Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has died following a prolonged illness, according to a hospital statement.

A Hindu nationalist from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vajpayee had been hospitalised since June with a kidney infection and chest congestion.

Reports emerged on Thursday morning that Vajpayee was in a critical condition after India’s top politicians visited the 93-year-old in New Dehli’s All India Institute of Medical Science.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited Vajpayee on Wednesday, paid tribute to his party’s former leader in a series of statements on Twitter on Thursday, saying Vajpayee had built the BJP “brick by brick”.

“He travelled across the length of and breadth of India to spread the BJP’s message, which led to the BJP becoming a strong force in our national polity and in several states,” he said.

Vajpayee served as India’s Prime Minister three times: for 13 days in 1996, 11 months in 1998 to 1999 and then from 1999 to 2004.

During his presidency, Vajpayee frequently courted controversy, drawing criticism in 2002 over remarks which appeared to equate Islam with violence.

“In Indonesia, Malaysia, wherever Muslims are living they don’t want to live in harmony,” he told a public rally in Goa.

At the same event, he blamed riots that were taking place in Gujarat on Muslims, saying that the anti-Muslim violence that followed was a warranted response to a fire allegedly set by Muslims.

He later claimed he was quoted out of context.

He was also a key figure in the development of India’s nuclear programme, ordering weapons tests in 1998, which stoked fears of an atomic war with neighouring Pakistan, which also tested a nuclear device in response.

However, he was later involved in a groundbreaking peace process with Islamabad.

Vajpayee retired from politics in 2005 and was rarely seen in public in recent years, having suffered a stroke in 2009.

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