Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passes away

Statesman: Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Statesman: Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

FORMER Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has passed away, current leader Narendra Modi said today (16).

“Atal Ji’s passing away is a personal and irreplaceable loss for me,” Modi said in a tweet.

“It was Atal Ji’s exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century.”

Vajpayee served as prime minister briefly in 1996 then again from 1998 to 2004.

“Former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family & all his admirers. We will miss him,” Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, tweeted.

Vajpayee was one of the few leaders of the BJP to express anguish when hundreds of Muslims were killed rioting in 2002 in Gujarat.

Vajpayee called the 1992 destruction of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics India’s darkest hour.

However, he also defended a campaign for construction of a temple on the site in north India, which many believe is the birthplace of Lord Ram.

As prime minister, Vajpayee gave the go-ahead for underground nuclear tests in 1998 believing nuclear weapons would be deterrent against China and Pakistan.

Pakistan responded to those tests with six of its own.

A year later, Vajpayee rode on the first bus to begin a new service from Delhi to the Pakistani city of Lahore in a rare trip by an Indian prime minister to mend ties with the neighbour.

Vajpayee, 93, had battled poor health for years but his condition deteriorated sharply in recent days.

He suffered a stroke in 2009 and retreated from public view.

The former prime minister was being treated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, where he was admitted nine weeks ago with health complications.

“Unfortunately, his condition deteriorated over the last 36 hours and he was put on life support systems. Despite the best efforts, we have lost him today,” AIIMS said in a statement.

“We join the nation in deeply mourning this great loss.”

His waning health sparked a flurry of visits from top dignitaries Thursday, including Modi and senior cabinet ministers.

Vajpayee, a former journalist and poet-turned-politician, was credited with helping lay the foundations for the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political powerhouse that rules India today.