NEW DELHI, Aug 17: Bugles sounded the last post, uniformed soldiers gave a gun salute and silence fell over the crowd as former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mortal remains were consigned to the flames on Friday evening, the sun setting on the life of a poet-politician who combined accommodative politics with graciousness.
Foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the pyre as cries of “Atal Bihari Amar Rahe” reverberated in the air and a light drizzle fell, piercing the sombre silence.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh were among the thousands of people at the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal on the banks of the Yamuna, the BJP patriarch’s final resting place along the stretch which also houses the memorials of Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Several foreign dignitaries, including Bhutanese king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Pakistan’s Law Minister Ali Zafar were present as Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours.
Thousands of mourners poured into the streets of the national capital as Vajpayee’s cortege made its way from his home to the BJP headquarters on Deendayal Upadhyay Marg and then to the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal.
Modi, who along with BJP president Amit Shah walked behind the gun carriage decorated with flowers for the entire route of nearly 3.5 kilometers, later said people came from all parts of India and from all sections of society to pay tributes to an extraordinary personality who made an extraordinary contribution to the nation.
The tricolour draping Vajpayee, who died yesterday at the age of 93 following prolonged illness at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, was folded and handed over to his granddaughter Niharika.
It was a sea of white, with most mourners dressed in the colour of mourning to remember the man who wove together pragmatism and his vision for an inclusive India. Some could be seen wiping their tears.
As eulogies were written, analysts took stock of the politician and the man and the city returned to normalcy, BJP leader Anurag Thakur said the massive turnout showed he resided in the hearts of people.
“Not only has India has lost a leader, a son, the world has lost a statesman,” Thakur told reporters.
Seen as a moderate face of the BJP, Vajpayee 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.
APCC, others mourn Vajpayee’s demise
The Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) along with its frontal organizations has expressed condolences on the demise of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who breathed his last on 16 August.
Terming his death an irreparable loss for the nation, the APCC said Vajpayee would always be remembered as one of India’s most respected leaders.
Former chief minister Gegong Apang has also deeply mourned the former prime minister’s demise and extended condolences to the bereaved family.
In a condolence message, Apang said, “I am deeply shocked at the sad demise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was one of the most illustrious prime ministers of our country, who had a versatile and charismatic personality. India today has lost one of the most able and efficient sons who was a patriot, a good orator and a great parliamentarian. In his 47 years in Parliament, Vajpayee dominated Indian politics. Atalji’s passing away is an irreparable loss to our nation. The void created by his death will not be so easily filled even in the distant future.”
The state unit of the National People’s Party has also expressed deep sorrow over the statesman’s demise.
“Vajpayee’s demise is a great loss for the nation. His departure has created a vacuum in the entire country,” it said in a condolence message.
In Sangram, a condolence meeting was held at the SDO conference hall in Pokriang. Among others, Kurung Kumey DC Kangki Darang, Sports Authority of Arunachal Chairman Bamang Tago, HoDs, panchayat leaders and students participated in it.
RWD Minister Bamang Felix paid homage to the former prime minister and recalled his immense contributions in developing the country in all respects.
“Vajpayeeji was one of the role models for all-round development of the country and his passing away is an irreparable loss to the nation,” said Felix.
Later, the gathering observed a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to the departed soul. (With PTI inputs)