New Delhi, Nov. 9: K.R. Narayanan, who was President from 1997 to 2002, died today at the Army Research and Referral Hospital here at the age of 85.
He had been suffering from acute pneumonia and renal failure for the past 12 days.
Narayanan, the first Dalit to become President, died at 5.45 pm, leaving behind wife Usha and daughters Amrita and Chitra. He had been on life-support since October 31.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the hospital in the afternoon. On his death, Singh said: “Braving numerous hardships and difficulties in life and overcoming social prejudices, he emerged as one of the outstanding personalities of our country.”
The Prime Minister said Narayanan’s appointment as President in the golden jubilee year of Independence symbolised fulfilment of Mahatma Gandhi’s vision.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said: “I have known his high intellectual ability and admired his scholarly advice'. He was a scholar and author. I miss him.”
Narayanan’s term was eventful as he spoke with candour on economic liberalisation and nuclear proliferation.
Twice he returned cabinet recommendations for imposing President’s rule ' once during United Front rule and the second time under the Vajpayee government.
Narayanan, who bore the brunt of the caste system when he was a boy, wrote to then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on the Gujarat riots.
Those letters have become a bone of contention now as the Nanavati commission probing the riots has sought them, but the government is refusing to hand them over.
Once brought out in the open, the letters could be his legacy to an India in whose secularism he strongly believed.
The cremation will take place tomorrow evening near Jawaharlal Nehru’s samadhi.