Mumbai/Thane: Veteran Shiv Sena leader Sabir Shaikh who had served as a labour minister in the erstwhile NDA government in Maharashtra in 1995 died at a private hospital in Bhiwandi today following a prolonged illness, his family members said.

He was 71. Shaikh, who remained a bachelor throughhout his life and had been touted as the biggest Muslim face of the saffron party founded by Bal Thackeray, was responsible for strengthening the party.

"My uncle was suffering from a severe diabetes problem which had immobilised him. He had been admitted to a hospital for the last couple of months, but his condition deteriorated since last week. It is all the more unfortunate that he expired on polling day," Shiv Sena leader and Sabir Shaikh's nephew Haji Arafat Shaikh told PTI. He was elected thrice as an MLA, as well as served as labour minister in the Sena-BJP government.

His funeral was held tonight and was attended by people from all walks of life including political leaders. In his message, Thane district Shiv Sena chief Ekanth Shinde said that Shaikh was very close to (late) Bal Thackeray and his death is an irreparable loss to the party.

"Shaikh was responsible for the growth of Sena in the district and state as well. He had studied in detail the history the Shivaji era and commanded respect from party workers. He was staunch follower of shiv shahi," he added.