New Delhi : The body of Chandra Shekhar, the man who rose from an impoverished childhood to become prime minister of India, was Monday consigned to the flames on the banks of the Yamuna near Rajghat – a cremation attended by the nation's political elite, socialist comrade-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 of their father before lighting it just after 5 p.m.
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 different units of the three defence services.
As it was cloudy, authorities overseeing the funeral arrangements decided not to take chances and built 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.
At the cremation site, army officers removed the tricolour and neatly folded it before they marched away for the religious ceremony to begin.
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. Anthony, Sharad Pawar, Shivraj Patil and Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi.
Three other 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.