NEW DELHI: The national flag was flown at half mast throughout the country on Saturday as a mark of respect to the former Vice-President, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who passed away in Jaipur in the morning.
An official release said the tricolour would be flown at half mast in Rajasthan, on Sunday, the day of the funeral.
Leaders cutting across party lines paid rich tributes to Mr. Shekhawat who rose from humble beginnings to occupy one of the top constitutional positions in the country.
President Pratibha Patil said the departed leader was a personality who deeply understood the concerns and aspirations of the poorest of the poor as a result of his experiences early in life, when, due to his father's death, he gave up his education to support his family.
She recalled that he began his career as a farmer and later became a Sub-Inspector of police. He rose high in life through determination. “Till the end, he continued to interact with the people, which he enjoyed doing.”
Vice-President Hamid Ansari recalled that Mr. Shekhawat earned the respect and admiration of people for his dedication, sense of public service and innate simplicity. “His services to the country shall always be remembered.”
Describing Mr. Shekhawat as one of the tallest leaders that Rajasthan had produced, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his life epitomised hard work and commitment to public cause.
Noting that together with a few others, he defined a whole era in the Bharatiya Janata Party, Dr. Singh said his many qualities of head and heart included a liberal outlook and generosity of spirit. It was an exceptional courage of conviction, which led him to condemn the 1982 Deorala incident of Sati at a time when few in his party and the State were willing to speak out against it. “Shekhawatji's persona was one of rare charisma.”
The former Prime Minister and BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, BJP Parliamentary Party Chairman L.K. Advani, and party president Nitin Gadkari said the passing away of Mr. Shekhawat was a great loss for the party and the country.
Describing him as a mass leader attached to the grass roots, Mr. Vajpayee said: “I cannot bear this loss. His death has left me shocked.”
Mr. Advani recalled how Mr. Shekhawat stood by the then Bharatiya Jan Sangh in supporting Rajasthan government legislation for abolishing the “jagirdari” system and later ensured that the Antodaya scheme meant to reach the benefits of development to the last man in the queue was implemented in the right earnest.
Calling him a “stalwart” among the country's politicians, the former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) president, Deve Gowda, said Mr. Shekhawat, with his broad outlook and affable nature, won friends across the political and ideological spectrum.
In his death, the nation had lost an illustrious son, an able administrator and a statesman. Mr. Gowda said: “He never forgot his humble origins and worked throughout his life for the betterment of the poor, the downtrodden, the farmers and the rural population.”
Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav and Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee said he was an inspiration and strength for the poor and was highly sensitive to their concerns and aspirations.
The Communist Party of India noted that despite political and ideological differences, he was one of the universally respected leaders of the country.