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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Farewell, Arun Jaitley: One of India’s tallest leaders cremated with state honours

A political giant and strategist for the BJP, Jaitley, 66, died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Saturday, where he had been under critical care since August 9.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2019 00:12 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Mortal remains of former finance minister Arun Jaitley being taken to Nigambodh Ghat for cremation.
Mortal remains of former finance minister Arun Jaitley being taken to Nigambodh Ghat for cremation.(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)
         

From top politicians across parties to industry captains and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) karyakartas to ordinary citizens, thousands of mourners descended on Nigambodh Ghat, on the banks of Yamuna, to attend the funeral of former Union minister Arun Jaitley on a rain-lashed Sunday afternoon.

A political giant and strategist for the BJP, Jaitley, 66, died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Saturday, where he had been under critical care since August 9.

Jaitley’s cortege, with his mortal remains carried in a flower bedecked gun carriage, headed out from his home in the capital’s Kailash Colony to the BJP’s headquarters, where it reached around 11 am. It was kept there until 1.40 pm before being taken to Nigambodh Ghat.

At the BJP’s sprawling office, a steady stream of visitors poured in to pay their last respects to a man everyone felt had gone too soon. On August 6, Sushma Swaraj, another of the BJP’s tallest leaders, had died after a cardiac arrest at the national capital’s AIIMS.

Home minister Amit Shah reached the party headquarters at 10.30 am, before Jaitley’s funeral procession, which included a long line of cars and official vehicles, apart from the coffin carriage, arrived. Thousands began filing in on the road outside the party’s office on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, amid tight security arrangements.

Wrapped in the Tricolour, the coffin was placed in the main conference hall of the party office, where top ministers and BJP functionaries of the Modi government were the first to pay their respects. Shah and his colleague, defence minister Rajnath Singh, were among the first senior leaders to enter the conference hall.

The doors of the hall were then opened for the people to pay their homage, as BJP workers helped maintain an orderly stream of mourners. Union ministers Prakash Javadekar, Anurag Thakur, Harsh Vardhan, Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad were next to reach the party office. Manipur governor Najma Heptulla and Jammu & Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik were also present.

Jaitley’s wife Sangeeta Jaitley, son Rohan Jaitley and other family members were seated in the large hall, alongside Shah and other BJP leaders.

Leaders from other political parties who paid a visit at the BJP headquarters included the DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, Sharad Yadav, Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh, and Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam.

“It is a personal loss to me. He [Jaitley] was also there to help Tamil Nadu whenever there was a need,” Panneerselvam said.

A four-time Rajya Sabha member, Jaitley was Cabinet minister in the government of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000. He was Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from June 2009 to 2014. BJP workers from many neighbouring states were among those who had gathered at the party office. Outside the party office, admirers chanted: “Jab tak suraj chand rahega Jaitley tera naam rahega” [Your name will last as long as the Sun and the Moon do]” and “Jaitley ji amar rahein” [Jaitley, may your name live forever].

The homage-paying at the BJP office came to a close around 1.14 pm. The funeral procession then made its way through a short route to Nigambodh Ghat.

Vice president Venkaiah Naidu, party veteran LK Advani, ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani and Narendra Tomar, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and former Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung were among thousands present at the cremation venue.

Britain’s high commissioner to India Sir Dominic Asquith and Israel’s envoy Ron Malka were among diplomats who visited Jaitley’s home to pay their respects earlier in the day.

A sombre moment came when vice president Naidu was seen holding back tears, covering his face with a white handkerchief, as he stood alongside defence minister Rajnath Singh. On Saturday, Naidu had cut short his visit to Gudur and Nellore in Andhra Pradesh to fly back to New Delhi soon after learning of Jaitley’s death.

Rain began falling moments before the last rites were performed by the departed leader’s son, Rohan Jaitley. Family members, guided by priests, performed a series of religious rituals, as hundreds jostled to catch a glimpse. A squad of Gorkha soldiers from the Indian Army presented a guard of honour before the pyre was lit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is abroad for the G7 meet and arrived in Paris on Sunday, had paid a solemn tribute to Jaitley on Saturday. He had said: “I cannot imagine that I am here in Bahrain while my dear friend Arun Jaitley is no more.”

First Published: Aug 25, 2019 23:53 IST