India Mourns Poet Prime Minister Vajpayee, Funeral Today
The 93-year-old BJP patriarch died on Thursday evening at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences or AIIMS, where he had been admitted in June after his health worsened. In 2009 the former Prime Minister had a stroke that severely affected his ability to speak and confined him to his home.
Mortal remains of Vajpayee has been brought to the BJP Headquarters in New Delhi. Scores of leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath, Devendra Fadnavis and LK Advani paid tribute to the former PM.
The final rites will be performed at the Smriti Sthal on the banks of the Yamuna. The government has announced seven days of state mourning. The Ministry of Home Affairs said the national flag would be flown at half-mast from Thursday for seven days across the country.
Over 5 lakh people, including VVIPs, politicians and dignitaries, are expected to be present at the BJP party office as well as the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal near Rajghat Friday. More than 2,000 Delhi Armed Police (DAP) and paramilitary police, along with force from three districts — Central, North, and New Delhi — will be on the ground to make sure that the funeral is conducted smoothly. As many as 20 companies of the DAP and hundreds of paramilitary personnel will be guarding the cremation ground. Delhi traffic police have closed 25 arterial roads, starting 8 am.
Calling Vajpayee’s death a “personal loss”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said it marks the end of an era. He said the BJP patriarch lived for the nation and served it assiduously for decades while noting that it was Vajpayee’s exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century. “Atal Ji’s passing away is a personal and irreplaceable loss for me. I have countless fond memories of him. He was an inspiration to Karyakartas like me. I will particularly remember his sharp intellect and outstanding wit. It was Atal Ji’s exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century. His futuristic policies across various sectors touched the lives of each and every citizen of India,” Modi tweeted. He said it was due to Vajpayee’s perseverance and struggles that the BJP was built brick by brick.
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.
Former Prime Minister Vajpayee, who ruled the country thrice in the 1990s, had retreated from politics over the last few years because of his health.
Vajpayee was the first non-Congress leader since India’s independence in 1947 to complete an entire term in office as head of a BJP-led ruling alliance between March 1998 and May 2004.
A former journalist, his rich oratory and poetic jibes directed at opponents were popular on both sides of the political divide.