Ananth Kumar, Illustration: Ajay Mohanty
Ananth Kumar, the Union minister of chemicals and fertilisers, would say the Narendra Modi government’s efforts at providing affordable medicines to people was very close to his heart. Kumar, who was 59, died early on Monday morning. He was suffering from lung cancer.
Earlier this year, while detailing his efforts to expand the network of outlets selling affordable generic drugs, Kumar said it became a mission for him after his mother died of cancer.
Kumar’s father was a second-division clerk in Indian Railways. The minister grew up in the railway workers’ colony in Hubli, Karnataka. “My father was the sole breadwinner, and while I was still young, my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” the minister said. The doctor prescribed her two tablets daily of Nolvadex.
Each tablet was priced at Rs20 then, Kumar said. “My father earned Rs 1,200 a month. The choice my father had was whether to give my mother two tablets a day, which would leave little money for food, or one tablet,” the minister said.
Kumar’s father did what he thought was best for the family: one tablet a day for his wife.
The minister and his wife set up Adamya Chetana, projects to provide mid-day meals to schoolchildren and the poor under Girija Shastry Memorial Trust, in memory of his mother. Kumar was a six-time Lok Sabha member from Bengaluru South, undefeated since 1996. His success at the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, and his affable personality and rapport with leaders across the political spectrum had made the PM give him the additional responsibility of the parliamentary affairs portfolio in last year’s Cabinet reshuffle.
But Kumar was no stranger to other ministries. In 1998, he was the civil aviation minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He had handled tourism, culture, youth affairs and sports, urban development and poverty alleviation, and rural development and panchayat affairs. “From soil to skies, from village panchayats to parliamentary affairs, I have had my dashavatara (10 avatars),” the minister said.
Last year, Kumar and his wife left the Delhi political elite, particularly those within their party, floored when they had one of their daughters marry her friend from a north Indian middle-class family and outside their caste at a simple ceremony. But Kumar would say he has not forgotten that he grew up in a workers’ colony.