New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS): Tens of thousands of commoners joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in the final journey to bid adieu to Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the former Prime Minister's body was being taken to Rashtriya Smriti Sthal on the banks of Yamuna river for the last rites.
The journey began around 2 p.m. -- an hour behind schedule -- from the BJP's new central office on the Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg. Modi and Shah walked behind the flower-decked gun carriage carrying the body of Vajpayee draped in the Tricolour as security personnel kept a tight watch.
People from across the country, many of them teary-eyed, threw flower petals on the casket all through the three-kilometer route as an expression of their love, respect and admiration for the late leader.
Slogans like "Atalji amar rahen", "Jab tak sooraj chand rahega, Atalji ka naam rahega", "Bharat Mata ki jai" and "Vande Mataram" rent the air as the procession progressed. Some people were carrying banners containing lines from poems written by Vajpayee.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was also in the procession and supporters accompanying him raised slogans of "Jai Shri Ram". A number of BJP Chief Ministers including, Shivraj Singh Chauhan (Madhya Pradesh), Manohar Lal Khattar (Haryana), Union Ministers and BJP leaders accompanied the funeral procession.
It passed through some populated areas of Delhi, inclduing Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, on its way to Rashtriya Smriti Sthal, a designated spot for the last rites of Presidents, Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers.
Earlier, Modi, Shah, veteran BJP leader LK Advani, Shiv Sena chief Udhav Thackeray, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palanisami and Congress president Rahul Gandhi were among the national leaders who paid tributes to Vajpayee at the party office after his body was brought there from his Krishna Menon Marg residence.
Before the body was taken from the residence, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, DMK working president MK Stalin, MDMK chief Vaiko, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force placed wreaths and paid their last respects.
Modi, Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik and Yogi Adityanath received the body near the gate of the party office. They later paid their tributes by offering flowers.
Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and British High Commissioner to India Dominic Asquith were among those who paid their tributes at the party office.
Nepal's Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Sri Lanka's Acting Foreign Minister Lakshman Kiriella, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali will attend the funeral.
The mortal remains were kept in front of a large smiling picture of Vajpayee. A party flag had been placed on each side of the photograph.
Among those present at the party office were union ministers, chief ministers, state ministers, MPs, MLAs and BJP office-bearers.
People had gathered outside the party office in large numbers since morning to pay their tributes. Security men had a hard time keeping the crowds in check. A woman from Darjeeling jumped the gate to get inside the party office.
As the casket reached the party office, people turned emotional and some of them had tears in their eyes.
Tight security arrangements had been made for the final procession by security forces anticipating participation of a large number of people.
Vajpayee, who had passed away at the AIIMS on Thursday evening, has a pan-India appeal and his flair for foreign policy and initiatives were acknowledged globally.
The country is observing a seven-day state mourning as a mark of respect for the leader who had been decorated with Bharat Ratna and was very popular. The Tricolour is flying half-staff.