Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee – Farewell to India’s ‘great son’


by Amit Roy MPS LEAD TRIBUTES AS FORMER PRIME MINISTER VAJPAYEE IS LAID TO REST. IT IS one of the civilised traditions of India that when politicians pass away, even their opponents come together to pay tribute to the departed leader. THOUSANDS of mourners in white funeral dress escorted the coffin of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s former prime minister, through Delhi last Friday (17), showering his body in rose petals before his cremation. But when Atal Bihari Vajpayee died last week, aged 93, there appeared to be genuine mourning in India. Hundreds of millions of ordinary Indians mourned the death of a former prime minister they considered civilised and decent – and a poet, too. The route from Vajpayee’s home in Delhi to the cremation grounds was clogged by thousands of people. As leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he served three terms as prime minister: first for 13 days in 1996, then 13 months from 1998 to 1999, and finally, a full term from 1999 to 2004. Perhaps people compare today’s India, which is marked by growing intolerance towards minorities, with the country he had governed. Some go so far as to suggest he was the right man in the wrong party. The London-based historian Zareer Masani struck a jarring note by claiming Vajpayee was among those who had encouraged the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. His record wasn’t entirely clean, Masani suggested, and backed up his assertion by issuing an allegedly incriminating video. An Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker pays tribute at the portrait of former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Guwahati Whatever the truth about what he really believed, Vajpayee was certainly a less divisive figure than many of today’s politicians. As his mortal remains were consigned to flames last week, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders watched alongside the prime minister Narendra Modi and senior members of the government. To me, his greatest moment came in 2004. The BJP, buoyed by its “ India shining” campaign slogan, was convinced it would sweep back to power. Vajpayee accepted the party’s stunning defeat with grace. Three-time prime minister Vajpayee, a poet and spellbinding orator respected across the…

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