Leaders across the political spectrum join family, friends at Nigambodh Ghat.
New Delhi: While he was alive, Arun Jaitley with his hands firmly locked behind, walking ahead of several BJP leaders and followers, was a common sight. Today too the scene was something similar. Lying in a flower-bedecked gun carriage, his body wrapped in the national flag, and hundreds walking behind him — some sobbing, some silent and some chanting “Arun Jaitley amar rahein” and “Jab tak suraj chand rahega Jaitley tera naam rahega” — on his last journey. The former finance and defence minister was cremated with full state honours at Delhi’s Nigambodh Ghat on Sunday afternoon.
Arun Jaitley, 66, had died at Delhi’s AIIMS on Saturday after a prolonged illness.
The entire political fraternity, a lot of sportspersons, diplomats, lawyers and people from all walks of life were present to pay homage to the BJP stalwart both at his residence and at the BJP headquarters, where his body was kept. A large number of them also accompanied the gun carriage to Nigambodh Ghat.
With their eyes moist and hands folded, several watched as Mr Jaitley’s son Rohan performed the last rites as the gun salute was fired. The skies opened up and it poured heavily as the last rites began, but that didn’t deter scores of his admirers, party workers and former colleagues from standing still till the cremation was complete.
The entire Cabinet of the NDA government, including home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, highways and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, as well as several chief ministers and vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu were present at the cremation. In fact, Mr Naidu broke down when the pyre was lit.
BJP working president J.P. Nadda, senior leader lal Krishna Advani, as well as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kapil Sibal from the Congress Party and NCP leader Praful Patel too were present, along with the chief ministers of Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Bihar and Uttarakhand, Manipur governor Najma Heptullah and yoga preacher Baba Ramdev.
“He was a great speaker and parliamentarian and his death is a huge loss for the country and the party. Whenever the party faced any problem, his advice would be sought,” Ms Heptullah said after the cremation.
Members of Mr Jaitley’s Lodhi Gardens walking group, with whom he spent his morning walks followed by tea and snacks that used to come from his house, were also present to bid a tearful farewell to their friend.
Delhi roads, particularly those leading from the BJP headquarters to Nigambodh Ghat were, were full of posters remembering Mr Jaitley as people queued up on both sides of the road when the gun carriage started moving from the BJP headquarters to Nigambodh Ghat.
In a condolence message to Mr Jaitley’s wife Sangeeta, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that in his illustrious career spanning over four decades, the leader left his mark on politics. “Although his voice will no longer reverberate within the hallowed portals of Parliament, we will remember his presence. Your family is in my thoughts and prayers. I wish you peace and strength during this difficult time,” Mr Gandhi said in a letter to Mrs Jaitley on Sunday.
On Saturday, interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi had written a condolence letter to Sangeeta Jaitley, saying: “Shri Arun Jaitley was a person who attracted friends and admirers across the political spectrum and every walk of life. His sharp intellect and ability and his communications skills were evident in every Cabinet position he held, in his role as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and as a senior advocate at the Supreme Court. Arun Jaitley fought his cruel illness with great courage, his spirit indomitable till the end. His passing is all the more tragic because he went so young, when he had so much more to contribute to national life. Words are little consolation at this time of grief, but I wanted you, and your son and daughter, to know that I share your pain. May Arunji find eternal peace.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now overseas, had on Saturday while paying an emotional tribute to Mr Jaitley said: “With the demise of Arun Jaitley Ji, I have lost a valued friend, whom I have had the honour of knowing for decades. His insight on issues and nuanced understanding of matters had very few parallels. He lived well, leaving us all with innumerable happy memories. We will miss him.”
“Untimely demise of former FM and senior leader Sh Arun Jaitley ji is a huge loss to the nation. A legal luminary and an experienced political leader known for his governance skills will be missed by the country. Thoughts and prayers with his family in this moment of grief. RIP,” wrote Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter.