New Delhi, Aug 16 (Just News): Former Indian 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 being treated said in a statement.
He was 93.
A poet-politician, Vajpayee was one of the most popular leaders of prime minister Narendra Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But unlike Modi, who critics say is a polarising figure despite his pledge of inclusive development for India's 1.3 billion people, Vajpayee was the moderate face of Hindu nationalism, admired even by prominent political foes.
Vajpayee served as prime minister briefly in 1996 then again from 1998 to 2004.
"Former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was loved and respected by millions. My condolences to his family & all his admirers. We will miss him," Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, tweeted.
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, which Modi governed.
Vajpayee called the 1992 destruction of a 16th-century mosque on a disputed site by Hindu fanatics India's darkest hour.
However, he also defended a Hindu campaign for construction of a temple on the disputed site, which Hindus believe was the birthplace of god-king Rama.
Modi said Vajpayee's stewardship had put India on a fast track to growth.
"It was Atal Ji's exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century," Modi said in a tweet.
Vajpayee suffered a stroke in 2009 and retreated from public view. Leaders of the BJP were gathering at his home in New Delhi to pay their respects.