Vajpayee laid to rest with state honours
New Delhi, Aug 17: Bugles sounded the last post, uniformed soldiers clicked their heels and a sombre silence fell over the crowd as former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's mortal remains were consigned to the flames today evening, the sun setting on the life of a poet-politician who combined accommodative politics with graciousness.
Foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the pyre as cries of "Atal Bihari Amar Rahe" reverberated.
The former prime minister was accorded a state funeral with thousands of people joining his last journey.
India's top leadership, foreign dignitaries and the common man mourned the death of Vajpayee and bid an emotional farewell to the former prime minister who was one of the most-loved leaders in decades and had acceptability across a diverse ideological spectrum.
Chief ministers, opposition leaders, chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force, governors and a host of other dignitaries also attended the funeral.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, veteran politician L K Advani, BJP president Amit Shah, Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Army chief General Bipin Rawat, Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba laid wreaths.
Chief ministers, including Yogi Adityanath, Nitish Kumar, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vijay Rupani also attended the funeral.
Other political leaders at the funeral were Congress president Rahul Gandhi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, BJP leaders Murli Manohar Joshi, SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal and Congress leader Raj Babbar.
"You can change friends but not neighbours," Atal Bihari Vajpayee famously said this 15 years ago, and the goodwill he enjoyed among neighbouring countries was today visible when all SAARC nations including Pakistan were represented at his funeral.
Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, Pakistan's Minister of Law Ali Zafar, Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali and Acting Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka Lakshman Kiriella, were among the foreign dignitaries who attended Vajpayee's funeral here.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also paid homage to Vajpayee before his mortal remains were consigned to flames at Smriti Sthal at central Delhi. Diplomats from a number of other countries also attended the funeral.
The former prime minister always strived for close relations with neighbouring countries, including Pakistan.
Vajpayee had famously said in Parliament in 2003, "You can change friends but not neighbours."
According to a first person account by Ashok Kumar Tandon, who served as Vajpayee's media adviser, at a brainstorming session during a holiday after he formed the government in 1998, Vajpayee had said his topmost priority would be to improve relations with all neighbours including Pakistan in a peaceful manner through bilateral dialogues and another was to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue.
Condolences for Vajpayee poured in from all corners of the world after the news of his demise broke last evening.
Pakistan's prime minister-elect Imran Khan expressed condolences over Vajpayee's demise, saying his efforts for India-Pakistan peace will always be remembered.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lso expressed "deep shock" at Vajpayee's demise and said he was "our great friend and highly respected" in her country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth condoled Vajpayee's demise.
SAARC Secretary General Amjad Hussain B Sial condoled Vajpayee's passing away, saying he will be remembered for his historic initiatives in promoting peace and harmony in the region.
SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) is a regional bloc comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The flags of the US, UK and Belgium flew at half mast at their Embassies here as a mark of respect to Vajpayee.