They don’t make leaders like Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and such men are rare to come. People of the caliber of India’s former and one of the most loved PM walk the earth once in a lifetime. He is a Yug Purush. I will never subscribe to the BJP political ideology but India’s former PM was someone I will always hold in high esteem. He has been an inspiring man who taught humility in a highly accomplished public life and truly defined Rajdharma.
I was watching an old video footage today when at the peak of his popularity, his supporters shouted during the campaign trail, ‘Hamare neta kaisa hai AB Vajpayee jaisa” (We want our leader to be like AB Vajpayee). It says a lot about the respect, aura, charisma, impeccable integrity, trust and humanely moderate approach to politics and life, despite hailing from the Sangh Parivaar. The kind of mass connect the gentle Prime Minister enjoyed with followers and a popularity looming larger than life and that of his own party speaks volume of his conciliatory approach to politics, cultivating relations and governance.
The year was the late 90s, in 1998 that I started showing a keen interest in politics and international affairs to become attuned with Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM. He commanded a huge amount of respect and recall that while I couldn’t afford buying expensive magazines post my 10th standard, buying an India Today was a rare treat and some foreign affairs magazines borrowed for free at the US embassy to learn about international geopolitics. The dates became a landmark, from May 11-13 where India created history by launching five nuclear tests, popularly known as Pokhran. It didn’t please the super economic power called United States but our PM Vajpayee Ji stood his ground, seeking consensus from the opposition in Lok Sabha and stood mightily to explain why nuclear weapons is a dire need for India’s future. It remains one of the major achievements of the Vajpayee Government, particularly to the then PM’s credit for refusing to be cowed down by US’s imperialist mentality and the veiled threat of sanctions. The first time that I was drawn to Atal-ji.
What stood up was his refusal to insult someone from the opposition and it’s no secret that he was affectionately called Hriday Samrat by his supporters according to respected journalist Prabhu Chawla in a special India Independence Day issue. After all, he held our first PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in immense respect and the kind of political bonhomie embedded in his speech is something modern day politicians should learn from. Witch hunting was never in his book so much that he once put his foot down despite pressure to remove Sonia Gandhi as President of the Rajiv Gandhi Trust when informed by the Attorney General Soli Sorabjee. It speaks volume of Shri AB Vajpayee as a PM, visionary leader and humanist.
There is no dearth of reasons why the People’s PM commanded such a huge amount of respect and has been an inspiration for me where the understanding of Indian politics started with him despite being diametrically opposed to the BJP. He was the right man in the wrong party. The vision of an ‘Akand Bharat’ was pioneered by him and in the current political turmoil and uncertainty, it’s the real challenge for India to bring back the moderate era of Vajpayee years that will make us shine and rise as a democracy.
Harking back to those days of ushering into adulthood, the poems recited by AB Vajpayee as the Indian PM and particularly at an event aired live won my heart. I was glued to the TV and swayed by his lyrical renderings of the PM poet. While I can’t recall the exact poem, going back to this priceless gem brings back those moments, “Jo kal the woh aaj nahi hain, Jo aaj hain woh kal nahi honge, Hone na hone ka kaam, Isi tarah chalta rahega, Hum hain, hum rahenge, Yeh bhram bhi sada palta rahega.” The wordsmith that defined the career of India’s former Prime Minister bowed out much before social media seeped into our lives and trust me, the pause in his speech and poetry rendition would have rendered the digital world, PR or even copywriters redundant. The prose often referred to his political tribulations like this one, Toote hue sapnon ki kaun sune siski, antar ki cheer vyatha palakon par thithki, haar nahi maanoonga, raar nahi thanunga, kaal ke kapaal pe likhta mitata hoon, geet naya gaata hoon.” No wonder that as a young student, Shri AB Vajpayee captured my heart and imagination.
The Vajpayee years was characterized by a PM armed with spine and courage to address the United Nations in Hindi which is one of the highs and proudest moments for India. I can never forget that speech at a time when I was preparing to join college and it played an important role in shaping my life. Such are the things that make Atalji one of the figures that inspire me and for whom my admiration bore no limit. It’s very rare to find such gems characterized by courage and truthfulness, particularly in today’s times.
In his tenure as PM, there is so much that Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee has achieved right from the Golden Quadrilateral highway project in 2002, the largest highway project in India, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna linking five lakh villages to cities, Delhi Metro that change the way India traveled and spearheaded several reform projects that bore fruition with another intellectual PM, Dr Manmohan Singh.
‘Insaniyat (Humanity), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat hold much relevance in today’s times enshrined in the history of an India increasingly characterized by unrest, lynching and mob culture, something that he would have never approved. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not only the first BJP Prime Minister but remained the only one who fobbed off extremist pressure pulled by the RSS with whom he had a strained relationship. Even in death, India’s former PM has reunited a nation, from old to young, liberals, conservative, left and right, Hindu, Muslims and Christians, something that Narendra Modi has failed to do. Post-Gujarat riot, the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics words to the present PM on Raj Dharma remains a lesson when moderate views have eluded us. He was the only one who sought and won consensus in politics and like he once said, if you like something about my principles, implement it in your life. A lesson that politicians cutting across all parties should perhaps learn and be more graceful with contrasting views. His legacy will loom large on us as a nation at a time when political discourse is in a pit cutting across political parties.
The most telling thing at Smriti Sthan today was the final rites of Vajpayee-ji being performed by his daughter Ms Namita that showed another facet of the politician who lived his life by the true principle of Hinduism free from bigot views. In a society where a woman performing someone’s last rites is still unthinkable, a strong signal has been sent and perhaps sums up the life of this great man and icon called Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee defining humility as a human being and politician.
Rest in peace Atalji and remembering you always