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New Delhi: For more than a decade after political retirement, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee lived a hermit-like life away from the prying eyes of the media. After suffering a stroke in 2009, which affected his speech, Vajpayee had become even more reclusive because of his health and immobility.

Known for his oratory punctuated with long pauses, the BJP leader’s health forced him to retreat into a silent zone. The last few years of Vajpayee’s life was so private that hardly any of his photographs are available in the public domain. Little is known about how he used to spend his time as only a handful of people had access to him.

Visitors click photographs outside Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 6A Krishna Menon Marg bungalow. Only a handful of them were allowed inside. Photo: Facebook
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Visitors click photographs outside Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 6A Krishna Menon Marg bungalow. Only a handful of them were allowed inside. Photo: Facebook

The story of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s last photograph

When the then President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to his spacious bungalow in Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyens’ Delhi in 2015 to award Vajpayee the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, the occasion was deliberately kept low-profile and away from media glare. No journalist was allowed inside and the only ones present during the felicitation ceremony were ministers, political leaders and Vajpayee’s family members.

Later on, the Rashtrapati Bhavan released a photograph in which Vajpayee’s face was strategically hidden behind a tray. The veteran BJP leader is seen sitting in an armchair as Pranab Mukherjee felicitates him. Even his eyes were covered in brown-tinted shades.

All we know is that he wore his favourite dress, a kurta, and that his hair was neatly combed. Since Vajpayee was seated while the then President was standing, it was clear that he had lost his ability to stand.

Also read: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s obituary

The photo, the last one made public, was shot cleverly so that Vajpayee’s face remains hidden from the public view.

Usually the Bharat Ratna is conferred with pomp in Rashtrapati Bhavan but this was a short, solemn ceremony designed to protect Vajpayee’s privacy.

The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greeting former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his residence on his 85th birthday in 2009. Photo: PTI
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The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greeting former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his residence on his 85th birthday in 2009. Photo: PTI

Vajpayee’s private life

In 2005, a year after losing the 2004 Lok Sabha elections to the Congress, Vajpayee had announced his retirement from electoral politics. That also meant retirement from public life.

After Vajpayee retreated to a life of solitude, it became an annual ritual for BJP leaders to visit the ailing politician on 25 December, his birthday. For the initial few years, the BJP or the visiting politicians used to share these birthday photographs.

In 2009, news agency PTI had released a few photographs of Vajpayee’s 85th birthday where he is seen meeting visitors, including the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, with a blank look on his face.

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