India. November 1957. The General Elections having been held in the past April, had led to the formation of the various governing bodies, the Lok Sabha being one of them. The young and idealistic Republic, having just achieved emancipation from their colonial overlords, was slowly making its way into the light, under the watchful eyes of the Indian National Congress. Having played a central role during the Independence Movement, it was only fitting that the party had achieved a complete hegemony over the Indian political landscape.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, as it was known then, was relatively new onto the scene. Being an idealogical brainchild of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), it was fair to say that they were treated as a fringe outfit, who were not power players in any sense. And that showed in the results of the election. The INC followed their success in the previous election with another dominant display, winning 296 seats out of a possible 490 seats in the Lok Sabha. Pandit Nehru, a legendary figure, was about to lead India into the future, with the iron clad support of the people, not unlike the previous term. And yet, somehow, this time was different. There was a new wind blowing, and it sent a shiver up the status quo’s. And it was about to change Indian politics forever.
Soon there was talk. Talk of a fresh faced MP from the Sangh, who was said to not just be a fierce critic of the ruling party, but staunch in his beliefs too. His oratory skills were legendary. His words commanded rapt attention. A charismatic orator with a new message, they said. And he wasn’t easy to beat too. Having lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap, who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1932, in Mathura, he got by with a nomination from Balrampur. And this young MP’s name, which was about to be etched onto the heart of every Indian, was Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
And it wasn’t long before the top brass started taking notice. The PM was an early target of his sharp critiques. Never before had he faced such opposition, from someone who he had frequently exchanged sharp retorts with, but had a deep respect and appreciation for. It is said that Pandit Nehru often made it a point to never miss Atalji (as he was and is known to his ardent followers to this day) at his best. In fact, such was the strong impression that he had cast on him, that the PM had correctly predicted that Vajpayeeji had the makings of a great Prime Minister. And this is what was fundamentally unique to Atalji, a bipartisanship unheard of, where even his fiercest detractors had to bow down their heads to his many accomplishments during his three terms as Prime Minister and many more at various positions in the executive and legislative branches. And it isn’t a stretch to say that his greatness encompassed the span of the whole country. He is the only political leader to win Lok Sabha nominations from 6 districts in 4 states. His rapid rise through the echelons of politics soon resulted in a nomination for Prime Minister, being the first to win without the Congress ballot. His leadership transformed the BJP to the political juggernaut that it is today.
While his tenure is glittered with glowing feats of progress in many sectors, his greatest achievement is perhaps, demonstrating India’s might by achieving successful nuclear defence capabilities in the Shakti tests at Pokhran. And this was done without causing any harm whatsoever to India’s image on the global stage. A man who was always breaking precedents, he was the first head of state to address the UN in Hindi. His stable governance and steady hand over the country ensured an unfettered age of growth and development not seen since the days of Pandit Nehru. Many of his iconic moments will forever be enshrined in the memories of Indians, like his iconic bus trip to Lahore, a symbol of a time of peace between the two countries.
But, as he describes it, politics wasn’t actually his passion. His actual love was for the written word, in all its unique glory. The poetry, much like the man, had deep layers, with an irreverence of sorts for pessimistic notions and thoughts. Words, and the sounds they create, served as a gateway to a deeper bliss, pure and unadulterated by earthly flaws, according to him. A servant to the country, his only love was towards his duty, so a wife was out of the question. To this day, he is survived by a foster child, Smt. Namita Bhattacharya. His legacy will live on forever in the hearts of the billions of Indians, whose lives he has bettered by the countless years of service he has devoted at the altar of the Nation. And so we take this opportunity to remember, reminisce and learn from the life of one of India’s greatest leaders, Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee. May your soul rest in peace, Atalji.
– Pratik Tribhuwan