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‘Atalji’s love of the nation took precedence over love of power,’ writes Ram Madhav

Atalji practised his brand of politics without any hesitation or rethink. We have successfully done away with untouchability in social life. Yet, we acquired a new type of scourge called political untouchability. An atmosphere of intense hatred pervades the political arena today. Atalji never practised such politics.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2018 20:19 IST
Atal Bihari Vajpayee,Ram Madhav,Vajpayee funeral
In this file photo dated May 19, 1996, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addresses the nation at South Block, in New Delhi. (PTI File Photo)

Atalji’s demise is an irreparable loss to contemporary India. A statesman, a poet and, above all, a humanist, Atalji practised a version of politics that is rare to find — a politics in which love of the nation took precedence over love of power; in which feelings, sentiments and emotions found a place in the world of cut-throat competitive politicking; in which dignity and respect for everyone big and small, friend and adversary alike were the way, not disrespect and rejection, abuse and trolling.

Atalji lived a transparent life. He was not a split personality, something from outside and something else from within. Like Gandhi, his life, too, both personal and political, had been an open book. Whether it was his fondness for his family or food, or whether it was about strong political convictions as a quintessential democrat, nothing was hidden from the public eye and scrutiny. At the end, everyone loved him, cared for him and admired him for this very quality of the courage of conviction.

But he never held himself above the party organisation. A true Swayamsevak, he religiously obeyed the decisions of the party as a disciplined Karyakarta even when he was not fully in agreement with those. “Politics and discipline don’t go together. The rare exception is Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” commented Walter Andersen, author and researcher.

Atalji practised his brand of politics without any hesitation or rethink. We have successfully done away with untouchability in social life. Yet, we acquired a new type of scourge called political untouchability. An atmosphere of intense hatred pervades the political arena today. Atalji never practised such politics.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, of which he was one of the tallest leaders, was the arch rival of the Congress and Nehru throughout. But neither Atalji nor Nehru ever allowed this ideological adversity to come in the way of mutual respect and goodwill. Nehru would observe that one day the young parliamentarian will rise to occupy his seat. On his part, Atalji, who made ferocious attacks on Nehru’s policies in Parliament, would speak out from his heart in the same Parliament after Nehru’s funeral, saying: “In spite of a difference of opinion, we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country and his indomitable courage. I pay my humble homage to that great soul.”

This quality he retained till the end. A real tribute to any leader is when his opponents feel his loss. Today when he is not there anymore, the grief, the loss is being felt not only by his partymen and his countrymen, but even by the neighbours. His bus trip to Lahore, the hand of friendship he extended to Pervez Musharraf and his famous address in Srinagar in 2003 as Prime Minister wherein he had talked about ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat’ make him one of the greatest statesmen the country has ever produced.

He respected institutions. As Prime Minister, he trusted and reposed faith in his colleagues in the Cabinet. His colleagues in the Cabinet recall that in several meetings he wouldn’t utter a single word and patiently listen to the views of all colleagues and take decisions after due diligence. Where he needed to give credit to his Cabinet colleague, he wouldn’t hesitate.

Atalji was compassionate with Karyakartas. Even at the height of his popularity, he never displayed any arrogance. He was beloved Atalji for many, including me. As a 28-year old journalist of a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh magazine, I went to Delhi in 1993 to interview him. Parliament was in session and he was the leader of opposition. Babri masjid had fallen just a few months before. I had some awkward questions for him, betraying my inexperience. He didn’t become angry. Instead, he gently guided me through the interview for 15 minutes, giving the right answers to my wrong questions. Kishen Lal Sharma, an elderly MP, peeped in to remind that it was time to go inside the Parliament. ‘Apne Andhra ke Pracharak ko patrakarita sikha raha hun” (“I am teaching journalism to our Pracharak from Andhra), Atalji said.

On one occasion, after the fall of his 13-day government in 1996, I had another opportunity to meet him briefly. How does it feel like losing power in just 13 days, I asked. He taught me a lesson through his answer. “Rajneeti me jaldbaji nahi, patience chahiye. Pratiksha karne ka dhairya chahiye” (In politics, one needs patience, not haste. One should have the patience to wait), he replied. He waited for a decade or more without losing nerve when BJP was reduced to two members in Parliament. And his patience paid off.

“Obituary should be an exercise in contemporary history; not a funeral oration,” said British journalist Peter Utley. Let us look at it through that prism. True, with the passing of Atalji, an era has come to an end. It is difficult to find another Atalji amidst us. But this ‘end of an era’ statement has become too much of a cliché. Atalji as a person is no more. But it is time we brought back the era of his politics — politics of positivity, compassion, dignity and goodwill.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 20:18 IST