Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee dead: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and BJP stalwart passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the national capital on Thursday. He was 93. The premier institute, where a stream of leaders across party lines visited Vajpayee since morning, announced his death at 5:05 pm. The iconic BJP leader was admitted to the AIIMS in June and had been ailing for long.
He retreated from active public life over the last decade following the deterioration of his health and remained restricted to his residence. A host of leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the BJP patriarch at AIIMS.
Vajpayee was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in March 2015. During his second term as prime minister, Vajpayee ordered nuclear tests in May 1998 in a strategic masterstroke to blunt Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. He followed this up with peace overtures to Pakistan, riding on the first direct bus from India to Pakistan in February 1999.
The end came at 5.05 pm when All India Institute of Medical Sciences announced that Vajpayee had died despite all efforts to save him. Admitted to AIIMS on June 11, he could not be discharged in the last nine weeks. His condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was on life support. The first PM who had never been a Congress member, he will be cremated at 4pm at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal between Shanti Van and Vijay Ghat.
visited Vajpayee for the second time in 24 hours, amid indications that he was sliding. A diabetic, Vajpayee had one functioning kidney, and had lost much of his cognitive functions after a stroke in 2009. Later, he developed dementia. Vajpayee was thrice elected PM, the first time briefly for 13 days in 1996.
His trademark oratory, broad moderate appeal, strong commitment to economic reforms and right of centre politics saw him enlarge BJP’s electoral appeal beyond its core constituency. His success as PM, a tenure marked by the bold embrace of the US as a strategic partner, was instrumental in making BJP a major mainstream party and moved the Right to the centrestage as a popular alternative to Nehruvian socialism.
The brightest of saffron stars, Vajpayee, along with L K Advani, dominated BJP almost since its inception in 1980. The two were leading figures even in the erstwhile Jana Sangh. A lengthy political career saw him make a mark as foreign minister in the opposition ‘unity’ government of Janata Party in 1977-80, during which he delivered a speech in Hindi, the first such one by an Indian leader, at the United Nations . Soon after the defeat and break-up of Janata Party over, among other things, the “dual loyalty” of those who had RSS links, Vajpayee became president of BJP and experimented with ‘Gandhian socialism’ before the party returned to its Hindutva roots with a fullthroated campaign for the Ram temple.
While Advani is seen as the architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, sharpening BJP’s attack on ‘pseudosecularism’, Vajpayee was often a counterfoil, presenting a more moderate face with a lesser emphasis on the Ayodhya movement. This, however, could be deceptive as he was critical of Congress’s “Muslim appeasement” and denounced the P V Narasimha Rao government’s decision to bring in a law freezing the status of all shrines as of August 15, 1947, barring those in Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi.
He called the demolition of Babri Masjid unfortunate, but insisted that it could have been avoided had the Congress government and non-BJP parties agreed to let construction work for the Ram temple begin on an adjoining plot. As news of his deteriorating health spread, chief ministers of NDA-ruled states made a beeline to the capital and senior ministers visited AIIMS. After his passing, Vajpayee’s body was placed at his residence at Krishna Menon Marg.
Public homage will be allowed between 7.30am and 8.30am on Friday. His body will then be taken to the BJP office at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg at 9am. The last rites will be performed at 4pm. Seven-day state mourning has been announced. A pall of gloom spread as the end appeared imminent after Vajpayee’s condition began to slip on Wednesday. Despite being out of the public gaze for several years, he had been a popular figure.
Having enjoyed cordial relations with most of his political opponents, Vajpayee’s illness had seen several non-BJP leaders visiting AIIMS and inquiring about his health. Former cabinet colleagues like West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar visited him in recent weeks. Vajpayee, a bachelor, is survived by his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya. Hailing from the small village of Bateshwar near Agra, Vajpayee joined the RSS in 1947 and rose through the ranks as his oratory and charisma caught popular notice. He was elected to the Lok Sabha 10 times though he also lost a few elections. He was a Rajya Sabha member twice.
The Union cabinet met shortly after the official announcement to pass a resolution to condole Vajpayee’s death. In his tribute, BJP president Amit Shah said Vajpayee was a “rare politician, brilliant speaker, poet and patriot; his demise is not just an irreparable loss for the BJP but also for the entire country”. Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Today, India lost a great son. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family and all his admirers. We will miss him.”