Nagpur: R S Gavai, veteran Dalit leader and former Governor of Kerala and Bihar, died this afternoon after a prolonged illness at a private hospital here.
He was 86 and survived by wife Kamal and two sons.
His elder son Justice Bhushan Gavai is a Bombay High Court judge of Nagpur Bench and younger son Rajendra is leader of Republican Party of India (Gavai faction).
The body was taken to Justice Gavai's residence in the city and later kept at Deekshabhoomi, the historic place where B R Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956, for the public to pay the last respects, his family said.
The funeral will take place at his native village in Daryapur in Amravati district tomorrow with state honours.
Born on October 30, 1929, Ramkrishna Suryabhan Gavai had also served as chairman of the Maharashtra Legislative Council and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Amravati.
He was Member of Maharashtra Legislative Council from 1964 to 1994 and served as Deputy Chairman of the Council from 1968 to 1978 and as Chairman from 1978 to 1984. He was also the Leader of Opposition in the Council from 1986 to 1988.
He was elected to Lok Sabha from his native Amravati constituency in 1998 as a prominent Dalit face fielded by the Congress-led alliance.
Gavai was appointed as the Governor of Bihar in 2006 and shifted to Kerala in 2008, where he served till August 2011.
Gavai's nod to the CBI to prosecute CPM leader Pinyari Vijayan in a graft case had triggered a controversy and his decision had drawn flak from the Left, even as Congress-led alliance hailed it.
He was the Chairman of Babasaheb Ambedkar Smarak Samiti, which manages the Deekshabhoomi. He held the post till his end.
A strong votary of Dalit unity, Gavai had headed the presidium of RPI when other factions of the party offered to come together and installed him as the president. However, the unity did not last long and various factions led by Prakash Ambedkar, Ramdas Athawale, N M Kamble and others parted ways.
Paying rich tribute to the departed leader, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the state had lost an "ajat shatru" (a person with no enemies).
"It is also a great loss to the Ambedkar movement since Gavai was a father figure for the community, who successfully managed the affairs of Deekshabhoomi since the past five decades," he said.