Leaving boundaries of their respective parties, political leaders today bid an emotional goodbye to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee describing him as a visionary statesman with acceptability across a diverse ideological spectrum, a gentle giant and a consensus seeker. Vajpayee, who was 93, died at AIIMS this evening after a prolonged illness. Several leaders saw a personal loss in death of Vajpayee, one of India’s most respected leaders who led the nation through several crises and held together a tenuous coalition with his inclusive politics.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Vajpayee as a “father figure” who taught him valuable aspects about Sangathan (organisation) and Shaasan (administration).” In a brief televised address, Modi said Vajpayee used to hug him with affection whenever they met. Veteran BJP leader L K Advani, who along with Vajpayee was a central figure in the party for much of its existence, described the former prime minister as one of the country’s tallest statesmen and his closest friend for over 65 years whom he will miss immensely.
President Ram Nath Kovind said the “gentle giant” will be missed by one and all. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said Vajpayee was a great patriot and among modern India’s tallest leaders who spent his whole life serving the country. Former president Pranab Mukherjee said India had lost a great son and an era has come to an end, as he described the BJP stalwart as a reasoned critique in the opposition, who dominated the space like a titan, and a seeker of consensus as prime minister.
Describing him as a democrat to the core, Mukherjee, in a letter to Vajpayee’s adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya, said the former prime minister led the government with aplomb and was an inheritor and practitioner of the best traditions and qualities of leadership.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said India has lost “a great son” who was loved and respected by millions. Several of his own party leaders also said Vajpayee was an inspiration to millions, an intense speaker and a true diplomat. BJP chief Amit Shah said Vajpayee nursed the party from its inception to make it a banyan tree and left an indelible mark in Indian politics.
The party would work to fulfil the mission he has left behind, Shah told reporters. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Vajpayee would always listen to his alliance partners as that was his style of working. The Trinamool leader flew to Delhi from Kolkata this evening and spent an hour at Vajpayee’s residence to pay her last respects to the leader, under whom she had served as a union minister.
Union Minister Jitendra Singh said even non-BJP supporters would listen to Vajpayee in public rallies just to pick up speaking skills from his oratory.
Singh, Minsiter of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said, “We grew up listening to him, learning from him,inspired by him. There was no electronic media those days, but many of our college-mates, who did not subscribe to our ideology, would come over to his rallies, just to pick up speaking skills from his oratory,” Singh told PTI.
Union Minister Harsh Vardhan said he has lost his “mentor and guide” who hand-held him into politics. He said Indian scientific community would ever be grateful to Vajpayee who he expanded the ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ slogan to include ‘Jai Vigyan’ after the Pokhran nuclear test and his courageous decision to go for the second nuclear test was the beginning of an India to reckon with.
Paying tribute to Vajpayee, Union minister Nitin Gadkari said his government is trying to follow the path shown by the former prime minister. Veteran leader Sharad Yadav said Vajpayee was a great human being whose qualities cannot be explained in words, besides being “a great poet, leader, Parliamentarian and an able Administrator.”
Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan said Vajpayee’s affectionate nature was unique to him. “He was crafted by the god with special care,” she said. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said he was deeply saddened by the sad demise of Vajpayee who was a great human being and a true statesman. “He never hesitated in giving full credit to his opposition party leaders whenever due,” he said.
Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan said many people are known by the post, but the post of prime minister was very small in front of Vajpayee. “He was a great politician, intense speaker, a true diplomat, having clarity in thinking, warrior of social justice and a great nationalist,” Paswan tweeted.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “It is a great loss to the country. It was a joy to listen to Atal ji. He cut across ideology, he was a person who had compassion and his belief to take India together is to be remembered. India has become poor in his loss. He has left a deep imprint.”
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis described the death as his personal loss and Vajpayee encouraged and taught everyone to serve the last man with the weapon of democracy. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said,”India has lost the tallest leader.”
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “It’s an end of an era of Indian politics. He wasn’t among those to lose battle. He was a fighter,” he said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandra Babu Naidu and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also offered their condolences.