NEW DELHI: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of India’s most charismatic leaders who led the nation through several crises while holding together a tenuous coalition with his inclusive politics and superlative oratory, died here on Thursday. He was 93.
Vajpayee, a bachelor, is survived by his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya. He will be cremated on Friday at 4 pm in New Delhi.
“It was Atalji’s exemplary leadership that set the foundations for prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, leading the nation in mourning the demise of the nationalist stalwart whose popularity cut across party lines.
Vajpayee’s death was announced by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital where he had been admitted on June 11 with a variety of ailments.
“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of former prime minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at 05:05 pm,” the AIIMS said in a statement.
It said his condition was stable for the last nine weeks, but “unfortunately, his condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was put on life-support systems.”
As it became clear that the end was near, a host of politicians and well-wishers began gathering at the AIIMS since morning. A pall of gloom descended at the BJP headquarters as soon the news of Vajpayee’s demise broke.
Modi said Vajpayee’s passing is a “personal and irreplaceable” loss for him and that his futuristic policies across various sectors touched the lives of each and every citizen of India.
“It was due to the perseverance and struggles of Atalji that the BJP was built brick by brick,” Modi said in a tweet.
A seven-day state mourning was announced by the government as a mark of respect to Vajpayee.
Vajpayee, who joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1947 rose through ranks to become a stalwart of the BJP and was the first non-Congress prime minister to complete a full term in office.
In the evening, Vajpayee’s body was taken to his residence at Krishna Menon Marg in New Delhi where a host of leaders cutting across party lines and people from different walks of life paid their last respects.
Seen as a moderate face of BJP, Vajpayee’s first became prime minister in 1996, leading a shaky coalition whose members were suspicious of the BJP’s right-wing politics. It lasted for 13 days and collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence.
His second stint as prime minister was in 1998 when the National Democratic Alliance again came to power but that lasted for just 13 months.
Finally, the NDA with Vajpayee as prime minister returned to power in 1999 and was voted out in 2004.
A lifelong bachelor, Vajpayee was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1957 from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh in India’s second general elections.
His maiden speech in Parliament so impressed his peers and colleagues that the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced Vajpayee to a visiting foreign dignitary thus: “This young man one day will become the country’s prime minister.”
He remained a member of Parliament for 47 years — elected 10 times to the Lok Sabha and twice to Rajya Sabha.
Vajpayee’s signature in politics was achieving pragmatic consensus, and in this process he earned the respect of his party, allies and opponents. Abroad, he projected a harmonious image of India and connected it to the world through his foreign policy outreach
The former prime minister was admitted to the hospital on June 11 with a kidney tract infection, urinary tract infection, low urine output and chest congestion.
Vajpayee, a diabetic, had only one functional kidney. He suffered a stroke in 2009 that weakened his cognitive abilities. Subsequently, he developed dementia.
Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, to a schoolteacher Krishna Bihari Vajpayee and Krishna Devi. Today, his birthday is celebrated as ‘Good Governance Day’.
After schooling, he graduated from Victoria College in Gwalior, now known as Laxmi Bai College. He did his MA in political science from DAV College in Kanpur. Following a brief flirtation with communism, he became a full-time worker of RSS in 1947.
BJP president Amit Shah said the last rites of Vajpayee will take place at 4 pm on Friday at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal here. The body would be taken to the BJP headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg at around 9 am and the funeral procession would leave the party office at 1 pm.
The Union cabinet condoled the demise of Vajpayee, official sources said.
As per convention, the cabinet passed a resolution, condoling the demise of the BJP veteran.
A brief moment of silence was also observed, the sources said.
A state funeral would be accorded to Vajpayee and a half-day holiday would be observed in all central government offices on Friday.
A seven-day state mourning has been announced by the government as a mark of respect to the departed leader.
In a circular, the Union home ministry said the national flag would be flown at half mast across the country for seven days from Thursday.
“As a mark of respect to the departed dignitary, it has been decided that seven days of state mourning will be observed throughout India from August 16-22, both days inclusive.
“During this period, the national flag will be flown at half mast throughout India where it is regularly flown and there will be no official entertainment during the period of the state mourning,” the home ministry said.
The national flag would fly at half mast at all the Indian missions abroad on Friday, the day of Vajpayee’s funeral.