International desk, August 16: Former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has died aged 93.The announcement was made by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or AIIMS, where the 93-year-old was being treated for nine weeks.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the hospital twice in 24 hours and top politicians from across parties arrived as the former prime minister’s health worsened on Wednesday.
Mr Vajpayee, the BJP’s tallest leader, was admitted to hospital on June 11 with a kidney tract infection and chest congestion.
Since 2009, the veteran politician had largely been confined to his home on Krishna Menon Marg in the heart of Delhi, away from public life due to his failing health.
Mr Vajpayee was considered the gold standard of leadership in the BJP and had admirers even among rival parties. His birthday — December 25 — is celebrated as Good Governance Day.
Since morning, BJP chief Amit Shah and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, JP Nadda and Venkaiah Naidu and several other leaders had been visiting the hospital.
At the BJP headquarters in Delhi, decorations put up for Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday were taken down as a somber note took over.
LK Advani, one of Mr Vajpayee’s closest colleagues and his deputy in the NDA government from 1998 to 2004, was among the visitors.
Vajpayee, a former journalist and poet turned politician, is credited with helping lay the foundations for the meteoric rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political powerhouse that rules India today.
Modi, party chief Amit Shah and BJP ministers Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh were among the top figures to visit the stricken Vajpayee on Thursday.
None have spoken publicly about his condition, but the surge in visits has stoked speculation that Vajpayee could be fast fading.
Vajpayee was one of the few opposition lawmakers inside parliament when India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, still held office.
His more than five-decade long career peaked in the 1990s, when his masterful oratory attracted tens of thousands of people to his rallies across the country.
He also became the first non-Congress leader since India’s independence in 1947 to complete an entire term in office as head of a BJP-led ruling alliance between March 1998 and May 2004.
He embarked on a historic bus ride to arch-rival Pakistan in 1999 and held talks with then-premier Nawaz Sharif in the city of Lahore.
But his peacemaker image was shattered when Pakistan-backed forces pressed over the disputed Kashmir border and he later helped ramp up tensions in South Asia by testing nuclear weapons in 1998.
Vajpayee withdrew from the public eye after a BJP-led alliance suffered a shock defeat in 2004.
He has since rarely been seen or heard in public. It is widely reported that he suffered a stroke in 2009 which largely confined him to his New Delhi residence.
He continues to enjoy devotion in many parts of the country, especially in key bellwether Hindi-heartland states in north and central India.
Vajpayee’s often conciliatory tone, and poetic jibes directed at opponents, attracted popularity on both sides of the political divide.