Did he walk the talk? He did walk the walk

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah walked 5km in the scorching sun behind Atal Bihari Vajpayee's hearse, accompanied by BJP leaders, seeking to pay an "extraordinary tribute" and make a point.

By J.P. YADAV
  • Published 18.08.18
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Modi reads a placard that says “Miss You Atal Ji” as he walks behind Vajpayee’s hearse. (PTI)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah walked 5km in the scorching sun behind Atal Bihari Vajpayee's hearse, accompanied by BJP leaders, seeking to pay an "extraordinary tribute" and make a point.

Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours at the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal. His foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya lit the funeral pyre, with foreign leaders and politicians cutting across party lines in attendance. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was present. BJP supporters and workers chanted: "Atalji amar rahen", "Bharat mata ki jai" and " Jai Shri Ram".

The foster daughter lighting the pyre, defying the Hindu tradition of the son or a male relative doing so, was seen as a bold move by many.

But it was the Modi-Shah combine that sought to steal the show. The two took everyone by surprise when they started walking as Vajpayee's cortege began its last journey, from the BJP's new headquarters on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg.

Accompanied by some other leaders, who were forced to walk when the party's top two hit the road, Modi and Shah covered the 5km distance to Smriti Sthal in one-and-a-half hours. All the way, the TV cameras were focused on them. The crowd around raised slogans of "Atalji amar rahen."

BJP leaders said that by walking the long stretch, Modi and Shah had paid an "extraordinary tribute" and silenced critics who had highlighted Vajpayee's advice after the 2002 Gujarat riots to then chief minister Modi to follow rajdharma to suggest there were differences between the two. At a news conference in Gujarat a month after the riots, in which more than a 1,000 Muslims were killed, Vajpayee had said a ruler could not discriminate among his people on the grounds of birth, caste or religion.

"It was a moving experience to see the Prime Minister walk all the way for Shradhyey Atal ji's Antim Yatra in the scorching heat of Delhi after spending entire morning at the BJP HQ. Despite an emotionally draining day, he (Modi) is now headed to Kerala to oversee the flood relief work!" tweeted the BJP's information technology cell head Amit Malviya.

Many ministers and BJP leaders oversaw the cremation preparations near the banks of the Yamuna. Ministers Smriti Irani, Narendra Singh Tomar and J.P. Nadda, accompanied by MPs and BJP general secretaries, were seen hurrying arrangements amid fears of a delay.

Tin sheets were lined up to be installed over an iron structure on the platform where the funeral pyre was to be lit, but the idea was dropped when it became clear the canopy would not be ready before the cortege arrived. Leaders had started arriving. The need for a canopy was felt because of the fear of rain. It started to drizzle, but soon stopped. #

By the time Modi and Shah arrived with the cortege, most dignitaries had reached. Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, a long-time associate of Vajpayee, was among the last to arrive with his daughter Pratibha. He sat in the first row, beside Modi and Shah.

Vajpayee's body had been brought to the BJP headquarters in the morning from his home. Most non-BJP leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi and chief ministers Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and Chandrababu Naidu, paid their tributes at Vajpayee's residence.

At the BJP headquarters, Modi, Shah, home minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and other leaders received the body. The body was kept at the party headquarters for BJP leaders and workers to pay their tributes.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, whose ties with the BJP have soured, reached the party headquarters to pay his tribute.

The last journey started around 2.30pm and ended around 3.50pm.