Lucknow : Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will always have a special place in the hearts of countless Lucknowites who saw, met or talked with him, and were turned into fans for life. Vajpayee’s easy manners, smiling countenance, willing availability and sense of humour never failed to win hearts even among political foes.
About five years ago, when former President Pranab Mukherji conferred the Bharat Ratna on Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Delhi on March 27, it was probably the last time that the people of Lucnow and probably the rest of India had seen a photograph of Vajpayee. Even in that famed photograph, Vajpayee had a gentle, quiet look with his favourite spectacles. But what Lucknow remembers is a more smiling, laughing and quick-witted personality. Not only leaders and workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party, those in other parties, too, remember his simplicity, oratory and fondness for simple joys of life like cracking an innocent joke, sharing tea and sweets with anyone who was with him, playing with children and above all, remembering people even after long passage of time.
In lanes of Old Lucknow’s Chowk locality, many persons have had long and non-political association with Vajpayee. He was quite fond of Chowk’s famous ‘thandai’ (a locally-made cold drink) and once he accompanied a friend on a bicycle to come to the shop to have a glass. He also mentioned ‘thandai’ in many of his speeches in Lucknow in those years. Vajpayee’s fondness of sweets is well-known. He had a weakness for pedas from a shop in Chowk. Anyone who went from Lucknow to Delhi to meet Vajpayee used to take a package of pedas from that shop for him.
Veteran leader of the BJP Lalji Tandon, who is a popular figure of Chowk, was member of Lok Sabha from Lucknow after Vajpayee declined to contest in 2009. Tandon had been a long time associate and confidant of Vajpayee and was also with Vajpayee like a shadow during the latter’s visits to Lucknow in years from 1991 to 2009.
Vajpayee had a knack of having a poetic repartee to anything that was being discussed. This eased the environment at meetings where he was present and even the most complicated issues were settled in this way. As an MP, Vajpayee was allotted a spacious flat (A-302) in the La Place Colony in the heart of Lucknow, and since his popularity transcended political boundaries, many visitors to his room used to be people from other parties. He was forever worried about improving the civic facilities in Lucknow, and often said that the facilities should be such so as to suit the city’s status as a big state capital.
Vajpayee represented Lucknow in Lok Sabha five consecutive times in 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. He was elected from the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency for the first time in 1991, defeating a little known Ranjit Singh of the Congress by a margin of nearly 1.20 lakh votes. Mandhata Singh of the Janata Dal managed to secure the fourth position, after Janata Party’s Heeru Saxena.
In 1996, Vajpayee defeated Samajwadi Party’s high-profile actor-turned politician Raj Babbar by a margin of about 1.20 lakh votes. In 1998, however, Vajpayee defeated SP’s Muzaffar Ali, a noted film director for whom it was his first and last foray into politics, by a margin of nearly 2.20 lakh votes. In 1999, the Congress fielded veteran Karan Singh but Vajpayee won by a margin of 1.23 lakh votes, while in 2004, Vajpayee defeated nearest rival Madhu Gupta of the SP by more than 2.18 lakh votes. Incidentally this election also saw famed lawyer Ram Jethmalani contest as an indpendent, securing about 57,000 votes. Vajpayee did not contest the 2009 election, and his protege Lalji Tandon did in his place, defeating Rita bahuguna Joshi of the Congress and Akhilesh Das of the BSP and Nafisa Ali, the actress-turned activist, of the SP. But it is little known that he contested from Lucknow in 1952, 1957 and 1962 also, but lost every time.
Vajpayee is remembered by the people of Lucknow by many things. Most significant mong them is the Amar Shaheed Path, a sort of ring road that connects the National Highways emanating out of Lucknow towards Kanpur, Rae Bareli, Sultanpur and Faizabad. Another structure is the Scientific Convention Centre which came up in old Lucknow and today serves as a major venue for large gatherings. The inclusion of the Lucknow-Gorakhpur stretch of the National Highway in the East-West Corridor of the Golden Quadrilateral is also credited to Vajpayee.
Future representatives of Lucknow could well turn out to be famous politicians, but Lucknow will always miss the gentle soul who made a home in their hearts despite not being an original inhabitant of this city.