Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose politics of moderation in a hardline party propelled the BJP to power for the first time in the 1990s, died on Thursday after long illness.
The 93-year-old leader, who had faded from public life for more than a decade following health complications and was admitted to AIIMS with urinary tract infection on June 11, breathed his last at 5.05 p.m., the hospital said in a statement.
“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was put on life support system. Despite the best of efforts, we have lost him today,” the statement said.
Vajpayee, a diabetic, was undergoing treatment at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He was said to be stable for the last nine weeks but his health suffered a setback on last week and finally he succumbed. That things were getting worse could be gleaned from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made two visits to AIIMS in the last two days.
Rich tributes poured from across the political spectrum for Vajpayee who had the reputation of having no enemies in politics. Modi described the passing away of Vajpayee as “the end of an era” and every Indian and the BJP worker would continue to be guided by his vision.
President Ram Nath Kovind said Vajpayee was a “true Indian statesman”. “His leadership, foresight, maturity and eloquence put him in a league of his own.” Congress President Rahul Gandhi said Vajpayee was loved and respected by millions. “Today, India lost a great son.”
Earlier, as news of deterioration of his health spread, national leaders, including Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, BJP brass — party President Amit Shah, veterans L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, cabinet ministers, chief ministers and opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee visited the hospital during the day.
The body was taken to Vajpayee’s house on Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi for the public to pay last respects to the departed leader. The former Prime Minister, whose birthday on December 25 is celebrated as Good Governance Day, was honored with the Bharat Ratna in 2014 at his home.
Vajpayee, whose more than six-year term was marked by peace initiative with Pakistan and the 1998 Pokhran nuclear test that invited US sanctions, was a bachelor and leaves behind a foster family.
Though his long-time associate L.K. Advani, credited for the rise of the BJP from the last 1980s on the Ayodhya temple issue with his hardline politics, it was Vajpayee’s moderate stance that took the party close to power. He was the Prime Minister for 13 days in mid-1996 at the head of the first short-lived BJP government. He was forced to resign ahead of the confidence vote as he failed to muster the numbers.
However, Vajpayee again became the Prime Minister in March 1998 with improved numbers and new allies like the TDP, the AIADMK, the National Conference and the Samta Party. But his government fell 13 months later on the floor of the Lok Sabha losing by one vote in the confidence motion after AIADMK headed by the late J.Jayalalithaa withdrew support to the BJP.
The BJP government headed by Vajpayee returned to power in 1999 and completed almost its full term till 2004 when the party lost in the polls called earlier than scheduled.
Vajpayee was known for his lavish praise of Indira Gandhi as Durga on India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war of Bangladesh independence.
Vajpayee had a long association with the RSS and the Bhartiya Jana Sangh which merged to form the Janata Party in the post Emergency period when he was jailed along with numerous opposition leaders. And in 1980, he, Advani, Joshi and other leaders founded the BJP of which he was the first President.
He had a flair for foreign policy issues and the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao chose him to lead an Indian delegation to the UN Human Rights conference to counter Pakistan’s campaign for Kashmir.