New Delhi : The body of Chandra Shekhar, who rose from an impoverished childhood to become India's prime minister, was Monday consigned to flames on the banks of the Yamuna river near Rajghat at a state funeral attended by the nation's political elite, socialist comrades-in-arms and hundreds of loyal followers of an essentially lonely politician.
Amid chanting of Vedic hymns and a 21-gun salute, Chandra Shekhar's sons Pankaj and Neeraj went around the funeral pyre before lighting it just after 5 p.m.
As the flames rose, many of his supporters raised slogans of "Long live Chandra Shekhar."
From the early hours of the morning, the capital saw a flood of people streaming in from far and wide including from Chandra Shekhar's hometown Ibrahimpatti in Uttar Pradesh's eastern district of Ballia where the former prime minister once trudged 10 km to go to school.
Chandra Shekhar, the country's eighth prime minister who headed a shaky minority government for just seven months in 1990-91, died Sunday after a long battle against bone cancer, a week after his 80th birthday.
His body was wrapped in the tricolour and placed on a specially erected platform as a band led the funeral procession followed by soldiers from the three defence services.
As it was cloudy, authorities overseeing the funeral arrangements decided to install a canopy over the cremation platform.
As the procession wound its way through its last journey, there were many wet eyes beyond the barricades. Some of his supporters wept as the funeral passed by.
Before the body was consigned to flames, wreaths were laid by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and union ministers A.K. Antony, Sharad Pawar, Shivraj Patil and Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.
Three former prime ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral, were also present at the funeral of a man who was widely respected but never had enough numbers to run a politically viable party. Ailing former prime minister V.P. Singh could not be present.
Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu were also present.
"We are now orphaned," Kamal Morarka, Chandra Shekhar's close aide and a minister in the cabinet he headed, told IANS – a sentiment that was echoed by many who had come from Ballia.
Ram Awadh Singh, a Ballia resident, said: "We always felt that we had a father figure in him. His presence gave us a sense of security."
Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, once a close associate of Chandra Shekhar, told IANS: "He was virtually the last of the leaders of a generation which is slowly fading away. He was what one can describe as last of the Mohicans."