Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ashes reached Lucknow -- the capital of politically crucial Uttar Pradesh -- today in the middle of a heavy downpour. But ignoring the pelting rain, around a thousand people waited for three hours at the airport and then accompanied the ashes in a procession to the Gomti river, where it was immersed in the evening.
Senior BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Union Minister Rajnath Singh and Manoj Sinha led the procession in a covered truck, where the urns with the ashes were placed. People lined the route, some threw rose petals from balconies.
After today's ceremony at the Gomti, the rest of the urns will be sent to 16 divisions of the state, where similar immersion programme and condolence meetings will follow.
The Chief Minister will preside over the programme in Gorakhpur.
The BJP had announced that Mr Vajpayee's ashes will be immersed in every river of the country to honour his services to the nation. But the large-scale planning -- complete with processions that will reach every corner of the country -- is seen as a mass-contact programme that taps into the mass-connect of Vajpayee ahead of next year's general election.
The BJP has kept the focus on Mr Vajpayee elsewhere too, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where assembly elections will be held later this year.
Three-time Prime Minister and BJP patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee had died on August 16 after a long illness. In an extraordinary gesture, PM Modi, who said he lost a father figure, walked the 4-km route with the funeral procession.
The BJP plans drew criticism from the opposition. Juhi Singh, the spokesperson of Samajwadi Party said, "Atal-ji was a people's prime minister and to convert his asthi kalash yatra into an event management issue is making a mockery of a man who is so respected".
Congress' PL Punia said, "It was fine to do it in Haridwar by the family, but the subsequent BJP programmes are only for political opportunism. Do you remember any recent election where his photos were used? No, it was only the Prime Minister. So the BJP did not respect him in his last years, but are now trying to use him for political advantage".