A Statesman with a Poetic Soul
If I have to single out one person who has been an integral part of my political life almost from its inception till now, one who has remained my close ally in the party for well over fifty years, and whose leadership I have always unhesitatingly accepted, it would be Atal Behari Vajpayee. Many political observers have noted that it is not only rare but, indeed, unparalleled in independent India’s political history for two political personalities to have worked together in the same organisation for so long and with such a strong spirit of partnership.
First Impression, Last Impression
I first met Atalji in late 1952. As a young activist of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, he was passing through Kota in Rajasthan, where I was a Pracharak of the RSS. He was accompanying Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee on a train journey to popularise the newly formed party. Atalji was Dr Mookerjee’s Political Secretary in those days. Looking back, the image I recall most vividly is that of a young and intense-looking political activist, nearly as lean as myself, although I looked leaner because I was taller. I could easily tell that he was imbued with youthful idealism and carried around him the aura of a poet who had drifted into politics. Something was smouldering within him, and the fire in his belly produced an unmistakable glow on his face. He was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old then. At the end of this first tour, I said to myself that here was an extraordinary young man, and I must get to know him.
Atalji became the founder-editor of Panchajanya, a nationalist weekly in 1948, and as its regular reader, I was already familiar with his name. Indeed, I had been much influenced by his powerful editorials and some of his poems that the journal published from time to time. The journal was also my introduction to the thoughts of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, who had launched it in Lucknow under the auspices of Rashtradharma Prakashan, a publisher of nationalist literature. I later learnt that, along with Atalji, he used to perform multiple roles in the weekly: a regular contributor who wrote under many pseudonyms, proofreader, compositor, binder and manager. For someone like me, who had recently learnt Hindi, Panchajanya was a useful introduction to the innate beauty and purity of the language, as also to its immense capacity to convey patriotic inspiration.
Sometime later, Atalji came alone on a political tour of Rajasthan and I accompanied him throughout his journey. It was during this trip that I got to know him better, my second impression about him reinforcing the first. His remarkable personality, his outstanding oratory whereby he could hold tens of thousands of people literally spellbound, his inimitable command over Hindi, and his ability to effectively articulate even serious political issues with wit and humour—all these traits made a deep impact on me. At the end of this second tour, I felt that he was a man of destiny, a leader who deserved to lead India some day.
(From Sri LK Advani’s autobiography My Country, Published by Rupa & Co in 2008)
Not one, not two, sign as many agreements, the head of free India will not bow
This Freedom !!!which is earned after millions of martyrdoms,
This Freedom !!! which is irrigated by our blood, sweat and tears,
This Freedom !!! which is protected by sacrifice, penance and hardwork by us,
This Freedom !!! which is dedicated for upliftment of humanity in sorrow,
Declare this to those who plot against this freedom, that the game of a “spark” is always dangerous,
One who wishes to burn the house of neighbour, More often than not ends up burning his own home…
Do not dig your grave by your own hands, O Foolish neighbours…
O Myopic neighbours, open your eyes and don’t try to barter this freedom, it is priceless
But what do you know, what freedom is?? You got it free without paying anything for it!
You won two pieces under the protection of British, Didn’t you feel ashamed while partitioning your Motherland?
Don’t ever think that you shall protect this kind of freedom by buying American weapons
Don’t ever think you shall evade the coming destruction by taking crore dollars from Americans,
Don’t ever think you shall win Kashmir by threats, Jihad and atrocities…
Attacks, atrocities, massacres won’t make you bow the head of India..
Till Ganga keeps flowing, till the tides in ocean persist,
As long as fire still has heat and Sun radiates light,
There will be millions of lives and youths ready to willingly sacrifice their life on the altar of Motherland for protection of her freedom
Not just America, even if entire world is against us, they won’t be able to snatch Kashmir from us,
Not one, not two, sign as many agreements, the resolve of free India shall never break….
Vajpayeeji encouraged women in politics
Atalji was always in favour of placing women to the forefront. He used to gladly accept the thoughts that came to our minds regarding women empowerment and respect. Gender budgeting began during the NDA regime and he immediately told the Finance Minister to think over the suggestion.
The other decision he took during this period was to increase the salary of Anganwadi workers. This happened for the first time. When I put the proposal to him that no one was thinking for Anganwadi workers working since years in the remote areas on a meager salary of Rs 500, he immediately asked whether that should be doubled. I gave my nod to his proposal and he made provision in the same budget for the increase in their salary. This decision was taken for the first time in 25 years after the Anganwadi project came into existence.
At that time we had institutued ‘Stree Shakti Award’ to be given to five women. The awards comprised a cash of Rs one lakh. We started given those to women working in various fields. These awards were named after Ahilyabai Holkar, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi etc. I still remember when we organised the first programme a woman had come from Tamil Nadu. She had fought for the landless women workers’ rights. When she came to the stage to accept the award, Atalji, who was then Prime Minister of the country, gave her the award and touched her feet to the surprise of all present. Such was he who always gave their due respect to women, even as a Prime Minister! He always felt that women should come forward and should be given their due respect.
He also encouraged women to come forward in organisation. He was always ready to bring them at the forefront.
(The writer is a senior BJP leader and was a minister during the NDA government)
Expert in taking all along
A great leader of his era. Powerful orator, very embodiment of ideal of Ram, policy of Krishna, seriousness of Buddha, strength of Vivekananda, poet of high category, prolific writer, a magician of words that came from the unfathomable depth of his heart. It is said that the time also helps those whose mind is clean. He was born in a ordinary family but enjoyed the highest royal position. He suffered in slavery, fought for the freedom of the country in his childhood and incarcerated. He has no enemy in politics. He reins the hearts of millions of Indians. He is Atal Bihari Vajpayee!
Expert in taking all along with him, able administrator, lived untouched in the swamps of politics like a lotus flower, joined hearts like an expert architect. He is expert in identifying qualities in human beings and put to task as per their capabilities. He is a successful journalist, parliamentarian par excellence, an undisputed leader of opposition. Praying to God seeking not so high a position from where he could not remain in touch with the common people.
Many years ago Atalji had warned that if at all there would be third world war it would be fought on water. He used to say that a time will come when people would insert a coin in a machine and get a cold drink or hot coffee. But the petty shopkeeper and his family at the square would die of hunger and thirst. The same thing is happening today. Today everything is on loan. Atalji used to recall the sayings of Charvaka, the philosopher, who encouraged people to make merry even by taking loan. What Atalji said a decade ago has now become a reality.
People say that he is now bed-ridden. He can’t speak, can’t hear and rendered helpless. I don’t accept this. He is not sick, he is not restless. He is, you can say, suffering from the ills of old age.
I quote from his poem:
Unaware of death
The journey of life
Each evening musical
Nights filled with tunes of flute
It’s not so that there is no pain
Lots of pain from near and dear ones
So much of love from others
I have no complaints for my own.
These are feelings of my heart and mind. I have been with him for so many years and have seen his personality as expressed in the above lines.
(The writer is close associate of Vajpayeeji for many years)
Prolific orator whose even silence speaks
The history of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ascendancy will never be complete without the mention and assessment of one individual Atal Behari Vajpayee, an institution in himself. In Parliament and outside, in prose and in poetry, in domestic and in foreign affairs, his indelible stamp is the guiding spirit for the party poised to meet the current challenges and lead the nation into a bright future.
Atal ji’s very first speech in Parliament on India’s Foreign Policy was a great hit. His chaste Hindi speech was so impressive that the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru sought the permission of the speaker and spoke in Hindi and thanked Vajpayee for supporting his Foreign Policy and also appreciated his comments. (Vajpayee in his speech had said that language is important for speech but discretion is necessary for silence)
Right from his entry into Parliament, Vajpayee won the acclaim of senior members by his thought provoking speeches, wit, repartee and humour. Veteran Parliamentarian Shri Anantha-sayanam Ayyangar had commented that it is a treat to hear Vajpayee in Hindi and Prof. Hiren Mukherjee in English.
After the then Jan Sangh opposed some of the populist policies of the Congress like bank nationalisation and abolition of privy purses, Smt. Indira Gandhi labelled the party as “baniye” party (party of traders). Vajpayee who took notice but did not want to get into a serious spat retorted back saying Smt. Gandhi’s Hindi is to be blamed. “We also say Jan Sangh ke sadasya baniye (become members of Jan Sangh) and Smt. Gandhi actually supports us”. That was the end of it.
No other political leader could have used speech and silence in equal measure to make one’s point and wriggle out of difficult situations or answer inconvenient questions. During the 1992 party session he was repeatedly questioned about his position in the party. One reporter raised this question in the press conference and asked if he was marginalised. He denied that he was being marginalised but ended the press conference with a one liner, “….no, I am not being marginalised, but usually corrections are done in the margin”.
Very often Atalji was praised for his political and success with a rather loaded compliment that ‘he is the right man in the wrong party’. But he accepted this pat on his back more as a ‘left handed compliment’. Even at the height of political power as Prime Minister, his unwavering faith in the cadre and total loyalty to the party is evident in his speech made some time in 2000 wherein he said, “The BJP has gained its present strength as a result of our collective efforts. We have seen many success that have been preceded by many tears, sweat and at times even blood of our cadres”.
But he did not hesitate to warn the party and the cadre at the same time. In the same speech he continued saying, “The crucial question we face is what after this political success?’ We are in power at the Centre and in several States. We have to concentrate on improving the quality of governance. In governance, we must concentrate on serving the people while keeping our national interests paramount”.
On the important and sensitive issue of Uniform Civil Code he was equally forthcoming in articulating the views of the then Jan Sangh. In one of the speeches in Parliament in 1961 he said, “Constitution says there should be a common civil code. Why then is a separate law made for marriage for Hindus and Muslims? The government recently set up a commission inquiring into misuse of Hindu temples and mutts. I welcome it, but do you think churches and mosques are not misused? Why no law has been brought in for this? When a state is concerned, everyone is the same”.
Though weekly Organiser and the daily Motherland were independent of any political affiliation the respective editors were known for their political views but they were never part of the party. It was Atal ji who in 1975 included the then editors Shri K.R.Malkani and Shri V.P.Bhatia in the National Executive of the Jan Sangh. But soon after that the infamous Emergency was imposed and the rest is history.
During his incarceration in Bangalore jail Atalji developed medical problems. He had to be operated for appendicitis but later brought to AIIMS for prolapsed disc. Even as he endured extreme back pain he refused to seek freedom from detention. In his inimitable style he quipped, “hum toot sakte hain jhuk nahi sakte” (we can brake but cannot bend). This was the mood of the person, his party, his cadre and his country. Today as events are unfolding, and Indo-US relations are being discussed, this veteran of India’s foreign policy and champion of national honour would have said the same thing, again.
(The author, former editor of Organiser, is the national convener of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP).