Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a politician with a difference, a true statesman and an astute politician who transformed BJP from a party with two seats, to a party that ran the government and laid the foundation for a strong party, as it exists today.
He was a gentleman politician known for his characteristic style of using verses and poems even when sending tough messages and disarming his critics with his style. As a Prime Minister, he had a soft exterior but was decisive on issues of national interest. From Pokharan to Kargil war, he demonstrated that he was firmly in control and could handle the toughest of situations with ease. He had a remarkable ability to disarm his political opponents with his persuasive style and also on some occasions, didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone to settle critical issues with State satraps.
He never let political prejudices come in the way of helping friends and sometimes, even foes. Once, when a leading politician, dialled in the middle of the night to seek help for a family member stuck abroad, Vajpayee understood the sensitivity and directed his key aides to help the politician and ensure that the news is kept out of the media. Clearly he didn’t want to embarrass the political opponent.
I had the privilege of knowing him and travelling with him on his foreign trips aboard Air India one, and he was always affable, chatting with the media, unperturbed by even some of the critical news stories that were put out to him.
He was a foodie and was a great Bollywood buff, watching his favourite movies and enjoying golden fried prawns on those long haul flights. He would listen, speaking slowly but firmly and often during diplomatic negotiations disarmed his foreign interlocutor with his convincing and charming style.
A poet par excellence and a great exponent of Hindi, his landmark speech at the UN delivered in Hindi was a first, and it set a new milestone.
One of his famous poems was, ‘Par Haar Nahin Manoonga’, which highlighted his will to never accept defeat, he did lose this battle with long term illness. Above all, India has lost a statesman and a politician of the rarest of rare, who left behind a legacy that can never be forgotten.