New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS) Hope and despair mingled as a large crowd of journalists, BJP supporters and commoners waited throughout a hot and humid Thursday to hear about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s health till a brief hospital statement ended it all.
“It is with profound grief that we inform about the sad demise of former Prime Minister Vajpayee,” the statement said.
The AIIMS lawns, pavements and driveways remained crowded as the who’s who of Indian politics made a beeline to the hospital that not only treats patients from across the country but also VIPs.
For reporters, it was a tough call: AIIMS aithorities followed a strict protocol on the health bulletins of Vajpayee. There was no background or off-the-record briefings. There were no selective leaks. The hospital authorities released two bulletins, one on how he continued to be on life support and another that he was no more.
The seven-hour gap between the two bulletins seemed too long as the suspense about the former Prime Minister’s condition continued.
The crowd of journalists swelled outside the block of Cardio Neuro Centre where Vajpayee was being treated.
Police had put up barricades outside the complex to prevent the crowd, including journalists and scores of BJP workers, from coming in.
Information-hungry reporters would run after any politician or a minister who was given access inside the complex to know what was happening. But the leaders, cutting across the political spectrum, kept mum, their faces signaling that all was not well.
There were moments of flutter when some TV channels prematurely flashed that Vajpayee was no more. Phones kept ringing and journalists had to convince their offices that nothing was announced — as yet.
The crowd of BJP supporters also kept building up. Some didn’t leave the premises for the entire day and many of them kept shouting slogans wishing a long life for Vajpayee. “Jab tak sooraj chand rahega, Atal ji ka naam rahega” was the leitmotif
Around 5 p.m., gates of nearby buildings were closed suddenly. A white high-end ambulance was parked outside the another gate of the Cardio Neuro Centre. Some of the journalists by this time had realized that ‘it’ was just an announcement away.
Then the cellphones buzzed. There was an AIIMS statement, stating the worst. There was no briefing.
The body wrapped in white was brought out on a stretcher and kept in the van. His family members, mostly expressionless with the loss of the patriarch, were accompanied by Union Minister Smriti Irani as they walked out of the complex and drove in a separate car to take the body for embalming before it was kept at his Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi.
The day ended with the worst fear coming true: India lost one of its tallest leaders, who had already faded from the public life more than a decade ago.