The thousands who thronged the streets, whether out of curiosity or love for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had their arms stretched out, each holding a mobile. All of them wanted to be a part of the funeral procession, The Indian Express reports.
As Vajpayee’s body was taken from the BJP headquarters to Smriti Sthal near Rajghat, those lined up on both sides of the route witnessed an unusual sight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with BJP President Amit Shah by his side, walked a few paces behind the hearse, flanked by security. The two covered the 7-km stretch on foot in the sultry weather, as the temperature touched 36 degrees Celsius and humidity crossed 70 per cent.
The procession to take Vajpayee’s body to the cremation spot was long, with thousands of people and over a hundred vehicles. Several people who had come to pay their respects said Vajpayee had shown the path that Modi is on, and will always be remembered as the first true mass leader of the BJP. “It was he who started it,” said Budhh Sain, a BJP member from Bawana. “Beej toh unhone hi boye the.”
As the procession moved, locals rushed to the edge of the road to catch a glimpse of Vajpayee, but members of the BJP walked in a human chain, keeping the crowds from coming too close.
Throughout the two-hour long procession, supporters of BJP and Vajpayee shouted slogans like “Atal ji Amar Rahein” and “Jab tak suraj chaand rahega, Atal ji ka naam rahega”. These were interspersed with chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, “Vande Mataram” and “Jai Shri Ram”. Just a few hundred metres from ITO, a group of clerics and students outside a mosque raised slogans in support of Vajpayee.
Muzammil Sheikh (35), from Uttam Nagar, travelled over an hour with his wife Munni Khatoon and son Yusuf (2) to pay respects to one of his favourite leaders. Sheikh said he loved Vajpayee for his “swabhaav”, (nature), and his “insaaniyat” (humanity). Not everyone, however, could catch a glimpse. From a law officer to a fruit seller from Moradabad to a departmental store owner, all had one regret — they could not see Vajpayee one last time. They came with their friends and families and stood outside the BJP’s central office, hoping to gain entry.
Hamid Ali, a fruit seller from Moradabad came to Delhi on Friday morning to find a “maddening crowd”. “I tried, but now I give up,” he said. Under the scorching sun, a large crowd walked from the office at Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg to Smriti Sthal. Some carried plastic bags to pick up littered plastic bottles, some served glasses of cold water to the crowd.
A kilometre before the Smriti Sthal, Abhishek Chauhan, a law officer with the MHA, said he was at Vajpayee’s residence on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday, but could not get in. “There is a small regret, that I could not see him one last time,” he said, sitting on the pavement watching the live telecast instead on his phone. As one neared the Sthal, Neela Pradhan claimed to have walked over 20 km since Thursday night to be a part of the procession. “I got a chance to shower rose petals towards the hearse. I am happy.” Pradhan said that he could not enter the Sthal, as only dignitaries were allowed. “I will watch the rest on TV.”