Lucknow: His inimitable oratory, hand twirls and the guffaws — former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is etched in public memory in the land of Avadh, Lucknow, which he represented in the Lok Sabha from 1991 to 2009.
For some he was the suave, soft-spoken “Pandit Vajpayee” and for many Muslim families in old Lucknow, the most “secular face” among the saffron forces. On Thursday, as the 93-year-old died of age-related ailments at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, the city saw thousands of mourners who had something or the other to share about the doyen of Indian politics.
Kiron Chopra, a front-ranking industrialist of the state, remembers Vajpayee fondly and calls him “the last of the statesmen Indian politics had”. While he admits to not being too big a fan of the former Prime Minister as an MP, he certainly gives him a thumbs-up for the work he did at the national level, be it the construction of the golden quadrilateral or the Pokhran nuclear tests.
“Lucknow became Vajpayeeji’s “karmabhoomi” after he adopted it to contest from here in 1991 and there had been no looking back on this association thereafter,” points out Sri Lata Sharma, a Chowk-based teacher who remembers how she used to line up at crowded functions to hear Vajpayee speak.
“I heard him speak once at the Begum Hazrat Mahal Park, and trust me I was just bowled over,” she recalls with a smile on her ageing face. “He was a magician when he would speak… Not even Prime Minister Narendra Modi can match his oratory … his long pauses, his smiling face, his carefree demeanour… He was from another generation,” recalls Sharad Chandra Mishra, a resident of Sapru Marg here.
The 89-year-old engineer says Vajpayee’s contribution to the development of Lucknow also cannot be written off easily. Deputy Chief Minister in the present BJP government, Dinesh Sharma breaks down while talking of “Atal ji”. Discussing the ill-health of the BJP veteran, he sobs like a child and recalls fondly how as a young party worker he, like many others, was always encouraged by the former Prime Minister.
“It was not only his charisma but also his unique blend of encouragement to the young cadres that is something which is most memorable for me,” he told IANS.
Former Uttar Pradesh Minister and representative of Vajpayee, Lalji Tandon had emotions swelling as he was glued to a television set at his Chowk house on Thursday. His close association with Vajpayee dated back to the 60s. Tandon said “there would never be anyone like Vajpayee ji”.
People sitting at Raja Thandai, a popular shop in old Lucknow from where Vajpayee used to have this “thermos flask full” on arrival in UP, sadly remember the poet-politician. Shreyas Shukla, resident of Narahi who has “pictures clicked with Vajpayee”, calls the former Lucknow MP “rajniti ka ajaatshatru” who had no parallel in modern day India.
“Unki apni style thi, unki apni ek pehchaan thi, un jaisa na hoga” he says while remembering one of the ‘kavi sammelans’ in which Vajpayee had participated. Raj Kumar Singh, a Sadar resident of Sitapur road, credits the BJP stalwart with “managing political contradictions well”. He says no one could have managed the alliances as he did.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar, who once contested against Vajpayee in 1996 from Lucknow and managed to get 35 per cent popular vote, also recalls Vajpayee fondly. “We used to look forward to his spirited speeches in Agra and these memories of such political stalwarts will remain etched in me till my last breath,” said Babbar who called at AIIMS earlier in the day.
Many old timers at the party office had tears rolling down their cheeks and term his passing away as “the end of an era not only in BJP but also India”. The party office bearers at the BJP office which was witness to many visits of Vajpayee are at a loss for words.
Veteran journalist Rajeev Ranjan Jha also calls him “the few good men of Indian politics.”