The country, in particular the BJP, remembered former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as he turned 88 on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a host of BJP leaders visited the former PM’s residence to greet him even as the BJP organised blood donation camps and exhibitions dedicated to Vajpayee in the capital and elsewhere and also distributed blankets to the poor.
Later on Tuesday, an evening of sufi music was organised in the capital where leaders of the NDA parties gathered to talk about Vajpayee, the coalition builder. Earlier in the day, Manmohan Singh drove to Vajpayee’s 6A, Krishna Menon Marg residence and spent about 15 minutes with his predecessor who has been ailing for quite some time.
President Pranab Mukherjee sent a bouquet. BJP president Nitin Gadkari, BJP leaders L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, M Venkaiah Naidu, deputy speaker Kariya Munda were among Vajpayee’s early visitors.
A Vajpayee aide told Express that around 250 visitors met the former prime minister through the day.
“He received us with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes,” said BJP chief spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad after greeting Vajpayee. Though party leaders refused to talk about Vajpayee’s health, one of them said he recognizes people who have had long association with him. Vajpayee, he added, “has age-related problems”.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, Ananth Kumar, Vijay Goel, Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy were among the BJP leaders to meet Vajpayee. Chouhan used the occasion to demand the Bharat Ratna -- the nation’s highest civilian honour -- for Vajpayee.
The demand was reiterated by BJP leaders in the evening at the sufi concert. Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Ananth Kumar, and Vijay Goel extolled the virtues of Vajpayee’s statecraft while NDA partners like Akali Dal’s S S Dhindsa said Vajpayee was a true coalition builder.
Born in the family of a humble school teacher on Dec. 25, 1924, in Gwalior, Vajpayee began his career first as a poet, dabbled in journalism and later rose to become one of the most widely regarded political leaders of the country.