President, PM, other leaders greet Vajpayee

New Delhi, Dec 25 (IANS) President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday led the nation to greet the now ailing former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 91st birthday, wishing him a long life.

“Warm greetings and good wishes to Vajpayeeji on his birthday. May the Almighty bless Vajpayeeji with good health, happiness and a long fruitful life,” the president said in a message.

Modi, who was visiting Afghanistan, extended birthday greetings “to our beloved Atalji.

“We salute this great personality who provided exceptional leadership to India at a crucial time.

“Be it as a party leader, parliamentarian, minister, prime minister, Atalji distinguished himself in every role. This is his speciality,” Modi said.

One of India’s most popular politicians, Vajpayee was prime minister three times – first in 1996 (May 16-31) and later for two consecutive stints between March 19, 1998 and May 13, 2004.

In the latter two stints, he headed the National Democratic Alliance governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which he is the founder.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also hailed the BJP veteran: “In a diverse country like ours, Vajpayee is a shining example of tolerance and inspiration for taking everyone along in the public life.”

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also saluted Vajpayee.

“Vajpayeeji has always been a source of inspiration to me. I pray for his happy and healthy life,” Raman Singh said.

Chouhan said Vajpayee was a politician who would not mind taking a two-wheeler or an autorickshaw to reach a venue. “And wherever he went, he won people’s confidence.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said: “A very happy birthday to Vajpayee Sahib. A great human being and an amazing prime minister to work for.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described Vajpayee as “my guide and mentor” and said: “May God bless him with good health.”

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said Vajpayee – who was prime minister from 1998 to 2004, was an inspiration to him and was also one of India’s best leaders.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh prayed for speedy recovery for Vajpayee, who has been ailing for years.

Central ministers Piyush Goyal, Ravishankar Prasad and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also greeted Vajpayee.

“I pray for his good health and long life,” said Goyal. Naqvi said he was a symbol of good governance and development.

Vajapyee was first elected to parliament in 1957, and was repeatedly elected to both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. He was elected from Lucknow for five times consecutively.

In 1951, Vajpayee helped to set up the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He was the external affairs minister in 1977-79 when the Janata Party — of which the Jana Sangh was a constituent — ruled the country.

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