Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who pursued both nuclear weapons and peace talks with Pakistan, dies at age 93.
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who ordered nuclear tests to make India a nuclear weapons power and travelled by bus to Pakistan in a grand diplomatic gesture, died on Thursday, the hospital where he was admitted said in a statement.
He was hospitalised more than two months ago with a kidney infection and chest ailment, but illness had kept him out of the public eye for years.
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.
Prime Minister Narendra 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.
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.
Many top ministers in the cabinet today — including Modi — were protegees to Vajpayee and his deputy Lal Krishna Advani in past administrations.
India grieves the demise of our beloved Atal Ji.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 16, 2018
His passing away marks the end of an era. He lived for the nation and served it assiduously for decades. My thoughts are with his family, BJP Karyakartas and millions of admirers in this hour of sadness. Om Shanti.
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.
Today India lost a great son. Former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji, was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family & all his admirers. We will miss him. #AtalBihariVajpayee— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 16, 2018
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.
In 2015, the government honoured him with the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, while his December 25 birthday was declared "Good Governance Day" in a tribute to his leadership.