Cutting across party lines, the tallest leader of state politics and the Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, who always valued and practised secular credentials, was cremated with full state honours at his native village of Badal in Muktsar district in southwest Punjab.
His death at the age of 95 on Tuesday evening marked the end of an era of 70 years in Punjab's politics.
In political circles, Badal, the country's oldest politician -- next only to BJP veteran L.K. Advani -- was known as the 'Baba Bohr' (banyan tree) of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
He is survived by son and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and daughter Parneet Kaur and grandchildren. He lost his life-partner, Surinder Kaur, in 2011.
His son lit the pyre. As the bugle sounded, a pall of silence descended at the cremation ground before police personnel fired shots into the air as a mark of respect to the departed leader.
The elderly Badal entered politics at the age of 20 when he got elected as the sarpanch of Badal in 1947, the village that remained his native place despite being election as the Chief Minister five times. And for the villagers the veteran leader was their sarpanch till he breathed his last.
The cremation was held at the family's kinnow farm where a raised platform was erected for performing the last rites. The farm was raised by the elderly Badal himself.
Scores of dignitaries from all political spectrum and supporters flooded his native place early in the morning where former Chief Minister's body was kept to catch a last glimpse of the late leader.
Amid 'Shabad Kirtan', his body, kept in a flower-decked tractor-trailer, was taken in a procession to the nearby agricultural field for a state funeral.
A stoic Sukhbir Singh Badal, often consoled by his 'estranged' cousin Manpreet Badal, along with his wife Harsimrat Kaur and his three children acknowledged the tributes of hundreds of people, some tearful, who came to pay respect to the elderly Badal, whose mortal remains were brought from Chandigarh on late Wednesday evening at their residence.
Under the helm of senior Badal, SAD made history in 1997 by becoming the first non-Congress party to complete its first full term in office since Independence.
It repeated its feat in 2007 and 2012 in alliance with the BJP.
BJP national President J.P. Nadda, Union Ministers Hardeep Puri and Som Parkash, Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Ministers Bhagwant Mann and Ashok Gehlot, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Hooda, National Congress leader Omar Abdullah, Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, former union minister Praful Patel, among others, attended the cremation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday reached Chandigarh to pay his last respects to the patriarch where his body was kept for public to pay their respects.
Modi had, on Tuesday, described the demise of Badal as a "personal loss" and said he was a colossal figure of Indian politics who contributed greatly to the nation.
Congress leader and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a letter to Sukhbir Badal, expressed his deepest condolences and acknowledged his contributions for the welfare of farmers and weaker sections.
For local villages, the elderly Badal was their mass leader who had always remained attached with his roots despite his political aura.
"I am the third generation of my family who has been associated with bade (elder) Badal saab since he won the first election (of sarpanch)," remarked an emotional local villager Davinder Bhullar.
"He always participated in all ceremonies in this area be it a marriage or death in a family, despite his preoccupation in politics," he said, adding "he knew everyone by name and call with respect".
"Punjab has lost a great visionary leader. He always stood like a rock for the interests of Punjab and Punjabiyat," said another mourner Nachattar Singh Gill.
Badal was once the youngest sarpanch of India. He became the legislator at 30 and the Chief Minister at 43.
Political observers told IANS that during his stints as the Chief Minister from 1997 to 2002 and then two successive stints from 2007 to 2017, Badal had missed no opportunity to tour villages and towns to meet the people through Sangat Darshan programme, which were quite hit from 2012 to 2017, to boost his public image.
Badal believed that the Sangat Darshan programmes have also been instrumental in mitigating the woes of common people at their doorsteps.
Throughout his political career, Badal, who had once compared Prime Minister Modi to former US President Abraham Lincoln, had always expressed "immense satisfaction and pride" over the strong and principled stand taken by his party, the SAD, "to save the beleaguered peasantry and the country".
Every morning the towering 6'2" personality got up before dawn and started with people and called it a day with the public.
His belief was: "Respect the people and take them seriously, not only those who have voted for the government, but all the people."
In his public addresses, he often claimed of spending 17 years in jail for the sake of people of Punjab and their rights.
Under the helm of senior Badal, the Akali Dal made history in 1997 by becoming the first non-Congress party to complete its first full term in office since Independence. It repeated its feat in 2007 and 2012.
The Akali Dal-BJP (earlier Jana Sangh) pact was once described as the oldest and strongest alliance in Indian politics. No other coalition has weathered so many political battles since March 27, 1970, when Badal became the Chief Minister for the first time.
But the Akali Dal snapped its over two-decade long ties and pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in September 2020 after sharp differences emerged over the three controversial farm laws, now repealed.
Badal's party, which is just six years elder to him, came into being on December 14, 1920, to free gurdwaras from the control of mahants (priests) appointed by the British government.
The Akali Dal, which aligned with the Congress during the pre-Independence period, is toeing its 'panthic' ideology to safeguard the interests of Sikhs. It was set up a month after the formation of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).