NEW DELHI: Former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee was conferred the country’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, at a special function at his residence on Friday.
In a rare departure from protocol, President Pranab Mukherjee, himself a veteran parliamentarian, drove to Vajpayee’s residence at Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyens’ Delhi to confer the honour at a simple ceremony as the latter is ailing and has been out of public life.
The brief event took place in the presence of select dignitaries including Vice-President Hamid Ansari, PM Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and close family members that included his foster daughter Namita and foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.
The citation read out at the occasion described Vajpayee as a statesman known for a subtle sharpness that engaged, attracted and brought many together. In his six-decade-long political career, five of them in Parliament, Vajpayee was elected to Lok Sabha 10 times and twice to Rajya Sabha.
Prime minister from 1998 to 2004, Vajpayee has faded from public life due to age-related illness. The event was kept out of media glare.
Considered the moderate face of BJP, he has been credited with taking bold initiatives for forging good ties with Pakistan which included a historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999 when he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with Nawaz Sharif with both sides pledging to push for peace and security.
After the presentation of award, a tea was hosted for a select group of leaders who were invited for the function that included former President A P J Abdul Kalam, former PM Manmohan Singh, BJP leader L K Advani, Arun Jaitley, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav and chief ministers Parkash Singh Badal (Punjab), Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (Jammu and Kashmir), N Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan).
Modi said, “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 Vajpayeeji is an inspiration. The upcoming generations will continue to be inspired by him. I will pray to god that Bharat Ratna awardee Vajpayeeji’s life continues to inspire and guide us forever,” he said after the function.
Modi also thanked the President for his gesture to honour Vajpayee at his residence saying, “I express my gratitude to the President who himself came here and personally bestowed upon him, the Bharat Ratna award.”
“It is a historic day for crores of Indians today when Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being given Bharat Ratna award,” he later tweeted.
After the ceremony which lasted for about 30 minutes, Jaitley told reporters that Bharat Ratna was conferred at the BJP leader’s residence as “Vajpayeeji does not go out on account of health reasons”.
The honour was in recognition of his services to the country as a “powerful nationalist leader, one of the longest serving parliamentarians, a poet and a thinker who was not only leader of his own party but of the entire country”, he said.