Until Thursday, 12 Janpath in the heart of New Delhi was alive with excitement.
The LJP had made an audacious move in Bihar, deciding to go it alone in the state elections. As party founder and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan lay at the Fortis Escorts Hospital, his home was abuzz with ticket-seekers.
The house at the centre was off bounds, but people thronged the offices to the left and right — ticket-seekers looking for an opportunity, political workers looking to congratulate Paswan’s son Chirag for his political courage.
Chirag himself split time between home and the hospital, welcoming leaders into his party by morning, and being by his father’s side at other times. On Friday, a day after 74-year-old Paswan passed away, the house, the offices, the people, were quiet. Mourning the loss of one of contemporary India’s political behemoths. All politics forgotten.
The walls of the house were an ode to Paswan’s life. From photographs with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh when they were young socialist leaders, to those with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They told a story of a life lived in public glare.
In the middle of a large, marbled drawing room, lay his body in a glass case, covered in white flowers. For most part of the day, his family stood next to the body. The mood sombre, they acknowledged those who came to pay their respects, or brought a bouquet of flowers. By afternoon, there was no place left around the glass case on the floor. There were so many.
Those that came to pay their respects cut across party lines, testament to the relationships that Paswan kept, and the respect he had earned in his career. There was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and President Ram Nath Kovind. Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Shaktisinh Gohil. There was Lalu Prasad Yadav’s daughter Misa Bharti and the AAP’s Sanjay Singh. There seemed to be no party whose representative hadn’t come.
But it was not just political leaders who came to bid farewell. From 10 am, a long queue snaked through the main gate to the hall where Paswan lay. There were party workers, those that had worked under him, but many for whom he was a leader who had given them voice.
This was a mourning in the times of Covid, and a disinfection tunnel at the main gate tried to do its job, but struggled against the numbers. Many wore masks, many others didn’t. Grief had seemed to make them forget. They stood together in clusters, narrating stories of their relationships with him.
Outside the main gate, BJP leader from Bihar Shahnawaz Hussain stood for a long time speaking to the waiting media. “Paswanji was loved by all. He was patient and listened to everyone. In politics, people don’t accept you if you are quick to anger. He had no ill-will towards anyone, even his political enemies. That is what made him so special,” Hussain said.
The waiting press spoke much the same language, of a man personable to the last. They spoke of their last conversations with him, most in the past month, even when he was in hospital. It was he that had called, they said, only to ask them how they were, even though he was battling for his life.
From 10 am to 3 pm, the crowd refused to thin, a constant stream of remembrance and anecdotes. But preparations for Paswan’s journey to home in Bihar began. An ambulance pulled up inside the gates. As did a truck adorned with his image and white flowers.
Most political leaders had left, leaving behind the family, and staunch supporters, his larger political family. In one Toyota Innova parked to the side, were loaded big suitcases, that held the family’s belongings. They would all be travelling with him to Patna.
Paswan won his first election in 1969, a public figure ever since. The mourning for him, therefore, was public too, his immediate family having little time to themselves. At 3.45 pm, for the first time in the day, the main door shut. For 15 minutes, it stayed that way. Just his family and him. At 4 pm, they were thrown open again. The truck backed into the driveway. And his body in the glass case was carried out, and loaded into the truck.
The silence was broken by slogans, voices choked, almost an emotional outburst.
And then Chirag emerged, a comforting arm across his family members. He made sure the rest of the family sat in cars that were to follow the truck. He walked to the truck, where he was given a helping hand to board. His legs seemed to buckle. On his knees, he wept.
And Ram Vilas Paswan left 12 Janpath.
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