It’s rarely that the president of India drives down to confer honours, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in a league of his own.
In a departure from protocol, President Pranab Mukherjee travelled to Mr Vajpayee’s residence at Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi and presented India’s highest civilian award to the three-time prime minister of India, a living legend and the charismatic politician-statesman who towers above ideologies and partisan agendas.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh were also present on the occasion
Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, politician across the spectrum and some close family members were also present on the occasion.
The bestowal of Bharat Ratna on Vajpayee caps decades of a multi-hued career, and is a fitting tribute, however belated, to an outstanding politician-statesman, who is esteemed and admired by friends and detractors alike.
“Departing from convention, Rashtrapatiji is going to Atalji’s residence to confer him the Bharat Ratna, this reflects gesture and dignity,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said via twitter. He hailed it as a historic day for millions of Indians.
“Atalji’s life was dedicated to the nation, he lived and thought for the nation for every second. In India there are crores of workers like me in whose life Vajpayee ji is an inspiration.
“The upcoming generations will continue to be inspired by him. I will pray to God for this only that Bharat Ratna Awardee Vajpayee ji’s life continues to inspire and guide us forever,” he said after the function.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh hailed Vajapayee as an international icon. “Atalji’s name evokes a sense of respect and reverence in every heart, adding that it is a matter of immense happiness for the whole country that Vajpayee is being bestowed with the Bharat Ratna.”
“This a proud moment for the country and all of us. He is a stalwart of the country. He is a leader par excellence who has worked tirelessly in the interest of the nation,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
“In this country, I think there would be very few people like him who are good orator, political leader, thinker and poet. We pray for his good health and long life,” Jaitley added.
A towering political personality, Mr Vajpayee, known for his dazzling oratory, formidable diplomatic skills, and political acumen, successfully led the first non-Congress government for a full five-year term. He headed the first NDA government as the 11th Prime Minister of India, first for 13 days in 1996, second time for 13 months from 1998-mid 1999, and then from 1999 to 2004.
Mr Vajpayee, 90, is the seventh prime minister to receive the Bharat Ratna award, after Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Gulzarilal Nanda.
For once, ideological and partisan bickering was out; there was rejoicing across the spectrum for the conferral of the honour on the leader-statesman who is fondly esteemed by his admirers as ‘Swadeshi Nehru,’
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who sparred with Vajpayee and his party many a time, hailed Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, saying it is a “fitting recognition” to his wisdom, statesmanship and deep commitment to national interest.
“Your broad and large hearted vision, your patriotism and eloquent oratory have always embraced the entire political spectrum and all sections of our society,” Gandni said in a letter to Vajpayee.
“It is a fitting recognition of your statesmanship, wisdom, and deep commitement to the national interests during your Prime Ministership and indeed throughout your years in politics”, she said.
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah, who served as Minister of State in Vajpayee’s cabinet, pointed out that his father Farooq Abdullah had suggested to the UPA government to award Vajpayee with Bharat Ratna. “Better late than never. NDA has done it and my heartfelt congratulations to Vajpayee Sahib and his family on the day he receives the Bharat Ratna. It was an honour to serve under him,” Abduallah said.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was among the chosen few present in the lawns of Vajpayee’s residence, described him as one of the tallest visionary statesmen of the country.
The Bharat Ratna award should uplift the spirits of Mr Vajpayee, who has been ailing for many years, and celebrated his 90th birthday on December 25 last year. The Modi government has announced that it will celebrate the birthday of Mr Vajpayee as Good Governance Day.
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