Prez confers Bharat Ratna on ailing Vajpayee

New Delhi: Veteran Parliamentarian and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, founder member of BJP who is held in high esteem across the political spectrum, was today conferred with Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, by President Pranab Mukherjee

In a departure from protocol, Mukherjee drove to Vajpayee’s residence at Krishna Memon marg in Lutyens’ Delhi and presented to the ailing BJP leader the prestigious award, the country’s highest civilian honour.

The event, which was attended by Vice President Hamid Ansari, prime minister Narendra Modi and Home minister Rajnath Singh along with some close family members, was kept away from the media glare.

Vajpayee, who was prime minister from 1998 to 2004, and has faded from public life due to age-related illness, is lauded as a statesman and has been often described as the moderate face of BJP.

He has been credited with taking bold initiatives, notable among them being the historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999 when he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with prime minister Nawaz Sharif with both sides pledging to push for peace and security.

Later, a tea party was hosted in the lawns of the residence which was attended by union ministers and state chief ministers including Jammu and Kashmir’s Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

The announcement for a Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee, the first prime minister from outside the Congress party to serve a full five-year term, came on December 24, a day before he turned 90.

Vajpayee’s detractors called him the “mask” of RSS but still always had good words for him.

Regarded as one of the most charismatic leaders, he was lauded as a statesman politician whose acceptability across the board broke barriers and brought BJP to centre stage of politics in the late 1990s after the demolition of Babri Masjid.

The prime minister expressed his happiness over the award that was conferred on Vajpayee by the President and said he was leader who had dedicated his entire life for the nation.

“One who dedicated his life, such Mother India’s dear son, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we have got the privilege to confer the Bharat Ratna Award on him today.

“I express my gratitude to the President who himself came here and personally bestowed upon him, the Bharat Ratna award.

“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.

Emerging from Vajpayee’s residence, Finance minister Arun Jaitley told reporters that Bharat Ratna was conferred on the former prime minister by the President at a brief ceremony because of “Vajpayee does not go out on account of his health reasons.”

The honour is in recoognition 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 leader of his own party but of the entire country,” he said.

A veteran parliamentarian, he was not only a leader of India but of the whole world. He left an indelible imprint as a philosopher, poet and prime minister, Jaitley said, adding, “it is an occasion of joy for each one of us.”

He said the function held at Vajpayee’s residence was on behalf of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, BJP patron L K Advani, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, Chief Ministers Prakash Singh Badal (Punjab), Vasundhra Raje (Rajasthan), Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh) and N Chnadrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh) besides JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav were among those present.