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Lucknow loses its ‘Atal’ connect!

In February 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “One can feel Vajpayeeji everywhere in Lucknow. He loved the city so much!”

lucknow Updated: Aug 17, 2018 14:59 IST
Manish Chandra Pandey
Manish Chandra Pandey
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Lucknow,Atal Bihari Vajpayee,Smriti Sthal
In February 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “One can feel Vajpayeeji everywhere in Lucknow. He loved the city so much!”(HT File Photo)

In February 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “One can feel Vajpayeeji everywhere in Lucknow. He loved the city so much!”

Modi’s rally in the state capital in February 2017 had been billed among the biggest political rallies the state capital witnessed. But aware of Vajpayee’s Lucknow connect, Modi had invoked the former PM.

“Had he watched this rally on TV Atalji would have been very satisfied,” he had said.

Deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma recalled how Vajpayee was a much sought after leader in each election – be it for Lok Sabha or the local bodies.

“There was a way about him. I remember how despite running high fever he came on my request to campaign for me when I contested for the post of Lucknow mayor. He had cleared my name and I desperately wanted him for my campaign,” Sharma recalled.

He remembers Vajpayee asking him, “Tum chahtey ho main nikaiy chunav main bhi prachar karoon (you want me to campaign in local bodies’ polls too”?”. Fearing a tough contest, Sharma nodded and Vajpayee came for his campaign despite running fever.

It was at this campaign he made the kurta-pajama remark that is still famous. “Aapne mujhe Lucknow se MP banakar kurta de diya hai, ab mayor jitakar pajama bhi toh pehna dijiye (You helped me win as an MP. That’s like giving a kurta to wear but help me wear pajama too by getting my party’s mayor elected too),” he said. The message registered, Sharma went on to win. “Since then I have come to be known as Atalji ka pajama (the pajama of Atal),” Sharma reminisced with teary eyes.

Vajpayee’s close aide Lalji Tandon recalled an incident in 1992 when he had rushed to meet a plane hijacker without caring about himself.

The plane was carrying some top Congress leaders, including the then long standing Congress treasurer Sitaram Kesri, who later also became the Congress party chief.

“The Ayodhya movement was at its peak, Vajpayeeji, who had become a Lucknow MP by then, had just winded up his day and settled for dinner at the capital’s state guest house when the district magistrate and then advisor to the governor came rushing in saying a youth has hijacked the plane,” Tandon recalled.

The hijacker demanded to see Vajpayee in person and had threatened that unless the demand was met he would blow up the plane with 200 passengers on board. He had claimed he was carrying a chemical bomb with him.

“Without wasting a second, Atalji stood up and told me that he would go to meet the hijacker first before eating his food. By that time the ATC had confirmed that the Delhi-bound Air India plane had been hijacked. For security reasons, the plane was parked far from the main landing area. Atalji had to climb a tower to meet the hijacker,” Tandon recalled.

The youth was arrested soon after and Vajpayee then went around to meet passengers of the plane to assure them they were safe and found many of them were top Congress leaders like Sitaram Kesri.

“As soon as I told a terrified Kesri that all was well, the Congress leader quipped that with Atal around all of them felt safe. That was the kind of appeal he had,” Tandon said.

BJP leaders remember how Vajpayee would use his charm and wit to prevail over the people.

“I remember there was a public meeting in Lucknow but as Vajpayeeji got up to speak the microphone started catching radio signals creating disturbance that made people restless. Vajpayee asked the audience if they could hear him and the people said yes. He then asked if they could hear the radio too. People said yes, again!”

At this Vajpayeeji said, “Toh phir ek kaan se mujhe suno, ek kaan se radio! (hear me from one ear and the radio from the other).” The crowd laughed and a little while later the disturbance disappeared too.

On another occasion during a press conference in Lucknow Vajpayee was asked a tricky question about a senior leader shifting base from Faizabad (Ayodhya) to Lakhimpur Kheri. The shift was embarrassing as the leader was associated with the temple movement.

Vajpayee heard the query and then noticed that jalebis and curd and butter milk were served to the journalists during the press conference. “Patrakar mahoday, mattha peeneke liye hota hai, jadon main daalne ke liye nahi (dear journalist, butter milk is meant for drinking not for spoiling the atmosphere),” Vajpayee said to deftly wriggle out of a tricky query.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 14:59 IST