The young and old, men and women, some with children, collected outside the gates of the BJP headquarters, anxious for a last glimpse of the late leader before the state funeral at the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal on the banks of the Yamuna later in the day. Some clambered on a neem tree outside the BJP headquarters for a better look, desperate to be part of the proceedings but unable to get inside. Two big LED screens were placed outside the office.
Inside, Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and a host of ministers and party workers paid their last respects to the late leader, mourned by them and the opposition as one of India’s tallest leaders. The air was solemn as Vajpayee’s body, draped in the tricolour, was placed on a platform draped in white flowers. Hundreds of people filed past the body in silence, with a large portrait of a smiling Vajpayee — a BJP flag on either side — in the backdrop.
Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali were among the foreign dignitaries who arrived here to pay their last respects to the former prime minister.
Sri Lanka’s Acting Foreign Minister Lakshman Kiriella, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Pakistan’s acting information minister Syed Zafar Ali and a senior minister from Afghanistan are also expected to arrive later in the day, official sources said.
Opposition leaders like CPI’s D Raja and CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury were among those who visited the BJP headquarters to pay their respects.
Earlier in the morning, hundreds of people chanted “Atal Bihari Amar Rahe” as Vajpayee’s cortege made its way from his home through the city to reach the BJP office.
Mourners walked and ran beside the carriage, also chanting slogans like ‘Jab tak sooraj chand rahega Atal ji ka naam rahega”, punctuated by patriotic cheers of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’.
A decorated gun carriage carrying his mortal remains had left his home on Krishna Menon Marg around 10 am and reached the party’s headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, about five kilometres away, around 11 am.
Seen as a moderate face of BJP, Vajpayee first became prime minister in 1996, leading a shaky coalition whose members were suspicious of the BJP’s right-wing politics. It lasted for 13 days and collapsed after losing a vote of no-confidence. His second stint as prime minister was in 1998 when the National Democratic Alliance again came to power but that lasted for just 13 months. Finally, the NDA with Vajpayee as PM returned to power in 1999 and was voted out in 2004.
The central government has declared a half-day holiday today while some states have declared full-day holiday in view of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s death. Roads to avoid. A seven-day state mourning has been announced by the Centre and the national flag would fly at half-mast from today for seven days across India. The half holiday stands for all central government offices, central public sector undertakings across the country and the Delhi government offices. The West Bengal government has declared a half-day holiday today. In Goa, all government offices, public sector undertakings and educational institutions will also remain closed.