Contribution to parliamentary democracy cannot be forgotten”

The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on Saturday celebrated his 87th birthday and his Bharatiya Janata Party used the occasion to demand that the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award, be conferred on him.

The former party president, Rajnath Singh, who along with Jaswant Singh and other BJP leaders greeted him at his residence here, told journalists later: “The country can never forget Mr. Vajpayee's contribution to parliamentary democracy. Therefore, I humbly request the government to honour him with the Bharat Ratna.”

At a time when there was a steady decline in values in Indian politics, Mr. Vajpayee was a leader who had upheld commitments to these values for the last 55 years, he said.

BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Mr. Vajpayee remained a symbol of acceptability and highly respected politician who was very dear to the people of India.

The Bharat Ratna demand “has got nothing to do with politics. It is being made keeping in view the highest traditions in public life and politics Mr. Vajpayee has maintained.”

Describing Mr. Vajpayee as a “living legend” and “tallest leader” in Asia, BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said, “Everyone should rise above party affiliation to endorse him for the honour as there is no bigger leader than him today.”

Mr. Jaswant Singh expressed his “sense of gratitude” to the former Prime Minister and to the party for having given him an opportunity to serve the country under him. “That has been the greatest period of my life,”

He, however, expressed concern at Mr. Vajpayee's health.

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