Tuesday, 23 April, 2024

Vajpayee Stands Tall in Death


Newswave@New Delhi

Atal Behari Vajpayee who fought many a battle in life finally lost his battle against death. He breathed his last at 17:05 hours today at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi today. He would have completed 94 year next December.He was a statesman and a leader who easily drew attention of the people and earned respect and affection even of his political adversaries and critics.It was sometime in early 1995 when I wrote a piece in The Statesman saying, “ Vajpayee is the man to watch in Indian politics”.

I was in Lucknow those years. P V Narsimha Rao was Prime Minister then. The Congress was keeping a watch on Vajpayee’s political movement as the then ruling party feared the man who was drawing attention in political circles.In 1996 when he resigned as Prime Minister after being in office for 13 days he was calm and composed taking the defeat as part of life.When he returned as Prime Minister in 1998 he would visit his constituency Luckhnow from where he was elected to the Lok Sabha.

At a Press Conference some reporters would put odd questions and that too in intimidating tone as if Prime Minister of India was their subordinate. It was to the greatness of Vajpayee that he never lost his cool and responded in his inimitable style with a wit and sense of humour.As I covered Lok Sabha, I saw some Congress Members on the Opposition benches using foul language to criticize and attack the Prime Minister. Mani Shankar Aiyyar of the Congress led that barking brigade in the House. But Vajpayee demonstrated his composure not losing his cool.At times he would share with me his agony of being Prime Minister of the country.

One evening I was with Prime Minister at his 7, Race Course Residence. He had returned few hours ago from Bhopal where he had gone to address a public rally. Uma Bharati was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.He said he was disgusted with the language used by Uma Bharati for Sonia Gandhi. “Ek pal mujhe aisa laga ki main manch chhod kar chal doon”, he shared his anguish with me. Despite being leader of the BJP and Prime Minister he was not seen using derogatory or contemptuous remark against his political rivals.Many in the Congress and in the Left parties admired Vajpayee but they held him responsible for what they termed “giving political legitimacy to the BJP which was considered a political untouchable”. It was Vajpayee who earned the support of non-BJP parties to form and run the BJP led coalition government at the Centre from 1998 to 2004.

When BJP lost power, many senior leaders led by L K Advani attacked Vajpayee holding him responsible for the defeat of the Party in Lok Sabha elections of 2004. The meeting was held in a five star hotel in Pawai, Bombay.

In a follow up conclave of the top leaders of the BJP later in Delhi, leaders were analyzing the defeat of the Party. The meeting which lasted for more than three hours, Vajpayee maintained studied silence. He did not speak a word and quietly listened to Advani and the likes.

As Prime Minister, he was under tremendous pressure from his ministerial colleagues to remove Jagmohan as Minister for Telecommunications. He could resist the pressure, Jagmohan was shifted to head the Transport Ministry.Seeing rising graph of popularity of Vajpayee as Prime Minister, L K Advani opened a front within the government and got elevated to as Deputy Prime Minister.

My last meeting with Vajpayee was in Janaury 2005 when I visited him at his Krishna Menon Marg residence to extend invitation to attend the wedding of my daughter in Ranchi. He looked pale and was perspiring a bit.We spent half an hour over tea and samosa discussing Bihar assembly elections that was to be held in 2005. He could not come to Ranchi due to ill health. But he did not forget to write a letter blessing my daughter.Vajpayee was a leader who earned his place in history of Modern India as a politicians who was loved by all.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.)

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