The Congress in Gujarat remembered today former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a "statesman" who had adviced the then chief minister Narendra Modi to follow "rajdharma" during the 2002 communal riots.
Vajpayee died at the AIIMS hospital in Delhi this evening at 93 following prolonged illness.
"Vajpayee was a tall leader. He was a personality who can advice his party colleague to follow 'rajdharma'. He was a person who while being in the Opposition, could praise prime minister Indira Gandhi," said Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani.
Gujarat unit Congress president Amit Chavda said the country has lost a father figure who always worked to ensure that 'rajdharma' (duty of rulers) was adhered to.
In his autobiography, former President Pranab Mukherjee wrote that the Gujarat riots were "possibly the biggest blot" on the Vajpayee's government that could have cost the BJP the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Vajpayee had contested and won Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat in 1996.
He was also instrumental in ensuring a patch-up between the then chief minister Keshubhai Patel and BJP leader Shankersinh Vaghela who had rebelled in 1996.
As prime minister, Vajpayee had visited the riot-hit Gujarat in the first week of April 2002 and gone to the camps housing the victims of riots.
He later told a press conference at the city airport that an elected chief minister should follow his 'rajdharma'.
The then Chief minister and incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was sitting beside Vajpayee, then told the latter that he was indeed following his "rajdharma".
In his reply to Modi, Vajpayee had said, "Mujhe vishwash hai ke Modiji bhi wohi kar rahe hai," (I am confident that Modi is doing that).
In his long political innings, Vajpayee had visited Gujarat, which had earned the tag of the laboratory of Hindutva, on many occasions.
Vaghela, who had served as the president of the Gujajart BJP unit in 1990s, recalled today the simplicity of Vajpayee who used to visit BJP leaders during the formative years of the saffron party.
Vaghela, who had represented Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency in 1989, said the BJP wanted a safe seat for Vajpayee, who eventually contested from Gandhinagar in 1996 and won.
Vaghela, a former chief minister, also claimed it was was Vajpayee who came to meet him after he broke away from the BJP in 1996, and asked him to rejoin the party.
"However, some elements in the BJP and the VHP had opposed Vajpayee for allowing me to return to the BJP fold and blocked passage of his car in Gandhinagar," Vaghela claimed.
He said Vajpayee was a politician of a different league "who was a core Hindu sans any malice for Muslims and Christians".