Veteran Parliamentarian and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, founder member of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today received the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award, which was conferred by President Pranab Mukherjee.
In a departure from protocol, President Mukherjee drove to AB Vajpayee’s residence at Krishna Memon marg in Lutyens’ Delhi and presented to the ailing BJP leader the prestigious award.
Vajpayee, who is held in high esteem across the political spectrum, 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.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s detractors called him the “mask” of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (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.
An orator par excellence and known for taking bold initiatives, Vajpayee was widely respected within the country and abroad as a statesman of the genre of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Vajpayee’s tenure from 1998-99 as prime minister saw his boldness as during this period India conducted a series of successive nuclear tests at Pokhran in May 1998.
He always wanted to improve relations with Pakistan ever since he became foreign minister in the Morarji Desai Government in the late seventies.
After the Lahore bus peace overtures failed to move forward, another initiative was the historic Agra summit with General Pervez Musharraf in 2001 but that too made little headway.
A bachelor and a poet of some repute, Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh to Krishna Bihari Vajpayee and Krishna Devi, a high-caste Brahmin family.
With his Parliamentary career spanning over five decades, Vajpayee was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1957 on Bhartiya Jan Sangh ticket.
Since its inception, 43 people including former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bhadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi besides singing legend Lata Mangeshkar and the batting mastreo have received the prestigious award.
The President will also confer the Bharat Ratna on Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (posthumously) on March 30, 2015 at Rashtrapati Bhavan along with the Civil Investiture Ceremony for the Padma Awards, it said.