Modi walks 6 km with cortege; pyre lit amid chanting, bugles

It was at about 4.45 pm when amid the chanting of Vedic mantras Vajpayee's daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the funeral pyre of the BJP stalwart.

New Delhi: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a wreath on the bier of former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, chants of “Modi Modi” rent the air at the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal in the national capital. The Prime Minister had walked the entire 6-km stretch from the BJP headquarters on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg to the cremation ground behind the cortege of the party’s tallest leader. After that cries of “Jai Shri Ram” reverberated as one of the leading architects of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Lal Krishna Advani, approcahed the coffin of his “closest friend of 65 years” to place a wreath and bid his final adieu.

The bugles sounded the Last Post, uniformed soldiers clicked their heels and a sombre silence fell over the crowd as Vajpayee’s mortal remains were consigned to the flames on Friday evening, with the sun setting on the life of a poet-politician who combined accommodative politics with graciousness.

It was at about 4.45 pm when amid the chanting of Vedic mantras Vajpayee’s foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the funeral pyre of the BJP stalwart. As orange flames rolled up from the pyre, Ms Bhattacharya and her daughter Niharika hugged each other with tears glistening through their eyes. There was also a light drizzle just minutes after the pyre was lit. And just before the veteran leader was consigned to the flames, 14 soldiers of the Gorkha Regiment fired thrice from their weapons to pay homage to the departed leader.

The picturesque Smriti Sthal also saw hectic activity as government officials gave the final touches to the canopy raised on a platform where Vajpayee was cremated. Fearing heavy rains, the officials had wanted to cover the area with iron sheets. But the paucity of time forced them to put up only two iron sheets over the iron structure, that was painted saffron hours before the cremation.

The cremation site had chief ministers, Opposition leaders, the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, several governors and a host of other dignitaries to bid a final adieu to the veteran BJP leader. President Ram Nath Kovind, vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, BJP president Amit Shah, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa and Navy chief Adm. Sunil Lanba laid wreaths.

Other attendees at the funeral included home minister Rajnath Singh and some of his Cabinet colleagues including Harsh Vardhan, Ram Vilas Paswan, Shripad Naik and Piyush Goyal. Many chief ministers, including Arvind Kejriwal, Yogi Adityanath, Nitish Kumar, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vijay Rupani, also attended the funeral. Among the foreign dignitaries present were Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali.

Other political leaders at the funeral included Congress president Rahul Gandhi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, BJP leaders Murli Manohar Joshi, Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal and Congress leader Raj Babbar.

Mr Gandhi, who arrived much before the PM, first sat next to Mr Badal. Later, he sat next to Dr Manmohan Singh. Those sitting in the front row were RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and some of Vajpayee’s relatives.

Before the cremation, Ms Sitharaman walked into the media gallery where she explained the proceedings of the cremation ceremony. Union ministers Hardeep Singh Puri and Smriti Irani, along with local MP Rambir Singh Bhiduri, were seen actively involved in preparations for the cremation.

At Vajpayee’s 6 Krishna Menon Marg residence, it was minister of state Gajender Shekhawat, BJP leader Bhupinder Yadav and MP Anurag Thakhur who were overseeing preparations for the funeral procession.

While a large number of politicians paid their homage to Vajpayee at his residence, poet-lyricist Javed Akthar and his wife Shabana Azami also visited the Krishna Menon Marg house. Among the last ones to pay homage to the veteran leader were the SPG personnel who had been guarding him for years. Like other visitors, they stood in a queue to bid adieu to the veteran leader.

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