NEW DELHI - India on Wednesday conferred its highest civilian honour on former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is credited with bringing about a thaw in relations with Pakistan. The charismatic former leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who turns 90 on Thursday and is in ill health, was premier first in 1996 and again from 1998 to 2004. Known for his consensual approach, his nearly five decades of parliamentary experience earned him respect across the political spectrum, including from the rival Congress party. Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also of the BJP, said he was “delighted” by the decision to award Vajpayee the Bharat Ratna.

 “A guide, inspiration & giant among giants. His contribution to India is invaluable,” Modi tweeted.