tal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the most respected political figures across all the political parties. He was an acclaimed Statesman and an Orator. These were the leaders and that was the era of less of campaigning and more of conveying and the leaders were brand in themselves. Be it Atal Bihari or Indira Gandhi, that era of politics was purely a democracy and mutual respect. Atal Ji was always vocal about the declining political values and the politics of power without any firm and sensible ideology during 1980’s post-emergency era. He knew that the decades of hardship, social, and political service in the name of different political outfits ranging from Bharatiya Jana Sangh to Bharatiya Janata Party wouldn’t go in vain nor shall the ambitions of those selfless Karyakartas (Workers). Vajpayee was definitely and undoubtedly an incomparable leader of the Sangh Parivar and BJP. He never allowed his ideological background come into conflict with the democratic and constitutional values and demonstrated his unequivocal commitment to the Constitution as an opposition leader and as a Prime Minister, unlike his party-led government’s current leadership. Vajpayee did, for the most part, however, play the Statesman and earn respect, though his power was incomplete. More impatient, more aggressive elements in his own party worked to push him aside. The constitutional review and its 1,979- page report went nowhere, though, while his party rebutted the Congress’ criticism with a document titled ‘Let Facts Speak For Themselves’, pointing out that party’s attempts to “thoroughly re-examine” the Constitution years before, the din was too loud. And in 2004, the BJP lost power, and Vajpayee dissolved into retirement and illness.
Today, the BJP is under a different leadership — what plans, if any, are proposed for the Constitution need to be seen. His ability to transcend beyond the party affiliations was one of the most accomplished features of his leadership abilities, which no BJP leader ever had and can never have. Modi made politics a business than the commitment to people. This generation of BJP leaders is craving for riches than reaching people. As a Jan Sangh leader, Atal Ji steered the party as the next in command across North India and as a worthy challenger to Nehru and the Congress. As a Parliamentarian, he was astute and sharp in his ability to raise issues as well as respond to the discussions. Cutting across party lines, even the staunchest of the Communist leaders always looked at Atal Ji as their guiding spirit in the national agenda. Whether it was Russia or USA or China, none of these countries ever dared to challenge the leadership of Vajpayee. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who held the post for three non-consecutive terms in 1996, 1998-99, and from 1999-2004, left his permanent mark on the Indian politics.
Vajpayee ruled India for 13 days in 1996 and then from 1999, he remained Prime Minister till 2004. His everyday sobriety impressed many lives, I was a small kid back then, but he was everyone’s hero. I belong to a family of BJP supporters and still remember Atal Ji visiting our house with my dadaji during one of the election campaigns. There was honest persuasion that he would change India for the better. In many ways, he did. And thankfully this didn’t involve touching too many “stockades” of our Constitutional fort. He ruled gracefully and isolated himself from the politics with equal elegance. “India conducted nuclear tests”, he gave Credits to Scientists and engineers. “India regained the heights of Kargil”, he gave credit to the armed forces. Behind these events, there was a man who was continuously supporting them, taking strong and firm decisions for them but never took the credits. When as a Foreign Minister, he entered his office and finds that portray of India’s First Prime Minister Pt. J L Nehru was missing, he soon reacted “I want it back at the place”. A person, despite having political differences, respected opposition Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Here is a prime minister now belonging to the same party, who takes the credit of Pakoda sellers as the provider of opportunity to them to sell pakoda. A person, in the second decade of 21st century, blames Pt. Nehru and Indira Gandhi for all the mishappening in the system and keeps diverting the present situation. Modi enjoyed the full majority in the house; Vajpayee struggled for it but still enjoyed respect in a majority and love from everyone.
He suffered for years with age and illness, Vajpayee is a more interesting figure than he has been given credit for. This was a man who, in a party dedicated to the idea of the gau mata, had no qualms digesting a near cousin in the equation — Vajpayee loved buffalo meat. Bhang and alcohol were not taboo, but he was not a rebel-child, merely, instead, leading a life that embraced experience in all its variety. Sweetly, he welcomed his father’s desire to attend law school with him, the two Vajpayees sharing a hostel room, the son cooking his father’s vegetarian food. He never married, but for 50 years, Mrs. Kaul lived with him with her husband and children and ran his household. When she died, Vajpayee actually got shattered, as she was the support system of that house. In the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), this made Vajpayee an unusual figure, and more orthodox members lost no opportunity in maligning him for a lifestyle that was miles away from the pious guidelines the rest of them toed.
Vajpayee was certainly diplomatic but he could also pose as a liberal when it was opportune to seem one, and act as quite something else when it wasn’t. Whether one defines this as a political pragmatism or insincerity depends on one’s own principles, but since politics is an exacting beast, we can only pass judgement in a certain context. Certainly, the BJP wouldn’t have risen in quite the way it did without Vajpayee — if a hard-boiled RSS egg like Madhok had wrested control from him in 1968, this faction would have remained true to their basic principles but never won the respectability and wide acceptance that Vajpayee’s method invited from people who would otherwise have found those basic principles abhorrent. Vajpayee himself seems to have known this. In the mid-1990s, when he won an award in the Parliament, he said, “I am aware of my limitations and I recognise my faults. The adjudicators must have ignored my limitations and mistakes to select me. This is a wonderful, unique nation. You can even worship a stone by putting vermillion on it.” He meant it in another context, but Vajpayee, when situations demanded it, wore the vermillion and said strange things, and when it suited him, posed as a less threatening stone.
Born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior, Vajpayee was elected 10 times to the Lok Sabha from four different States (the first time in 1957 from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh) and was twice a Member of the Rajya Sabha in a storied career. He got an early start in the public life when he got involved in the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was arrested for it. He was already a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since 1939, and after finishing Masters in Political Science from Kanpur, he began to work full-time for the RSS. One of the founding members of the Jan Sangh in 1951, Vajpayee became its president in 1968 upon the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya. As his Parliamentary career flourished, Vajpayee made a name for himself as an orator and for his poetic flourishes. His poetry, collated in his book “Meri Ekyaavan Kavitayein” (My 51 Poems) reflects it. India is blessed to have such great leaders who spearheaded the country from a colony of the British to a vibrant multi-religious and multi-lingual democracy.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away, leaving all undying memories forever.
RIP Atal Ji!
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