Nation remembers Vajpayee on his 96th birthday

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New Delhi, Dec 25 (PTI) President Ram Nath Kovind led the nation on Friday in paying homage to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 96th birth anniversary with leaders hailing the BJP stalwart's vision of a strong and prosperous India.

An event was held in the Central Hall of Parliament where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Union ministers and many parliamentarians paid floral tributes.

Modi also released a book, 'Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Commemorative Volume', to mark the occasion.

President Kovind paid homage to Vajpayee at 'Sadaiv Atal', a memorial to the former prime minister, here. Besides Kovind and Modi, top Union ministers also attended a prayer meeting at the memorial and paid homage to the first prime minister from the saffron party.

Vajpayee's visionary leadership saw the country's development reach unprecedented heights, Modi said in a tweet. 'His efforts for making a strong and prosperous India will be remembered forever,' he said.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu shared several poems penned by Vajpayee to remember him fondly and lauded him as a 'great visionary' and the 'man of masses'.

'Atal Ji was a leader par excellence who was respected across party lines. He was an exceptional orator, a distinguished scholar and a gifted poet, but above all, he was a large-hearted human being who cared deeply for the country and its welfare,' he said.

Home Minister Amit Shah said Vajpayee's ideas and dedication to the country's development will always inspire them to serve the country. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP president J P Nadda were among other key leaders who paid homage to him.

Born in 1924, Vajpayee was a founder member of the Jana Sangh and then the BJP, a party which rose from the margins to rule India for the first time in 1990s with him being its main face. His tenure is credited with ushering in a fresh wave of liberalisation, boosting growth and infrastructure.

Paying tributes, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Vajpayee had an intuitive understanding that the post Cold-war world required India to drastically rework its relationships and this vision led to a new beginning in ties with the US.

He said the eminent leader warmly reached out to various regions and continents that laid ground for expansion of India's overall external engagements, particularly with Europe, Africa, Latin America and countries in the ASEAN region.

He added that India's principled approach of engaging China on the basis of mutual respect and mutual sensitivity also reflects Vajpayee's thinking.

In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan unveiled a statue of Vajpayee near Bhopal's Shaurya Smarak. He said a grand memorial based on the former prime minister's works, life and personality would come up in his birthplace Gwalior. PTI KR JTR MPB MAS ZMN