Atal Bihari Vajpayee is alive, but social media was busy on Thursday with rumours of his death. Messages of condolences were doing the rounds of WhatsApp with people expressing shock and grief at the ‘passing’ of the former prime minister.
The messages turned out to be rumours – a part of the many that circulate like wildfire on social media in our times.
Vajpayee, who was the Prime Minister of India for three terms, is 93 and has been unwell ever since a stroke he suffered in 2009 which affected his speech.
Honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 2015, Vajpayee remains confined to a wheelchair. He also reportedly suffers from dementia and diabetes.
The 10-time Lok Sabha MP was last seen on TV when former president Pranab Mukherjee went to his home to confer India’s highest civilian honour on him.
The BJP stalwart is one of the few politicians who commands respect from even the staunchest critics of the saffron party.
This is not the first time that rumours around the death of the oldest living Indian PM has done the rounds of social media.
In 2015 a headmaster of a school in Odisha’s Balasore district was suspended by the state government for holding a condolence ceremony for Vajpayee following rumours of his death.
A similar incident had happened during the celebration of his birthday at a college in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh when floral tributes were paid and incense sticks were burned – things usually done to remember those who are deceased.
Born on 25 December 1924, Vajpayee was the first leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to hold the office of the PM. He was first elected to office as the 11th PM of India in 1996 but resigned in 13 days after failing to muster support.
He was again elected to power in 1998 but that government lasted for 13 months. Vajpayee was re-elected following the BJP’s victory in 1999 general elections. He remained the PM for the full term of 5 years till 2004.