PM, Poet, Statesman, Gentleman: Atal Bihari Vajpayee Passes Away at 93

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Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on Thursday evening at the age of 93 after being admitted in AIIMS for three weeks. The whole nation is mourning the passing of the BJP patriarch.

Suffering from dementia in his last years, Vajpayee, among BJP’s tallest leaders had reclined from active political life. He was known for his unique oratory style, poetic vein and as a great statesman. If technology, economics and trade are the ballasts of the new India, Vajpayee has given the strategic direction – peace with Pakistan and a UN Security Council seat. That is when India would gain its rightful place in the world.

Mr. 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. His rich oratory and poetic jibes directed at opponents were popular on both sides of the political divide. The government has announced seven-day national mourning and schools and offices are shut in many states today.

Vajpayee first became Prime Minister in 1996, but his government lasted for just 13 days. His second stint as PM was in 1998 when the BJP-led NDA again came to power but that lasted for just 13 months. Finally, the NDA with Vajpayee as PM returned to power in 1999 and was voted out in 2004. As prime minister, Vajpayee has made 30 foreign visits so far (as against 40 domestic trips in 2003 itself and 250 since 1998), and received 102 dignitaries from abroad. He was conferred India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 2015.

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 Ministry of Home Affairs said the national flag would be flown at half-mast from Thursday for seven days across the country.

Former PM Manmohan Singh of the Congress, who had once described him as the “Bhishma Pitamaha” of politics. “Shri Vajpayee Ji stood among the tallest leaders of modern India, who spent his whole life serving our great country,” said Manmohan Singh, who replaced him as prime minister after the BJP lost power in 2004. PM Modi described Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s death as the “end of an era” and said he felt like he had lost a father. “For me, personally, it is like losing a father… Whenever he met me, he used to embrace me like a father.”