The last tributes paid to former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar were rich and heartfelt as leaders across the political spectrum expressed sorrow over a void that would be "difficult to fill in".
President APJ Abdul Kalam, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among those who recalled Shekhar's contribution to Indian politics.
Kalam, in a condolence message, remembered the former premier and MP from Ballia as a "veteran parliamentarian, secularist and socialist known for his convictions to the principles he believed in".
Noting that his services to the nation as Prime Minister and other capacities will always be remembered, the President said: "In his passing away the country has lost a personality who contributed to nation building." Shekhawat, a close friend of the late leader, said in the death of Shekhar, a strong votary of secularism and a fearless guard of democratic values has gone and the poor have lost their messiah.
"He was an exceptional politician with distinct virtues of public service...The country has lost a nation builder and a legendary personality," the Vice President said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had worked under Shekhar when he was at the helm of affairs, said the country had lost a distinguished son and a great patriot. "Chandra Shekharji was a truly secular nationalist, a man of the people, committed to their welfare and wellbeing. He belonged to a generation that felt deeply about the importance of ideals and idealism in politics," Singh said.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said of the man ruled the country for a brief seven months in 1990-91 but was considered one of the country's most respected politicians. "He always lived on his own terms in politics and spoke fearlessly against injustice. The best example of this was how he opposed his own leader (late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) during emergency."
"The country has lost a great politician and I have lost a personal friend who stood by me and always addressed me as Gurudev," Vajpayee said.
Another former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral said: "The contribution he made to our political life will be remembered. I have lost a very close friend." Veteran leader Nanaji Deshmukh said with Shekhar's demise an unparalled example of humanity had been lost. The nanogenarian was a general secretary of undivided Janata Party when Shekhar was its president.
Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee called Chandra Shekhar "a very respected friend, a long time colleague in Parliament and a great leader".
Steel Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who locked swords with Chandra Shekhar during the VP Singh Government at the Centre, said he rode the Indian political scenario for five decades like a colossus.
"He was a great fighter who rose to the highest position from the freedom struggle. He never compromised on his ideology," Paswan recalled. Recalling Chandra Shekhar's brief visit to Nepal during emergency, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) general secretary and spokesperson Debiprasad Tripathi said: "He actively supported the people's movement in Nepal.
Many leaders from Nepal, including those from the Maoist party, called me up to convey their regret at Chandra Shekhar's death. Some have informed me that they will be here for his funeral and last rites."