New Delhi : At a simple brief ceremony president Pranab Mukherjee conferred Bharat Ratna — the nation’s highest civilian honour — on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In a break from tradition, Mukherjee went to the 90-year old Vajpayee’s residence for the ceremony, given the fact that the iconic leader has been away from public gaze for several years due to ill-health.
But the presentation of the award was a moment to savour. A Rashtrapati Bha-wan communique said that vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari, prime minister Narendra Modi, former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, union home minister Rajnath Singh, senior members of the cabinet, several chief ministers, leaders of political parties, members of Vajpayee’s family and other dignitaries were present on the occasion. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent in congratulatory messages. “I thank the President for personally conferring the Bharat Ratna on Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Atal-ji is an inspiration for so many Indians like me,” said Modi.
The recommendation for the Bharat Ratna is made by the prime minister to the President, and Vajpayee, a three-time prime minister, was the first one to fulfill the BJP’s ambition of having one of its own in that position. Always projected as the model leader, the party celebrates his birthday – December 25 – as Good Governance Day.
The announcement of his award came a day before — on December 24.
All BJP leaders showered high praise on Vajpayee but it was the admiration from rivals like Sharif and Gandhi that added to the glitter of his persona. In a congratulatory message Sharif said: “Your stature in Indian politics and your supreme ability to strike a personal chord with people through your exemplary oratory and poetry allowed you to rule over the hearts of your compatriots over the years. By way of the warm and cooperative relationship that you and I have had during our contemporary prime ministership, I can vouch for this respect and adulation that you have been receiving from your people. Without your cooperation and support the Delhi-Lahore Dosti bus service would not have been on its wheels.”
Felicitating him on the honour Gandhi said: “It is a fitting recognition of your statesmanship, wisdom and deep commitment to the national interest during your prime ministership, and indeed throughout your years in politics. Your broad and large hearted vision, your patriotism and eloquent oratory have always embraced the entire political spectrum and all sections of our society.”