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Bharat Ratna, Poet-Politician Atal Bihari Vajpayee Dies at 93, Nation to Bid Farewell at Smrithi Sthal Today

The central government has announced a seven-day mourning throughout the country and most states have declared a public holiday on Friday.

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Updated:August 16, 2018, 11:59 PM IST
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Bharat Ratna, Poet-Politician Atal Bihari Vajpayee Dies at 93, Nation to Bid Farewell at Smrithi Sthal Today
In this May 11, 1998, file photo former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announces India's nuclear test, in New Delhi. (PTI photo)
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New Delhi: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of India's tallest leaders and the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full term in power by leading a tenuous coalition with his inclusive politics and superlative oratory, died on Thursday after a prolonged illness. He was 93.

His death was announced by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital where he was admitted since June 11 with a variety of ailments. "It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of Former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at 05:05 PM," the AIIMS said in a statement.

A bachelor, he is survived by his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya. He will be cremated with full state honours at 4pm on Friday at the Smriti Sthal in New Delhi. The ruling BJP government has announced a seven-day mourning throughout the country.

Most of the states, with the exception of Karnataka and Kerala who are dealing with deadly floods, have announced a public holiday on Friday as a mark of respect for Vajpayee, who was one of the founding members of the BJP, a three-time Prime Minister and recipient of the Bharat Ratna.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in mourning the demise of Vajpayee, who was as much renowned for his poetry as his oratory and whose popularity cut across party lines. "It was Atalji's exemplary leadership that set the foundations for prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century," Modi said.

On Thursday morning, it had become clear that the end was near for the BJP stalwart and a host of top politicians, union ministers, chief ministers and well-wishers began gathering at the AIIMS. The hospital said his condition was stable for the last nine weeks, but "unfortunately, his condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was put on life support systems."

Tribute to Vajpayee
Students in Chennai pay tribute to Vajpayee on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

A pall of gloom descended at the BJP headquarters as soon the news of Vajpayee's demise broke. Modi said Vajpayee's passing was a "personal and irreplaceable" loss for him and that his futuristic policies across various sectors touched the lives of each and every citizen of India.

"It was due to the perseverance and struggles of Atal Ji that the BJP was built brick by brick," the PM said. "He travelled across the length and breadth of India to spread the BJP's message, which led to the BJP becoming a strong force in our national polity and in several states," he added.

Vajpayee, who joined the Rastriya Swamsevak Sangha (RSS) in 1947, rose through THE ranks to become a stalwart of the BJP.

In the evening, Vajpayee's body was taken to his residence at Krishna Menon Marg in New Delhi, where host of leaders cutting across party lines and people from different walks of life paid their last respects.

President Ram Nath Kovind, his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee, vice-president Venkaiah Naidu, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, senior BJP leaders LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, ministers Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nitin Gadkari, chief ministers Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Vasundhara Raje, Yogi Adityanath and Shivraj Singh Chouhan were some of the leaders who paid tribute to Vajpayee at his residence.

BJP chief Amit Shah, who received Vajpayee’s mortal remains at the former PM’s residence along with a few other party leaders, announced that his body would be shifted at 9pm on Friday to the BJP headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya marg, from where it will undertake its final journey to Smriti Sthal near Rajghat at 1pm. The cremation will take place at 4pm.

Vajpayee passes away
PM Narendra Modi pays tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his Krishna Menon Marg residence in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

Seen as a moderate face of the BJP, Vajpayee's first became prime minister in 1996, leading a shaky coalition whose members were suspicious of the BJP's right-wing politics. It lasted for 13 days and collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence.

His second stint as prime minister was in 1998 when the National Democratic Alliance 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.

A lifelong bachelor, Vajpayee was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1957 from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh in India's second general elections. His maiden speech in Parliament so impressed his peers and colleagues that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced Vajpayee to a visiting foreign dignitary thus: "This young man one day will become the country's prime minister."

He remained a Member of Parliament for 47 years - elected 10 times to the Lok Sabha and twice to Rajya Sabha.

Vajpayee's signature in politics was achieving pragmatic consensus, and in this process he earned the respect of his party, allies and opponents. Abroad, he projected a harmonious image of India and connected it to the world through his foreign policy outreach.

The former prime minister was admitted to the hospital on June 11 with a kidney tract infection, urinary tract infection, low urine output and chest congestion.

Vajpayee, a diabetic, had only one functional kidney. He suffered a stroke in 2009 that weakened his cognitive abilities. Subsequently, he developed dementia.

He was born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh to a schoolteacher, Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, and Krishna Devi. Today, his birthday is celebrated as Good Governance Day'.

After schooling, he graduated from Victoria College in Gwalior, now known as Laxmi Bai College. He did his M.A. in political science from DAV College in Kanpur. Following a brief flirtation with communism, he became a full-time worker of RSS in 1947.

In his tribute, BJP president Amit Shah said he 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 said on Twitter: "Today India lost a great son. Former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family and all his admirers. We will miss him."

Manmohan Singh, who succeeded Vajpayee as PM in 2004, hailed the BJP stalwart as a great patriot and among modern India's tallest leaders who spent his whole life serving the country.
| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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