Kashmir ka kya haal hain? (What is the situation in Kashmir?)” he would ask me when I visited him. I visited Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his house twice a year — on Diwali and New Year — after he demitted office. Whenever I entered the room, no matter how many people were there, he would summon me to sit next to him. It was the same words every time. “Kashmir ka kya haal hain?”
He was a visionary who tactfully mixed pragmatism with his large-heartedness. He was a great man of peace. When he passed away, I spoke to the people in Kashmir — what Vajpayee meant to them. Kashmiris were praying for eternal peace for him, and also hoping peace returns to Kashmir. That’s what one remembers the most.
Usually, it is not easy for officers to have access to the Prime Minister. With Vajpayee, he was always open. Whenever I wanted a meeting, I could go and meet him. And he listened. What he thought of things, he would not always tell you. He was a man of few words. He expected you to deliver. Sometimes, at the end of the conversation, he would pinpoint on an element from the conversation and ask me to pursue it.
Time ran out on Vajpayee...Nobody expected that they (the BJP) would lose the 2004 elections. When Vajpayee and Brijesh Mishra left, I also decided to leave the PMO...Brijesh, in fact, told me that I was not a political appointee. The people said I should not have left...The irony is I knew Manmohan Singh much better than I knew Vajpayee. I thought of this umpteen times, and I think I did the right thing. In Vajpayee’s PMO, it was a family. It was the happiest PMO. He treated his officers in the PMO like his family. He would call officers from the PMO to home for either lunch or dinner and always had a wonderful table. His daughter Gunnu, as we called her, was a wonderful hostess.
I went to officially say goodbye to him one last time after he left office. He was all alone at his home..still in Race Course Road.
When I walked in, I did not know what to say. I said, “Sir, yeh kya hogaya? (Sir, what happened?)” He laughed heartily...he could always laugh at himself. He said, “Unko bhi nahi malum kya ho gaya (Even the Congress does not know how it happened).” Throughout, he never lost his sense of humour.
Vajpayee was a colossus. He was the greatest of our prime ministers after Jawaharlal Nehru. I was very privileged to see him from such close quarters. It is an honour to be able to speak on him.