I believe that our generation can feel the strong sense of personal loss at the demise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as he was one of the first politicians we observed while growing up. He was our understanding of a prime minister and politics, and such benchmarks cannot be forgotten.
My maternal family has its share of political history, and I grew up listening to many such stories from my grandfather. Some of these included Atal ji and everything that has been said about him after his demise; his dedication, his simplicity, his ability to lighten up a situation, his resilience in hardship is everything I have heard in these stories.
My great-grandfather was an MLA, and during 1958-59 MP elections, Atal ji was chosen as the star campaigner for the state, and hence he was campaigning for my great grandfather as well. While campaigning, he fractured his foot in an accident and stayed at our house for a couple of months. Despite the fracture, he led the party campaign, and significant credit of the win was attributed to him. It shows the strength and personality of the man who wouldn’t let anything deter him from his designated work. He could have used this to excuse himself from work, but he took all-party meetings from the godown where his stay arrangements were made. He used to make light remarks to counter any situation. During this campaign, he once rode on an elephant and said “This city is funny. Sometimes they make me ride an elephant, sometimes a tractor”. He was on a tractor when he had gotten into that accident.
It says a lot about the Prime minister of any country, who in spite of living with an unmarried companion for years, never let that become fodder for gossip or headlines. People always talked about his work, personality, and charisma. He was given respect because he gave respect, a habit that we all shouldn’t lose with time.
This was a man who had asked for Jawaharlal Nehru’s portrait to be restored in the foreign ministry’s chamber when it was removed after the first non-Congress party came to power.
This was a man who gave his opposition credit wherever due, regardless of the political rivalry. Be it comparing Indira Gandhi to Goddess Durga after the win in 1971 war or his famous homage to Nehru after the latter’s death.
He went and returned triumphant from Geneva in 94 from the Human Rights Commission and in spite of being in the opposition, he gracefully did what the then PM Hon’ble Narasimha Rao had sent him for.
These anecdotes are lessons for every aspiring leader, not just in politics but in any field, on how to gracefully conduct oneself, even with rivals and oppositions. A good leader doesn’t take away credit from anyone. We might remember Atal ji for making India a nuclear state, but he had himself gone on record to give Narasimha Rao due credit for it too.
All these stories about his friendship with a six-year-old and how he was granted a special access pass to Raisen hill, his friendship with LK Advani through thick and thin, his praise of the opposition whenever it was due, and his wonderful relations with the leftists regardless of their ideological differences prove how much he valued relationships, personal and professional.
It is a lesson we must all learn. No matter who you are, in the end, people only remember how you made them feel. His famous speech in Parliament- “Satta ka khel toh chalta rahega,Sarkare aayegi jaayegi…Partiyan banengi bigdengi, Magar ye desh rehna chaiye, Iss desh ka loktantra amar rehna chaiye”(Governments will come and go, parties will come and go, but the nation should survive, and democracy should sustain)– should be a guiding path for all of us and not just the politicians. We need to remember this with our new found love on inferring the meaning of nationalism and patriotism.
Perhaps Anand Mahindra sir is right in saying that this speech should be a part of school curriculum so that kids truly understand democracy.
Every man will face his share of criticism in his lifetime, let alone a Prime minister but all said and done, history will be kind to Vajpayee ji. The PM who smiled through his eyes and touched hearts through his words.
आप को कोटी कोति नमन। लॉट के आइगा ज़रूर।