New Delhi, Dec 25, 2019-
The occasional appearance of the peacock still adorns its sprawling lawns, the security in and around the building continues to be on its toes, but the occupant of one of Lutyen Delhi’s most significant address has changed.
The tall banyan trees at the 6 A, Krishna Menon Marg has seen history being made from the Atal era right through when he was bed-ridden due to his illness and finally witnessing Amit Shah making it his “home”.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in more ways than one an unique personality — a bachelor Prime Minister, a champion of women’s rights, a poet and an unapologetic follower of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which made him go to jail as well.
Vinod Mehta, a former journalist who was very close to Vajpayee had recounted in his memoir ‘Lucknow Boy’, “My relations with Vajpayee were good. Very good…He was leader of the Opposition and I often found myself sitting next to him at banquets. He didn’t say much, but listened with interest. Like Ronald Reagan he loved jokes. He was not overly humble, but neither was he pompous. He knew his own worth and therefore did not need to prove anything.”
When his government fell in 13 days, many in the opposition ranks would mock him as “Prime Minister of 13 days”. His next tenure lasted for 13 months. While, Vajpayee never went on record to answer opposition’s dig at him, he was well aware of the scoff he was subjected to.
But one fine day, he told media while answering on the instability of the Government, after the 13 months “Raj” came to an end, that his next Government will be of 13 years and he will come to be known as the Prime Minister of 13 years. It clearly showed the man occupying the highest office of the country could take jokes cracked on him, so easily.
Vajpayee’s poetry and him using it in his public life was unparalleled. In many of his election rallies to Parliament speeches, he would recite poems he had written. Legends have it that when the BJP got just two seats in 1984 election, a heartbroken L.K. Advani took Vajpayee for a movie at Delhi’s Golcha cinema. Years later, at a book release, Advani himself said after coming back that night Vajpayee had penned, “Aao fir se diya jalaye”. The poem would go on to become one of the best remembered ones written by him.
Ironically, when Advani was narrating the tale, Vajpayee was reduced to a vegetative state, lying in his 6 A Krishna Menon Marg residence, that hardly saw any visitors.
Vajpayee in his pinnacle of power, when he was the Prime Minister in 1996, had joined a Rediff chat, a very new phenomenon in India at that time. With internet still in its early stages and no medium like Twitter available where politicians could directly talk to people, he chose to try that out. His aides Shakti Sinha and Kanchan Gupta reportedly helped him when he decided to engage in the chat.
Vajpayee was a man who could take people along and rise above the narrow concept of partisan politics. Often referred to as “Ajatshatru of Indian politics”, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had fondly remembered Vajpayee to be too eager to help her in bringing Delhi Metro. This was quite unlike today’s political scenario where the ruling Aam Aadmi Party accuses the Governor of working at behest of the BJP-led Union Government.
When he died, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the almost entire cabinet, walked during Vajpayee’s final journey. The overpowering emotions visible in all political attendees, particularly from the non-BJP parties, was an evidence of the place he held in India’s polity. Yet, his final years have been of a rather sorry state when he could barely recognise anyone.
Even as Shah walked into the sprawling Krishna Menon Marg residence this year, making it the power centre of Delhi, Vajpayee’s memories will forever be etched across every corner of that estate. (Agency)