Vajpayee: A Democrat To The Core

By H K Dua Of all the leaders of the BJP, it is only Atal Bihari Vajpayee who represents the idea of India in all its shades. And that is the reason Vajpayee’s passing away marks a sense of loss for all the people of India irrespective of religion, caste, region and language. It took more than half a century for Vajpyee to become a national and much loved leader of the country. His prime ministership is also marked for major initiatives to improve relations with Pakistan and to resolve the Kashmir question — two of his dearest missions as prime minister. Despite his belonging to the BJP, which had roots in the RSS philosophy of Akhand Bharat, he went to Lahore by bus and visited, of all the places, Minar-e-Pakistan where he announced that India recognised the identity of Pakistan. Even though the three service chiefs of Pakistan boycotted Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore and the Kargil war launched by General Parvez Musharraf, the army chief of Pakistan at the time, he offered a hand of friendship with Pakistan. I was there in Srinagar with Vajpayee as media adviser to the prime minister when he made the famous statement that he would love to have talks with the Hurriyat and other sections of the society within the framework of ‘insaaniyat’. Vajpayee had gone to Kashmir in 2000 after millitants killed 25 people in Pahalgam. Vajpayee decided to visit Pahalgam and on return to Srinagar airport, he discovered that he has to address a press conference being held next to the helicopter hangar. The third or the fourth question at the press conference which I was anchoring was, “Prime Minister sahab will the talks on the Kashmir question be held within the framework of the Constitution or outside?” “Talks insaniyat ke dayre mein hongi (talks will be held within the humanitarian framework),” said the prime minister. My comment on this is who can differ with this delectable statement that came out of Vajpayee’s heart. In the Valley, he is still remembered for it. I was his media adviser for nearly two years, at no stage did the prime minister try to avoid the media or uncomfortable questions posed by the media. At no stage, during my two years, did he suggest that I should call up an editor or a proprietor of a newspaper objecting to a particular write up. He believed in the freedom of press. This is because essentially Vajpayee was a democrat to the core. He never for a day wavered from his belief in the essential liberal policies of parliamentary democracy. He was certainly the most outstanding parliamentarian of India. He was very severe in his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru’s China policy, yet his speech on Nehru’s death in May 1964 was the most illustrious in quality and content. Within the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP, another contemporary leader Balraj Madhok described Vajpayee as a ‘Nehruite’ to me in a conversation. “What about you Madhok sahab,” I asked him. He replied, “I am a Patelite”. Even in these days the Nehru-Patelite argument is still prevalent within party circles. (The writer was media adviser to Atal Bihari Vajpayee for two years during his premiership)]]>

'His Pauses Carried Dramatic Punches'

By Kishor Dwivedi Actor Shekhar Suman, who impersonated Atal Bihari Vajpayee often on his TV talk show in the 1990s, says the former prime minister’s mannerisms were so extraordinarily dramatic that he became a performer’s favourite muse. Suman, who first did an impression of Vajpayee in his popular late night talk-show “Movers and Shakers”, says even while performing the character he would be in awe of the leader. Among India’s tallest politicians, Vajpayee, a three-time prime minister and Bharat Ratna, passed away on August 16 in New Delhi after prolonged illness at the age of 93. “I have the highest regard for Atal ji. I never mimicked him, that would be a wrong term to use. I did an impression of him. There is a huge difference as the first one borders on caricature, while the second one is an impersonation. “Though my show was an irreverent show but whenever I talked about him I was filled with awe, admiration and reverence,” Suman, who is in Switzerland at the moment, told PTI over the phone. Suman, whose regular impersonation of Vajpayee made phrases like “Ye achchi baat nai hai” popular in households, says the statesman was an actor’s delight. “It was fun to portray him because of his mannerisms. His style of speech, his pauses were so poetic yet dramatic and theatrical. His pauses and gesticulations were so meaningful and theatrical that it prompted me to essay him. “Also, political satire was so new to India then. I thought, as an actor, if I could turn it around and start playing these characters, it will be an interesting and entertaining thing to watch. Naturally, Atal ji became my favourite muse,” he says. Suman, 55, also recalls meeting Vajpayee, when he became the prime minister and calls the rendezvous the “greatest moment” of his life. “… When he was still the prime minister, he actually stopped his cavalcade after spotting me at Nusli Wadia’s son’s wedding in Bombay. To everyone’s surprise, he got out of his car and hugged me. “He gently patted on my cheek and said, ‘I watch your show every day, you do a wonderful job of me and I laugh the loudest when you take on me… Keep up the good work,'” he says. The actor, who has also dabbled in politics, remembers Vajpayee as a selfless politician, a freedom fighter and as one above party lines and differences. “He was, indeed, a statesman who thought and fought for his country. A gentle soul and a thorough gentleman. An intense poet and a good Samaritan, erudite and a philosopher. “Atal ji lent dignity and credibility to politics which is considered to be the last refuge of a scoundrel,” Suman, who was once affiliated to the Congress party, says. (PTI)]]>