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha for seven years and was also the party’s national vice-president.
Subsequently, the BJP made him a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat in 1996 and he was a member of the council of ministers under the Vajpayee government in 1999. He served as minister of state — first in the Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation and later in the Railway Ministry — before he was elevated to BJP president in 2000.
The Sunday Express spoke to him last in November when Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal was arrested over charges of sexual misconduct. Laxman appeared bitter towards Tehelka, but resigned to his fate to be on the margins of the BJP.