Vajpayee turns 87, BJP demands Bharat Ratna for him (Second Lead)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW - Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee turned 87 Saturday and top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders greeted him on the occasion and demanded that the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, be conferred upon the party patriarch.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vajpayee’s Krishna Menon Marg residence in the national capital with a bouquet to greet him. The prime minister inquired about the health of Vajpayee from his family members.

Senior BJP leaders, including former BJP president Rajnath Singh, took along bouquets and presents to wish Vajpayee on his birthday.

Later, speaking to reporters, Rajnath Singh said: “Today is the birthday of Atalji. I pray to god that he should be healthy,” and added that the government should honour him with the Bharat Ratna for his contribution to the country.

BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain termed the former prime minister as the “tallest leader” in Asia and also asked that he should be conferred the Bharat Ratna.

“All should rise above party affiliations to support him for the honour,” he said.

Senior party leader Jaswant Singh also greeted Vajpayee at his residence.

The city unit of the party also organised religious prayers in parts of the capital to mark Vajpayee’s birthday.

Lucknow, which till 2009 was represented in the Lok Sabha by the former prime minister, witnessed mass feasts, recitation of verses from the Ramayana and cultural events by the BJP cadres to mark the birthday. Vajpayee represented the constituency for five consecutive terms.

“He is a great leader and will continue to inspire the citizens of the country even if he remains out of active politics,” BJP leader and Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma told reporters here.

An 87-kg laddu was distributed to supporters in Lucknow.

“After offering prayers for the longevity of our leader at the Hanuman temple, the laddu was distributed among the public. We also distributed clothes, food and sweets to the poor and downtrodden across the state,” said BJP leader Lalji Tandon, who now represents the Lucknow constituency.

BJP activists also lighted 87 ‘diyas’, or earthen lamps, at a temple.

The BJP, meanwhile, has decided to compile Vajpayee’s speeches, poems, interviews and writings and then convert them into digital format.

Vajpayee has not been keeping well these days and has been out of politics for some time now.

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