Once upon a time: When just ₹40,000 was enough for Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win Lok Sabha polls - Hindustan Times
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Once upon a time: When just 40,000 was enough for Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win Lok Sabha polls

By, Lucknow I
Apr 09, 2024 05:28 AM IST

Way back then, the political landscape was entirely dominated by the Congress and the rival Bharatiya Jana Sangh was struggling to find space

n the times when contesting an election is a costly affair, it may sound unbelievable that former Prime Minister and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee had contested and won his first Lok Sabha polls in 1957, with an election fund of less than 41,000. Today, the official limit of expenditure for any candidate in the Lok Sabha polls is 95 lakh.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing a rally at India Gate lawns demanding recognition of Bangladesh and release of Mujibur Rahman in 1971. (HT ARCHIVES)
Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing a rally at India Gate lawns demanding recognition of Bangladesh and release of Mujibur Rahman in 1971. (HT ARCHIVES)

Way back then, the political landscape was entirely dominated by the Congress and the rival Bharatiya Jana Sangh was struggling to find space. In that period of trial by fire for Hindutva politics, the Jana Sangh had decided to field the young Atal Bihari from three constituencies in the 1957 general election — Lucknow, Mathura and Balrampur, all in Uttar Pradesh.

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The 33-year-old Atal had a flair for speeches that amused and built a connect with masses, what he and his party lacked was funds to contest the polls and manage the campaign. Atal went on to win and enter the Lok Sabha from Balrampur. He lost in both Lucknow and Mathura.

In Balrampur, Atal’s campaign was more organised and coordinated as compared to Lucknow and Mathura. The then Jana Sangh treasurer in Balrampur, Dularchand Jain, now at the age of 93 years, still has memories of those days. With Dulichand too old to speak on phone, his son Mahendra told HT about how his father initiated the donation campaign by giving 500, followed by one Madan Mohan Tiwari and Madan Mohan Sharma, who also donated 500 each.

With this sum of 1500, an old jeep was arranged. A sound system was hired and the campaign hit the roads in Balrampur. Subsequently, door-to-door collection was started. People were encouraged to donate what they could easily do. As Atal made the connect, people started to contribute. Donations came in the form of four annas, eight annas, 1 and 2 rupees and sometime even 5 rupees.

“The people of Balrampur played a pivotal role in Atal Bihari’s journey as a politician because they not only voted for him but also provided money for him to contest elections,” Mahendra Jain recalled.

Every day, every coin and note was counted. In all, a fund of 40, 650 was collected. The ledger might not have overflown, but it was enough of an amount in those days to arrange for campaigning, lodging and the food of the workers.

When the results came, Atal had won by defeating the rival candidate Haider Hussain of the Congress. Vajpayee got 1,18,380 votes while Haider Hussain polled 1,08,568 votes. Though Vajpayee lost Lucknow and Mathura, Balrampur had ensured entry in the Lok Sabha for the 33-year-old Atal. The rest is history.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Anupam Srivastava is a Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, Lucknow. Has produced exclusive stories in medical, civil aviation, civic, political and other issues for over 20 years.

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