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)