Veteran Parliamentarian and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on Friday conferred Bharat Ratna , the country's highest civilian award.
In a departure from protocol, President Pranab Mukherjee drove to Vajpayee's residence at Krishna Memon marg in Lutyens' Delhi and presented the prestigious award to the ailing BJP leader.
The event, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, vice president Hamid Ansari and home minister Rajnath Singh along with some close family members, was kept away from the media glare.
Several leaders cutting across the party lines expressed happiness and congratulated the former prime minister.
Modi thanked the President for personally conferring the Bharat Ratna on Vajpayee.
"We got an opportunity to confer Bharat Ratna on Atal ji who dedicated his life to nation, son of mother India. There are crores of workers around the country who draw inspiration from Atalji," Modi said.
"I pray to god that Atal ji's life continues to inspire us and guide us," the Prime Minsiter added.
"It is a historic day for crores of Indians today when Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being given Bharat Ratna award," Modi tweeted earlier in the day.
Home minister Rajnath Singh described Vajpayee as an international icon who is respected and loved by one and all. "Our former prime minister Vajpayee is not only just an Indian statesman but an international icon who is respected and loved by everyone," Singh told reporters.
"His personality, his oratory skill, his honesty and humility signify his greatness. His is a great human being," Singh said.
"This a proud moment for the country and all of us. He a stalwart leader of the country. He is a leader of par excellence who has worked tirelessly in the interest of the nation," finance minister Arun Jaitley said.
"In this country, I think there would be very few people like him who are good orator, political leader, thinker and poet. We pray for his good health and long life," he added.
In a letter to Vajpayee, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said it was a “fitting recognition” of the former PM’s “statesmanship, wisdom and deep commitment” to national interest. “Your broad and large hearted vision, your patriotism and eloquent oratory have always embraced the entire political spectrum and all sections of our society,” Sonia wrote.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and former CM of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah also expressed happiness and congratulated the ex-PM.
Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, and has faded from public life due to age-related illness, is lauded as a statesman and has been often described as the moderate face of BJP.
He has been credited with taking bold initiatives, notable among them being the historic bus journey to Lahore in 1999 when he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with both sides pledging to push for peace and security.
Regarded as one of the most charismatic leaders, he was lauded as a statesman politician whose acceptability across the board broke barriers and brought BJP to centre stage of politics in the late 1990s after the demolition of Babri Masjid.
(With inputs from PTI)