<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Former Union Minister and Congress leader Eknathrao alias ‘Balasaheb’ Vikhe Patil passed away at his residence in Loni village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra on Friday evening following prolonged illness, his family said. He was 84.Vikhe Patil largely kept away from public life in the last couple of years due to his illness. His son Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is a senior Congress leader and currently the Leader of Opposition in the state assembly.Though a Congressman most of his career, Balasaheb was elected to Lok Sabha on Shiv Sena ticket in 1998 and became Minister of State for Finance in the NDA government. He was subsequently elevated as Minister for Heavy Industries. He returned to the Congress fold in 2004.His father, Vitthalrao Vikhe-Patil, was instrumental in setting up Asia’s first cooperative sugar mill at Loni.Born on April 10, 1932, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil first entered the Lok Sabha in 1971 from Ahmednagar district and continued to represent Kopargaon Lok Sabha constituency for the next 20 years.He also had a brief stint as president of Maharashtra Samajwadi Congress, a Congress splinter group, during 1977-79.Vikhe Patil family commanded a strong political base in the Ahmednagar area through a network of cooperative societies and educational institutes including medical and engineering colleges.He was also a founder president of Maharashtra Pani Parishad, an NGO which focused on efficient use of water and training of farmers.He received the Padma Bhushan in 2010.