28 Nov 2008

Former Indian prime minister who tackled caste, dies

7:05 pm on 28 November 2008

Former Indian prime minister V P Singh died in hospital on Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Mr Singh, 77, had blood cancer and chronic renal failure.

He is remembered for a controversial policy of reserving a larger share of government jobs for lower castes.

The policy sparked widespread protests from higher-caste members, fragmented politics in India and led to the emergence of strong caste-based parties.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, no relation to the deceased, said India had lost a great patriot whose empathy for the poor would always be remembered.

Mr Singh served as finance and defence minister in the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet but parted ways with Mr Gandhi and led a coalition that defeated him at the 1989 elections.