A young man from Uttar Pradesh rode a scooter, another flew in from Tamil Nadu. Some travelled by trains and buses and there were many who did it all to reach Delhi in time to pay their last respects to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Separated by distance, these men and women were united by their admiration for the former prime minister, who died yesterday at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences after prolonged illness.
Not alone in their endeavour, they found thousands of other people who had come to the national capital to pay their homage.
Aakash Kumar, 25, rode his scooter from Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh, covering a distance of around 70 km. He said Vajpayee’s “Kaal ke kapaal pe likhta aur mitaata hoon” is his favourite poem. “I was probably in Class 3 or 4, when I heard one of his speeches and got drawn towards him. I really liked his poems,” Aakash Kumar told PTI.
Chinnaiah Nadesan (45), along with his friend Ganesan (38), had taken a flight from Chennai last night to reach Delhi. After he landed at the airport at around 4.30 am, he headed straight to 6A Krishna Menon Marg – Vajpayee’s residence where his mortal remains were kept for people to pay their last respects.
Clad in a white shirt and mundu, worn around the waist, and topped by an angavastram, Nadesan said he is a naturalist as he stood barefoot on the road outside the residence. “Achcha politician, achcha parliamentarian, pure man,” he said in a mix of Hindi and English after paying his homage.
An astonishing size of crowd from various parts of the country had gathered in Delhi to pay their homage in a significant demonstration of national unity and solidarity. Amid sultry weather conditions, thousands also walked along the seven-km-long route from the BJP headquarters to Rastriya Smriti Sthal, where Vajpayee’s last rites were to be performed. Along the route, some showered petals on the carriage.
But Aakash Kumar, standing outside the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters, said he had been waiting for hours to see Vajpayee for the last time. “The flowers I have brought have dried up in this heat,” he said. Accompanied by his wife, he said he had also brought the holy Ganga water from Gangotri for Vajpayee.
Yogesh Kumar (52) came from Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand with a group of people. The group covered a distance of nearly 500 kilometres overnight. “I met Vajpayee Ji in 1984 when he visited Uttarkashi en route to Gangotri. He visited the town once again in 1986,” Yogesh Kumar said, displaying a photograph of him with Vajpayee.
Sonu Gupta (32) drove his auto from Patel Nagar in Central Delhi to the Krishna Menon Marg residence. “I came in my own auto but had to leave it near Central Secretariat Metro station due to traffic regulations. I think I must have walked over 1.5 km to reach here,” he said, holding a red-coloured bouquet.
Shivshakti Singh (23) is preparing for civil services and lives in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar. A native of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Singh had to wait in a queue for hours. “I was impressed by his personality as prime minister. He led India and made it a nuclear weapons state in the face of opposition from the US. His statesmanship and poetic skills were impressive,” Singh added.
Umesh Shrivastava (47) came from Dewas in Madhya Pradesh with his friend Chandra Shekhar Malviya (36). “We tried to get reservation in train but did not get. There was no other way, so we decided to take a flight,” Shrivastava said.
Waiting outside the BJP office for hours had taken a toll him. His friend said the man had fainted and was helped by people around him. “It has been 30 years. I was a teenager when I was first attracted by Atal Ji’s speech. After that I went to Bhopal, Indore and Ujjain to hear him whenever he visited the areas,” he said.
Shrivastava and Malviya said they are associated with the party at the district level. Another man, in his 20s, said he had come from Bihar to pay homage to the former prime minister. “I believe we have lost a great leader in him,” he said.