Atal Behari Vajpayee cremated with full state honours

The Asian Age.  | Sanjay Basak

India, All India

Huge public turnout at funeral procession; Rival leaders pay rare visit to BJP HQ.

Family members and relatives of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his cremation with full state honours at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal in New Delhi on Friday. (Photo: G.N. Jha)

New Delhi: As thick coils of smoke swriled up towards the dark grey sky, a volley of  rifle shots reverberated and bugles sounded the Last Post as former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was consigned to the flames of a funeral pyre in front of a grieving nation. Amid rhythmic chanting of Vedic hymns and cries of “Atal Behari amar rahe”, his foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya walked around the funeral pyre seven times with a flaming torch and lit the pile of sandalwood which had concealed the mortal remains of India’s “Hriday Samrat” (emperor of hearts). Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath said the ashes of the former Prime Minister would be immersed in every river in his state. The UP government has put up a list of 75 districts and small and big rivers picked for immersion of the ashes.

Breaking away from tradition and throwing security oncerns to the wind, and braving the hot, burning rays of the scorching sun, Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked the entire way behind the hearse from the BJP headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg to the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal — a 6-km stretch. Along with him walked BJP president Amit Shah and all BJP chief ministers and leaders. “People came from all parts of India, from all sections of society pay tributes to an extraordinary personality who made an extraordinary contribution to the nation. India salutes you, Atal Ji!,” the Prime Minister later tweeted.

The government issued a gazette notification announcing the demise of former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee. The notification, signed by Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba, was issued in both English and Hindi. “The Government of India announces, with profound sorrow, the death of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister of India, at 1705 hours on 16th August 2018 at AIIMS Hospital, New Delhi,” it stated.

Thousands thronged the streets all along the route from the BJP headquarters to Smriti Sthal for a last glimpse of  the final journey of one of India’s tallest leaders. That Vajp-ayee was “ajatshatru” (he who has no enemy) was evident as leaders cutting across party lines reached the cremation ground. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy were among the political rivals who reached Smriti Sthal to pay their homage. It was only Vajpayee whose death could bring the BJP’s sworn political rivals belonging to the Left, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI national secretary D. Raja, to the BJP headquarters on Friday. Vajpayee’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, speaking to a television channel, explained why the former PM was “loved by all”. Mr Kulkarni said Vajpayee pratcised the politics of “sarvasamaveshak rajneeti” (politics of taking everybody along).

Several foreign dignitaries, including Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Pakistan’s law minister Ali Zafar and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, were present as Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours. Joining the pantheon of great Indian political leaders, Vajpayee’s final resting place is on the stretch housing the memorials of Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

The panelists on television and political pundits seemed somewhat surprised as people from all sections of society gathered in huge numbers and rushed and jostled each other to shower flower petals on the cortege that was carrying Vajpaye on his final journey. Several young people, some of whom were children when Vajpayee was in power, had come out of their homes to join the procession. “I have only heard about Vajpayee but if I ever join politics, I want to be like Atal Behari Vajpayee,” said a student from St. Stephen’s College while speaking to a television reporter.

Vajpayee, who was out of power for nearly 16 years and was confined to his home for nearly a decade following a long illness, continued to connect with the nation and the people. Overwhelmed political experts couldn’t help but compare this funeral procession with those of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. On Friday, all the roads in the Indian capital led to Smriti Sthal. While security people kept entry highly restricted inside the cremation ground, arguments broke out outside as hundreds were prevented from entering.

Earlier in the morning, as Vajpayee’s cortege had made its way from his home at 6A Krishna Menon Marg through the city to reach the BJP office on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, chants of “Vande Mataram”, “Bharat Mata ki jai” rent the air. On Thursday, the body draped in the tricolour was handed over to his granddaughter Niharika.  

For the second consecutive day, leaders across the political spectrum rushed to share their experiences and views on Vajpayee. The focus remained on his inclusive style of Nehruvian politics, as well as on his liberalism, pluralism, poetry and oratory.