Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former prime minister if India, was born on 25 September, the same day as Jesus Christ whose birthday iscelebrated as Christmas all over the world. And just as Chirst was hung from the cross, Vajpayee also had a lot of crosses to bear. While we cannot really compare Jesus and Vajpayee, the truth is that there was something about Vajpayee that made him universally liked by the entire nation. Perhaps it was his straight talking, his powerful oration or maybe his slefless nature and fearless personality.
Atalji was a student of Political Science and his father studied Hindi at Kanpur's DAV College. Both were students together. I read about it in the weekly Dharamyug, in an article titled 'Jhade Raho Collecterganj' written by Dharavir Bharti. Both father and son lived the student life in Collectorganj.
I remember the time in 1957 when Atal Behari Vajpayee contested the parliamentary elections from Lucknow. He was facing Pulin Behari Bannerji of the Congress. I was a student of class XI at the Jubilee Inter College and lived in Raja Bazar. Coming from a rural background, I had neither any knowledge nor any interest in politics. There was no place or time for politics in my life as a struggling stufent. But the area I lived in, Raja Bazar, was a Bharatiya Jan Sangh stronghold. You had to see the excitement among the people there to believe it. Especially when they shouted ' Atal hamara atal hai, isiliye to jeetega' (Our Atal is immovable, his victory is confirmed).
I was very interested in debating. In fact, I used to take part in debates at the college level. Maybe that is what drew me to the tirangular park in the locality where Atal ji was speaking that day. That was the first time I heard him speak. My eyes were drawn to the stage where a stocky man, dressed in white dhoti-kurta, was speaking. His gestiulating right hand, waving in the air to emphasise a point, the long pauses in between his speech which later became his trademarks were very much in evidence that day. I later learnt from the newspapers that he had lost the election. Though I was not really interested in politics, the news made me feel bad. His oratory style was extremely appealing. I went on to hear him speak many times – in person also and on the radio and television. There was something in his voice that made you just stop where you were and listen.
It was in sometime in the sixties. He was holding a meeting in the Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall in Lucknow. The two wars of 1962 against China and 1965 against Pakistan were over. Atalji said, "We need to deal with China in the same language that China understands." About Pakistan, he was silent.
From the papers I learnt that Atalji was a regular at the Ghongha Basant Kavi Sammelan. Though this is a very popular annual event in Lucknow, I always found the name a little strange. The poetry recited here is full of wit and humour. Atalji is also famous for his wit. He had the presence of mind and wit to turn even the most serious issues around with his turn of phrase. Once someone asked him what his janamkudli says. He replied, I believe in karmkundli. Then someone else asked him why he did not leave the Sangh if he disagreed with it so much. His reply was, 'Kambal nahi chhodta'. Maybe, the blanket he was referring to was that of ideologies.
Atalji had the power to move people with his oratory. When he spoke in parliament, everyone listened, the Central Hall would be packed. Once an MP commented on his habit of waving his hands while speaking. Atalji replied, "I have never heard of anyone waving their feet while speaking." Then one day, he decided to speak without his trademakr hand movements. This provoked Indira Gandhi to ask why he was not moving his hands. Atalji replied, "When I do move my hands, you see Hitler in me." I read about these incidents in the newspapers.
When Balraj Madhok's book 'Indianisation of Muslims' was published in the seventies, Atalji was not very pleased, even though Balraj Madhok was a senior party leader. Madhok's point of view differed from his. But even though he disagreed with the ideas of the book, he stuck to his own philosophy of life – Haar nahin manoonga, raar nayee thanoonga. I will not be defeated, I will pick another battle. Eventually, Balraj Madhok had to leave the Jan Sangh.
The basic philosophy of the Jan Sangh was Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan. But Atalji reduced some of its extreme nature. In 1967, he contributed to the culture of coalitions by bringing together opposing parties. In Uttar Pradesh, he was instrumental in the formation of the Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) government. He also brought together several groups to form the Janata Party under the leadership of Jai Prakash Narayan. It was this experience of coalition politics that came in handy when Atalji successfully ran the national government from 1999 to 2004 at the head of a coalition government consisting of as many as 19 different groups.
The Muslims of Lucknow always loved Atalji and people all over India and the world appreciated his tolerance. When he was Foreign Minister in the Morarji Desai government, he increased the Haj subsidy, he introduced visas for Pakistanis wanting to visit India and inaugurated the Lahore Bus Service by traveling on the bus himself. It was he who initiated a thaw in India-Pak relations.
Atalji never denied his primary identity as a Sangh pracharak. Even in parliament, he would not take any criticism of the Sangh lightly. Yet, this affiliation did not prevent him from expressing his own views even if they were divergent from that of the Sangh. In 1977 he wrote an article advocating that Muslims should be able to attend shakhas if they wanted to. Though he never called himself secular, even his criticdannot deny that he had a worldview that encompassed respect for all religions.
Whether he was the one who gave Indira Gandhi the title of Durga after the liberation of Bangladesh is a matter of debate but it cannot be denied that he never held back in praising his opponents if they did something he admired. His own shortcoming he accepted in his charecteristic self-depracating style. When the Janata government fell in1979, he said in his charectristic style, "We tried to light a torch with a lamp which resulted in less light and more smoke."
When Janata Party broke up in 1980, he did not try to revive the old Jan sangh, instead, he created the Bharatiya Janata Party with a new constitution. As an economonic blueprint he chose Gandhian Socialism over Deendayal Upadhyay's Integral Humanism. This upset many. Vijayaraje Scindia opposed this openly. Atalji had the discipline to live within the rules of the party, but he also had to wit to express his views in his own style. When some detractors said that he seems to be tired. He responded, " Neither am I tired, nor am I retired."
Though he did not openly condemn the Ram Janma Bhoomi agitation, he stayed away from it. As foreign minister in the Janata government, he spoke in Hindi at the United Nations. But as prime minister, he spoke in English.
He helped maintain a balance between north and south India. Shortly after he expressed that the next prime minister of India should come from the south, PV Narsimha Rao became prime minister.
It was the wish of all his supporters that he should get the Bharat Ratna and a big controversy erupted when people said that it was an injustice that previous governments had ignored him. An ugly debate started on the issue. People need to appreciate that Atalji was the kind of personality who was not dependent on an award to establish his credentials. Such a debate was uncalled for. He was never interested in any such awards. He never did anything in his political career for immediate personal gain. He did not distribute charity, but kept the longer term interests of the nation in mind.
As prime minister in 2000, he set in place many projects to develop the infrastructure of the country. These included projects like the linking of rivers, the Golden Quadilateral connecting national highways – meaning projects that connected people from the east to the west, from the north to the south. In 2000, he also launched programmes for poverty alleviation like the Rural Poverty Alleviation, Prime Minister Rral Road Network and Education for All.
When Gujarat was enguled in communal violence, he advised the state government to follow the principles of Raj Dharm. But he did not make this advice into a prestige issue. This happened often. Like a good poet, he raised the issue, made people aware of it but never became the emotionless administrator to find the solution. The biggest crisis his government faced was the Kandhar hijacking. This must also be viewed at keeping the fluid situation around it in mind.
Atalji was never greedy for any post or position. He always carried his resignation letter in his pocket. At the Jaipur convention, he resigned and expressed his wish to serve literature. The resignation was not accepted.
Sometime in the seventies, Russi Karanjia, the editor of Mumbai weekly Blitz, gave him the epithet of Pocket Edition of Nehru. Interestingly, just as Nehru could not see through the double face of the Chinese in the fifties, Vajpayee, too fell prey to the same characteristic of the Pakistanis at the time of Kargil.
Atalji should not be seen as a politician or diplomat, rather he should be seen as a statesman. He needs to be revered for his poetry and principles which can be a guiding light for future governments to work for the betterment of the people.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born on 25 December 1924 in a lower middle class family. He did his early schooling in Victoria College, Gwalior. He went to DAV College, Kanpur for his graduation. He studied Political Science. After graduation he became a journalist and worked with Rashtrya Dharm, Veer Arjun and Panchjanya.
Jan sangh and BJP: He became a founding member of Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951. In 1957, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from three seats – Lucknow, Mathura and Balrampur. He lost in Lucknow, in Mathura he lost his deposit but won from Balrampur. He became a member of the second Lok Sabha. This was the beginning of his parliamentary career that spanned five decades.
1968 to 1973 he was president of Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
1977 he became Foreign Minister in the Janata government.
1980 he became founding member of Bharatiya Janata Party.
1980 to 1986 he was president of BJP and also leader of the BJP Parliamentary party.
He won nine Lok Sabha elections.
In 1984 he lost to Madhav Rao Scindia from Gwalior.
1962 to 1967 and in 1986, he was a member of the Rajya Sabha.
16 May 1996, he became prime minister for the first time. But was unable to prove majority in Lok Sabha and resigned on 31 May 1996.
He remained leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabh till 1998.
1998, he proved majority in Lok Sabha with the help of coalition partners and became prime minister again. But the AIDMK pulled out support and the government fell leading the general elections.
After the 1999 elections contested on the common manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance he formed the government once again and completed a five year term.
Awards and Honours
1992 – Padma Bhushan
1993 – D Litt Kanpur University
1994 – Lokmanya Tilak award
1994 – Best Parliamentarian award
1994 – Bharat Ratna Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant award 2014- दिसम्बर में भारत रत्न से सम्मानित।
2015 – D Litt Madhya Pradesh Bhoj Open University
2015 – Friends of Bangladesh Liberation War award presented by the Bangladesh government
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