Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a statesman who endeared himself to people across the political spectrum, was on Friday conferred with Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award at a special function at his residence.
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 he is ailing and has been out of public life for about eight years.
The brief event took place in the presence of select dignitaries including Vice President Md. Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and close family members that included his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and foster daughter Namita.
The citation read out at the occasion described Vajpayee as a statesman known for a subtle sharpness that engages, attracts and brings many together. In his six decade long political career, five of which in Parliament, Vajpayee was elected to Lok Sabha 10 times and twice to Rajya Sabha.
Considered the moderate face of BJP, he has been credited with taking bold initiatives for forging good ties with Pakistan which included 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.
The Prime Minister Narendra 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 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.
PM Narendra 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 “Vajpayee ji does not go out on account of his health reasons.”
The honour is 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.
A veteran Parliamentarian, he was not only a leader of India but left an indelible imprint on the whole world, Jaitley said, adding, “it is an occasion of joy for each one of us.”
The citation also said that Vajpayee was a true leader, undeterred by colleagues and opposition leaders alike and always followed his instinct and heart in initiating diplomatic dialogues with Pakistan.
“His efforts are deemed as a defining moment in Indo-Pak relations,” it said.
“This element of original and individualistic thinking helped in building a vision of India both futuristic, yet stable . . . . Shri Vajpayee made this apparent not only with the importance he gave to foreign diplomacy, but in leading India to conduct nuclear tests in Pokhran in May 1998. His example, both in politics and other wise, embodies the need for coexistence coupled with cultivating for the nation a strong sense of self,” it said.
The citation read that Vajpayee represents a moderating influence against polemic by encouraging dialogue. “He is quietly a persuasive voice, a quality as much valued in politics and grand negotiations, as in our everyday lives.
“A great orator and poet-leader, he moves not just his followers, but also an entire nation to walk with him, and work with him,” it read.
It said Vajpayee held a broad-based coalition together, setting the norms for an inclusive political landscape to govern India for years to come.