New Delhi: India’s tallest statesman and the most admired Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was on Friday given an emotional send-off with a sea of people joining his funeral procession through the streets of Delhi.
Vajpayee, 93, was cremated at ‘Smriti Sthal’ with his foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya performing his last rites.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked the entire four-km stretch from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office to ‘Smriti Sthal’, which is located close to the memorials of former PMs Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
The massive crowd showered rose petals on the glass casket carrying the three-time PM while chanting “Long live Atalji.”
Vajpayee had passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Thursday after a prolonged illness.
Army, Navy and Air Force personnel gave a ceremonial salute to Vajpayee as Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, BJP chief Amit Shah, veteran party leader LK Advani, several union ministers, chief ministers and opposition leaders, including Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi, paid their last respects.
Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali also arrived here in New Delhi to pay tributes to Vajpayee.
The central government declared a half-day holiday on Friday while some states declared a full-day holiday. A seven-day state mourning was also announced by the central government.
Expressing his grief, Modi said, “I am speechless, numb. It is like losing a father.”
Union minister Arun Jaitley recalled his association with the former PM.
“Atalji’s demise is referred to by many as end of an era. I, however, consider it as a continuation of the era of which he was the one who laid the foundation. His political journey shaped his ideology. His convictions were shaped by his deep commitment to the nation from the student days association with the Quit India Movement to his joining Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and then being associated with Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee as one of the founders of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh,” Jaitley said.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi also mourned Vajpayee’s death.
“Today India lost a great son. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family and all his admirers. We will miss him,” Gandhi tweeted.
Former PM Manmohan Singh described Vajpayee as a “great patriot.”
“People from all walks of life, irrespective of their political leanings, loved and respected Vajpayee. He was a great prime minister, outstanding parliamentarian, excellent orator and an impressive poet,” Singh said.
RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya said at the time of 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Vajpayee stood between the blood thirsty mob and helpless Sikhs.
“I have seen that side of Vajpayee. His house was at Raisina Road, and in front of his house was a taxi stand. Just few steps away there was a Youth Congress office, where we have Rajiv Bhawan, and suddenly an angry mob emerged from the Youth Congress office. Atalji saw the mob was baying for the blood of Sikh taxi drivers, and in that situation he stood between the mob and the Sikh taxi drivers. He did that only for humanity,” Govindacharya said.
Vajpayee thrice served as PM, first for a term of 13 days in 1996, second time for a period of eleven months from 1998 to 1999, and then for a full term from 1999 to 2004.
He was a member of Parliament for over four decades, having been elected to Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) ten times, and twice to Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament).