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A Relatively Unknown Story About Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee died at the AIIMS hospital, Delhi on August 16 at the age of 93 following prolonged illness

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This is a relatively unknown story about Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 1984, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her Son Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister and called for elections. BJP President Atal Bihari Vajpayee was contesting from Gwalior, his hometown. The former queen of Gwalior, Raj Mata Vijaya Raje Scindia was supporting Vajpayee. His victory was almost certain until the last day of nominations. Congress fielded Rajmata’s Son Madhav Rao as it’s candidate. Vajpayee rushed to file nominations from neighboring Bhind constituency, but he was late. Vajpayee lost Gwalior by a margin of 1.65 Lack votes.

Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) just won 2 seats. It won one seat each from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi mocked BJP by saying, "Ham Do, Hamare Do" ( Family planning slogan those days). Vajpayee was humiliated. He was the party president. Party had lost badly, his personal defeat added to the injury. He offered to resign as the Party President. His resignation was rejected. This looked like the end of the road for Vajpayee.

Now we can make sense of his Hindi  poem:

हार नहीं मानूंगा, रार नई ठानूंगा,

काल के कपाल पे लिखता मिटाता हूं

गीत नया गाता हूं

They say a week is a long time in politics. By that logic, 11 years is a very very long time. In November 1995, I was covering BJP plenary session as a reporter for Aaj Tak in Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course. BJP was on the rise, thanks to Ayodhya movement. BJP President LK Advani’s Rath Yatra had changed fortunes of the party. BJP had won 120 seats in 1991. BJP had formed the government in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Advani was at the peak of his popularity, Advani and Vajpayee's rivalry was never accepted in public. This rivalry was always in the air. This, later became visible, when Vajpayee was PM and Advani became his Deputy PM, but Advani surprised everyone by proposing Atal Bihari Vajpayee as BJP’s PM candidate. This was the first instance of a Party announcing PM candidate ahead of the elections. Rest as they say is history.

BJP won 161 seats in 1996 General Elections. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited to form the government. This was the first-ever BJP government at the center. This Government lasted only 13 days as Vajpayee couldn’t prove numbers. He never gave up. In one of the subsequent debates in the House in 1997, he told Congress Party, “Mark my words, today you people (Congress) are laughing at us for having less MP/MLA but the day will come we will have our Government all over India with the highest number of MP/MLA, that day people of this country will laugh at you and make fun of you.”

In 2014, the worlds “Ham Do Hamare Do” haunted the Congress party as their votes were reduced 44 seats in Parliament. Vajpayee never indulged in petty politics of scoring points, he always advocated democracy, in his own words.

"सत्ता का खेल तो चलेगा,

सरकारें आएंगी,जाएंगी,

पार्टियाँ बनेंगी,बिगड़ेंगी,

मगर ये देश रहना चाहिए।

इसका लोकतंत्र अमर रहना चाहिए।" 

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Milind Khandekar

Milind Khandekar is a journalist with over 22 years of experience.

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