New Delhi: Among thousands of anxious BJP supporters gathered at the party headquarters on a humid Friday to pay tributes to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, there were a few who believed that the former Prime Minister’s distinctive character lay not in political conquests, but in his being “charmingly apolitical.”
K.S. Sheshadri came from Bengaluru. A senior government official in Karnataka, he said Vajpayee always placed the country above party politics. “There have been many big leaders in the country, but they have put their party’s political interests above the country’s. Vajpayee’s demeanour and the decisions he took as Prime Minister never let us feel that he was a politician. He was a statesman; essentially an apolitical person,” Sheshadri said.
He said he did his best to reach Delhi “in time” on hearing the passing away of Vajpayee.
“I always looked up to him, but never got a chance to see him. Today, I feel fortunate that I saw him, though at a time when he is no more,” he said.
Like Sheshadri, there were many who came from various parts of the country. Braving Delhi’s humidity for hours, their only objective was to see Vajpayee.
Till about 9 a.m. Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, where the BJP headquarters is located, had only a few policemen engaged in security preparation. As the clock ticked, people started pouring in and the crowd soon swelled to thousands.
Among them were youths, women and old men, who started raising slogans such as ‘Atal ji amar rahe’ (Long live Atal ji), ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’. They held placards with snatches of Vajpayee’s poetry and speeches.
At 11 a.m. when Vajpayee’s mortal remains were brought, the tempo of the slogans rose rapidly.
Packed to the last corner, the foreground of the headquarters could not accommodate all of them. The police had to close the gates with thousands of them left to chant slogans from outside.
The police had a tough time managing the crowd, which wanted to enter the BJP office. Many ran out of patience and started jumping over the gate, which led to a mild scuffle with the police.
“We expected a large crowd and hastily made arrangements,” said a senior BJP leader. “We managed the crowd of our supporters satisfactorily even though there were some hitches. I must thank our disciplined activists for doing as much as they could,” he said.
Deepmala, who came from Darjeeling, questioned how she can be denied “darshan” of Vajpayee.
“We considered Atal ji as one of us. He has a national appeal. I will not go home without his darshan,” she insisted.
Inside the hall where Vajpayee’s body was kept, the atmosphere was sombre as ministers, politicians and celebrities united in their grief over the leader’s loss.
As the procession for the final rites began around 2 p.m., the slogans became louder.
To capture moments with their leader for the last time, as the procession started to move towards Smriti Sthal, BJP supporters took out their smart phones and clicked selfies near the casket where Vajpayee’s body was kept.
“I am not sure if the country would witness such an extraordinary leader again,” said 70-year old Arun Kumar, his eyes welling up.