New Delhi, March 27: President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday conferred Bharat Ratna, highest civilian award to former Prime Minister and veteran Parliamentarian Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In a departure from protocol, President visited Vajpayee personally at his Krishna Menon Marg residence and handed over the award.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the occasion and dubbed the day as 'historic' for crores of Indians. Modi heaped praise on President for defying protocol and handing over the award to Vajpayee, one of the founder member of BJP who is held in high esteem across the political spectrum.
Departing from convention,Rashtrapatiji is going to Atalji's residence to confer him the Bharat Ratna. This gesture reflects grace & dignity
Departing from convention,Rashtrapatiji is going to Atalji's residence to confer him the Bharat Ratna. This gesture reflects grace & dignity— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2015
The event, which was attended by Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh along with some close family members, was kept away from the media glare.
Vajpayee, who 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.
Vajpayee's detractors called him the "mask" of 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.
(with inputs from agency)