Bengaluru: Ananth Kumar, the Union minister for chemicals, fertilizers and parliamentary affairs, died on Monday at the age of 59.

The six-time parliamentarian from Bengaluru South constituency, died in the early hours of Monday at the Sri Shankara Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in the city. He had returned to Bengaluru last month after undergoing treatment for suspected cancer in the US and UK.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Kumar as an able administrator and asset to the party, while Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumarswamy said he lost a “great friend". Leaders across party lines praised his contribution to society, soft-spoken nature and organizing abilities.

Kumar had friends on both sides of the aisle, Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, wrote on Twitter.

“Other than at the time of elections, he never brought up the question of party," Ramalinga Reddy, a senior Congress leader and seven-time legislator from Bengaluru (Jayanagar and B.T.M. Layout) assembly constituency said.

Born on 22 July 1959 to Narayan Shastry, a railways employee, and Girija N. Shastri, Kumar went on to earn his BA degree from K.S. Arts College in Hubbali and law degree from J.S.S. Law College, Mysuru.

Kumar spent several years in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), before joining the BJP in 1987.

From 1996, when he successfully contested his first elections against Varalaxmi Gundu Rao of the Congress, wife of a former chief minister of Karnataka, to 2014, when he defended his seat against Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, the Bengaluru South seat has firmly been with Kumar.

Since his first Union posting as the youngest member of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet as minister for civil aviation, Kumar had gone on to holding several important portfolios in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, including tourism, sports and youth affairs, culture, urban development and poverty alleviation.

However, Kumar did nurse the ambition of becoming Karnataka’s chief minister and this had caused some friction between him and state BJP president B.S. Yeddyurappa, two people close to the late minister said. Kumar toured the entire state with Yeddyurappa in the late 1980s and was instrumental in building the party that has since formed a government on its own and is currently the single largest party in the state.

“However, he had reconciled with the fact that he could never become the chief minister," one of the two people cited above said, requesting not to be named.

Kumar was a Brahmin and Karnataka’s caste driven politics has remained skewed towards the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the two largest caste groupings in the state.

The state government has declared three days of mourning. Kumar’s last rites will be performed in Bengaluru on Tuesday.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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