He was so objective and at the same time humble about himself that no one was a bigger critic of him than himself
The Hush Post: The year was 1958. Atal Bihari Vajapyee had just lost Delhi corporations elections. The two youngsters Atal & Lal, who then lived together, in order to get out of the sadness turned towards one another with ‘what next’ look. Atal a movie-buff said, “Let’s go and watch a movie.”
In Advani’s words, the two went to Imperial Theatre in Paharjganj to watch the movie ‘Phir Subah Hogi.’
The duo was rejuvenated after watching the movie and particularly one of the last dialogues which somehow was quite similar to Atal Bihari’s poem “Suraj Ugega, Andhera Chatega, Kamal khilega.” Kamal or Lotus later became the symbol of BJP.
The two immersed themselves day and night into the raising of Jan Sangh. Atal, contrary to his name was a flexible rightist, seldom adamant. And when he was, he really was and wouldn’t listen to even Advani. Post-Gujarat riots in 2002, was one such moment. He went to Gujarat and was saddened to see the turn of events. Immediately afterwards, Vajpayee and a slew of top government officials had to fly to Singapore for some event. In Arun Shourie’s words, he sat in the plane in deep anguish and alone. Advani was there. But the two did not converse. Former NSA Brajesh Mishra got worried about the PM and asked Shourie to go to Mr Vajpayee and lighten up his mood.
Shourie said: “The moment I stood in front of him asking him to cheer up a bit, exasperated Vajpayee said: “Mujhe kahan le ja rahe ho. Mein yeh Kala muh kisko dikhaun.” Throughout the journey he didn’t speak to anyone.
“And on our way back, Atalji and Advaniji both sat opposite each other. There was some tension between the two. Atalji blocked Advaniji by opening the centrespread of the newspaper right in front of his face. Advaniji also did the same. The tension was visible. I again pulled down the newspaper and tried to break the ice. It was then decided that in view of what had happened, the CM of Gujarat will be asked to resign. Advani too concurred.
However, in a meeting in which the entire BJP top leadership was present while other issues were being discussed, suddenly to everybody’s surprise Narendra Modi sprang up and said that he wanted to say something. As per Shourie, he said that since the party has had to face embarrassment due to what happened in Gujarat, “I am ready to resign.”
And everybody suddenly got up and objected to his resignation. Atal the democrat had to flex back and the powerful Atal, a democrat at heart let the party prevail.
In yet another hilarious event, The Editor-in-chief of The Print Shekhar Gupta recollected on an NDTV show about Vajpayee’s meeting with Parvez Musharraf in Agra.
Gupta said: “After some time, Musharraf came out exasperated from the meeting and said that the meet was fruitless.” Someone asked Musharraf what happened and he said: “That he (the Indian PM) does not speak for long durations.” Later, someone apprised him that it was Mr Vajpayee’s way of tiring out the other person if the situation was not in favour.
And even before that, in another incident, when Manmohan Singh, the then finance minister had been ridiculed for his budget in 1991, he had almost made up his mind to resign.
Narasimha Rao then called up the Leader of Opposition Atal Bihari Vajpayee and explained as to what had happened as a result of the ruckus and beautifully worded satire thrown at the new finance minister in the Parliament. Manmohan Singh was new to politics and took everything seriously. In the evening, Mr Vajpayee in order to pacify Manmohan Singh called him up and said: “Rajniti rajniti hai, magar aapka budget bahut accha hai. Aap ke bagair kaam nahi chalega.”
In the midst of all of this, he was so objective and at the same time humble about himself that no one was a bigger critic of him them he himself.
In an interview towards the end of his tenure in 2004 to Rajdeep Sardesai then with NDTV, he was asked about his achievements during his five-year tenure as PM and Vajpayee said: “It is difficult for me to answer this question.”
Rajdeep further prodded him to list out his achievements and hinted at the Kargil victory or the peace process he began with Nawaz Sharif. Vajpayee simply rejected them as achievements and said, “I would have called it an achievement if the peace process had started a new beginning. But it didn’t.”
In the coming months, NDA lost the elections and Vajpayee was less visible in public life. In 2009, he had a stroke and after that multiple diseases struck his body. The bachelor, who almost mothered and fathered the Jan Sangh and later the BJP is no more and his end brings an end of an era.