LUCKNOW: An acclaimed poet, journalist and a brilliant orator, Atal Bihari Vajpayee not only nurtured the BJP as a national party but also rose above the caste, community and party affiliations to emerge as one of the tallest leaders of the country.
His popularity among Muslims was a bonus for the party. A large number of Muslim men and burqa-clad women could be seen voluntarily taking part in his nomination processions.
His close aide, an old friend and senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon, who succeeded him in Lucknow as MP, remembers him as “a fighter to the core and a great visionary who had a ‘never say die approach’ to life”.
“Atalji has been a great inspiration for the entire nation. As Lucknow is also called his home, people here share a special bond with him. His lines, 'chhote mann se koi bada nahi hota, toote tan se koi khada nahi hota', define his persona. People from all walks of life, irrespective of political affiliation, address him with respect,” said an emotional Tandon.
In Lucknow, Vajpayee first campaigned door-to-door for friend Lalji who was contesting his first election as a corporator in 1960. A top Bharatiya Jan Sangh leader then and MP from Balrampur, Vajpayee ensured Lalaji’s victory to counter the open challenge thrown to Jan Sangh by then Congress MLA, Ali Zaheer.
After the 74th amendment to Constitution making civic polls direct in 1992, Vajpayee, then Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, campaigned extensively for Dr S C Rai, the first publically elected BJP mayor of Lucknow in 1995.
Even the present Deputy CM Dr Dinesh Sharma, who was Lucknow’s mayor in 2006, had once shared how he was initially reluctant to fight the mayoral election and consented only after Vajpayee told him, “Yeh mera aadesh hai (this is my order)”.
The charismatic politician won the hearts of friends and foes alike. But his ties with Lucknowites were very special and they regard him as a common man’s leader. City residents have many anecdotes to share on the man who loved to mingle with people and enjoy Old Lucknow’s street food.
Pradeep Bhargava, 62, whom Vajpayee fondly called his ‘saarthi’, recalls how he was chosen by the leader himself to be ferried in his car every time he was in Lucknow. Bhargava says when the former PM decided to contest Lok Sabha poll from Lucknow in 1991, he sought help from his father, a close friend. His father offered Vajpayee two things -- his Fiat Anny and son (Pradeep), who was 25 then.
SD Shukla, a retired central government official, said, “I came in touch with him during a meeting of Jan Sangh when Atalji was living the life of a journalist and editing Panchjanya in Lucknow. On my invitation, he visited my residence and after that, it became a practice. He loved dishes like dal bhari kachauri and ‘kheer’ prepared by my mother.”