Carrying a newspaper with a picture of former Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party patriarch, late Ram Vilas Paswan, Shivji Paswan, 70, who had come from Muzaffarpur district, asked several policemen to allow him a last glimpse of “my leader”. Turned away each time, given the security bandobast, the septuagenarian started sobbing. A few police personnel took note and made him sit a few yards from the funeral pyre.
This was not a one-off scene at Janardhan Ghat in Digha, beside JP Setu over the Ganga near Patna, as thousands of people, teary-eyed and eager to get a last glimpse of their beloved leader, assembled for the cremation.
Paswan had died at a Delhi hospital on Thursday.
Hundreds of people had come from Samastipur, Khagaria and Muzaffarpur districts, and many had walked from Hajipur, across the Ganga, and the constituency that sent Paswan to the Lok Sabha eight times since 1977. The crowd took every possible vantage position to catch a glimpse of the proceedings, intermittently shouting slogans such as “Gunje dharti aasman, Ram Vilas Paswan (from earth to sky, there is only one sound – of Ram Vilas Paswan)”.
Thousands had gathered at Digha ghat even before the body was brought in a massive procession from the Paswan residence at Patna’s SK Puri. Many of them expressed solidarity with Chirag Paswan, the late leader’s son and LJP chief. “Rajtilak ki karo taiyari, ab aa gayi Chirag ki baari (prepare for coronation; Chirag’s turn has come),” the slogan went.
It took nearly three hours for the proceedings to be completed, and the crowd did not appear to thin one bit during the time.
In a show of family solidarity, Chirag and three cousins, including party MP from Samastipur Prince Raj, jointly offered fire to the funeral pyre. Chirag fell down after making a few circles of the funeral pyre and regained consciousness after a while. His mother Reena Paswan broke down several times, as Chirag and his cousins consoled her.
Paswan was cremated with full state honours. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, Union minister and Lok Sabha MP from Patna Sahib Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav were among top political leaders at the funeral.
Chirag reached out to all senior leaders with folded hands.
On the sidelines, many supporters discussed how Paswan had been the greatest Dalit leader since Jagjivan Ram; some also said the late leader could have expanded his reach beyond the Paswan community. Most people, however, were unanimous on Paswan being the voice of Dalits in Bihar in the same manner as Lalu Prasad gave voice to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs).
Earlier in the day, BJP MP from Patliputra, Ram Kripal Yadav, paid homage to Paswan at his SK Puri residence and called the late leader his “elder brother, who always blessed me, irrespective of some political differences”.
RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha said, “Paswan-ji always spoke about taking up the cause of the poor…it was his mantra.”
Some political workers also came from Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand to bid him farewell.
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