New Delhi, A grateful nation bid a teary farewell to Bharat Ratna former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose mortal remains were consigned to flames with full state honours here on Friday evening.
Amid chanting of Vedic hymns, Vajpayee’s adopted daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya performed the last rites. She was joined by her daughter Niharika, who received the national flag which had been draped on the casket carrying the mortal remains of former Prime Minister.
As the chanting of peace Mantras began, the body of Vajpayee was taken to the funeral deck, where sandalwood pyre had been prepared. The funeral pyre was lit by Vajpayee’s daughter Namita at 1656 hours and a sea of moist eyed humanity bid final adieu to their beloved leader.
Gun salute was given by the armed forces as mourners chanted slogans ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ and ‘Atalji Amar Rahe’.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked visibly moved and could not conceal his emotions.
As the armed forces gave a gun salute to the departed leader, a pall of gloom descended over the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal.
The President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan laid floral wreaths on Vajpayee’s mortal remains.
The buglers sounded last post at 1614 hours as all dignitaries stood up to pay their last respect to the departed leader and observed two minutes silence.
Among the mourners included L K Advani, BJP chief Amit Shah, Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Sushma Swaraj, Harsh Vardhan, Assam Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Congress leaders Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Thambi Durai and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Among the foreign dignitaries were Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali and Napal Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali also laid wreaths.
Mr Vajpayee’s final journey to Rashtriya Smriti Sthal on the banks of river Yamuna began from the BJP headquarters at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, a nearly five-kilometre long route which was packed with people from all walks of life.
The funeral procession began at around 1400 hours and reached Smriti Sthal 90 minutes later.
Military truck which pulled the flower bedecked cortege in which Mr. Vajpayee’s body was placed waded through crowded road. In a rare gesture and putting all protocol norms at bay, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, looking sombre, walked a step behind the cortege. He was accompanied by BJP president Amit Shah and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.
Upon reaching the Smriti Sthal, the military cortege was escorted by slow marching columns of personnel drawn from the three services Army, Navy and Air Force walked ahead of the funeral procession.
The route of Mr. Vajpayee’s final journey was lined with thousands of mourners who showered rose petals on the cortege as it passed through ITO, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Netaji Subhash Marg before reaching Smriti Sthal. Not expecting the Prime Minister to walk along the entire route, mourners chanted “Atalji Amar Rahe’ and “Jab Tak Suraj Chand Rahega, Atalji ka Naam Rahega’.
The shower of rose petals was such that the entire cortege was covered with flowers.
Mobile phones were up in the air in the hands of people who wanted to click a final shot and capture the moment. The deluge of mourners, many old timers said, was something which the national capital had not seen before, a moving tribute to a politician who was poet at heart and whose appeal transcended the ideology of the party which he represented.
Security personnel, traffic policemen and the Special Protection Group (SPG) personnel had a tough time controlling the surging crowds. SPG men, tasked with protecting the Prime Minister, were seen instructing Delhi policemen to put up a rope barricade to prevent the surging crowd of mourners.
The three service chiefs Gen Bipin Rawat, Admiral Sunil Lanba and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa also paid their last respect.