India Inc today paid a glowing tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, describing the former prime minister as a "great economic reformer" under whose visionary leadership the country made rapid strides in economic growth.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where Mr Vajpayee had been hospitalised for more than two months with a kidney infection and chest congestion, announced his death. It was widely reported that he had suffered a stroke in 2009, which had largely confined him to his New Delhi residence. Those who enquired after included prime minister Narendra Modi, union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwarts.
Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a Hindu nationalist who set off a nuclear arms race with rival Pakistan but later reached across the border to begin a groundbreaking peace process, died Thursday after a long illness.
"Today India lost a great son", tweeted Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, adding that Vajpayee was "loved and respected by millions". He said that Vajpayee was "very clear that now that India was a nuclear power", even though Pakistan was the aggressor and entered Indian territory, "we will not extend the battlefield elsewhere". George W Bush, then Texas governor who was running for the White House as a Republican candidate, had sought a meeting with Vajpayee - the only one from among the hundreds of world leaders in town then for the United Nations general assembly, Indian officials had then stressed. The tests confirmed India as a nuclear power.
Together with President Bill Clinton's visit to India earlier that year in March, it ended the chill that had set in after Vajpayee's decision to conduct nuclear tests two years earlier in 1998, which had angered the USA and other western powers and had resulted in sanctions that are still unravelling.
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Vajpayee was one of the few leaders of the BJP to express anguish when hundreds of Muslims were killed rioting in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat.
Vajpayee, a bachelor, is survived by his adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya.
"It was Atal Ji's exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century".
Prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan Thursday extended condolences over the demise of Vajpayee. The government conferred the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, on him in 2015. His funeral is to be held Friday afternoon.
Caretaker Information Minister Syed Ali Zafar attended the funeral of former Indian premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Friday.