Nation Bids Farewell

The who’s who of Indian politics, foreign dignitaries and thousands of ordinary people came together to bid an emotional farewell to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee as flames from the cremation pyre at Smriti Sthal rose to consume the leader’s mortal remains.

Vajpayee’s last journey took place a full 14 years after he retired from politics. But the lag, despite this being an age of fickle memories, did not appear to dim the fondness for the man who loved the big stage and excelled on it, mesmerising with his inimitable oratory.

Led by PM Narendra Modi, the nation mourned the passing of the veteran. At the cremation, Vajpayee’s foster family huddled in grief as a 21-gun salute was fired after several dignitaries had stepped up to place wreaths on a funerary box draped in the tricolour.

Cries of “Bharat mata ki jai” mingled with Vedic chants as priests supervised the last rites while a billboard summed up Vajpayee’s life journey in his own words, “Har chunauti se do haath maine kiye, Aandhiyon mein jalaye hain bhujhte diye (I have grappled with every challenge, I have lit dying lamps in the midst of storms).”

Thousands of mourners shouted “Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Atal tera naam rahega” as soon as the Army gun carriage carrying Vajpayee’s body reached Smriti Sthal from the BJP headquarters. Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, senior party leaders, including Rajnath Singh and chief ministers, walked with the flower-decked vehicles with crowds gathering strength all along the way.

What stood out was the large number of common citizens who turned up first at Vajpayee’s Krishna Menon Marg residence through Thursday night and on Friday morning. The Metro station at ITO, near the BJP office, saw a steady stream of mourners seeking to catch a glimpse of the former PM lying in state.

Bugles sounded the Last Post just before the former prime minister was placed on the pyre of wooden blocks. Vajpayee’s foster granddaughter, Niharika, broke down as the fire rose.

Vajpayee was cremated a little after 4.30 pm and, once the VIPs had left the seats arranged in the front, hundreds of people walked around the pyre and were seen folding hands in tribute.

The enclosures for leaders and dignitaries were full with chief ministers and several leaders in the second row while President Ram Nath Kovind, vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu, Modi, Shah, BJP stalwart L K Advani, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan along with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Rahul Gandhi occupied the front.

Several foreign dignitaries, including Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bangladeshi foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Pakistani law minister Ali Zafar and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai were present as Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours.

No comments: