India loses a great statesman, poet as Vajpayee dies at 93

The charismatic statesman, who navigated the field of politics with finesse, was perhaps loved more by his fellow politicians and the common men for his poetic skills that often manifested in his fiery speeches, writes TEHELKA BUREAU

Former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna awardee Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away at 93 on August 16 at AIIMS Delhi where he was being treated since last nine weeks. Alarm bells rang when Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee became critical and had been put on life support system after his health deteriorated on August 15.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, being a diabetic had only one functional kidney. He suffered a stroke in 2009, weakening his cognitive abilities. Later, he developed dementia. He was elected as Prime Minister thrice during 1996, 1996-1999 and during 1999-2004 — when he completed the full five-year term as a non-Congress Prime Minister. As his health deteriorated, he slowly withdrew himself from public life and was confined to his residence for years.

Mourning the loss of Vajpayee, PM Narendra Modi tweeted, “India grieves the demise of our beloved Atal Ji. His passing away marks the end of an era. He lived for the nation and served it assiduously for decades. My thoughts are with his family, BJP Karyakartas and millions of admirers in this hour of sadness. Om Shanti.”

President Ram Nath Kovind, expressing his condolences, said, “Extremely sad to hear of the passing of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, our former Prime Minister and a true Indian statesman. His leadership, foresight, maturity and eloquence put him in a league of his own. Atalji, the Gentle Giant, will be missed by one and all.”

Vajpayee was a charismatic statesman who navigated the field of politics with finesse, but perhaps what endeared him more to his fellow politicians and the common man alike was his poetic side that often manifested in his fiery speeches. His oratory skills combined with subtle rhetoric earned him praises even from the members of the opposition when he spoke in Parliament and his public addresses liberally laced with poetries drew thunderous applause from the crowd.

Vajpayee had in fact underlined the frailty of human body in his poem ‘Apne hin man se kuch bolen’. One of its stanzas read — ‘Prithvi lakho varsh purani, jeevan ek anant kahani; par tann ki apni seemayen; yadyapi sau shardo ki vani, itna kafi hai antim dastak par khud darwaza kholen’ (The Earth is millions of years old, life an eternal story; but body has limits; though voices of hundred winters, it is enough that one must open the door on the last knock). He had also remarked once in his speech that ‘Manushya sau sal jiye ye ashirvad hai, lekjin tann ki seema hai’ (Man may live for hundred years is a blessing, but, body has its limits).

Born in Gwalior in 1924, Vajpayee was fluent in English. However, his oratory and eloquence came in full force when he spoke in Hindi, in or out of Parliament, balancing his trenchant remarks with well-timed wit. A seasoned politician, he carefully chose his words to drive home the message and even in his sarcasm remained dignified till the end.

A veritable wordsmith, Vajpayee’s speeches were so riveting, it earned him legions of admirers and monikers like ‘shabdon ka jadugar’ (‘magician with words’). In most of his speeches, his love for the country and faith in democracy resonated with his vision for building a stronger India. In his hard-hitting May 1996 speech in Parliament, Vajpayee had famously remarked, “Satta ka to khel chalega, sarkaren ayyengi, jayengi; partiyan banegi, bigedgi; magar ye desh rahna chahiye, is desh ka loktantra amar rahna chahiye (‘governments will come and go. But this country should remain, this country’s democracy should remain eternally)”.

A prolific poet, he penned many works, including Kaidi Kavirai Ki Kundalian (collection of poems written in jail during Emergency); and Amar Aag Hai (collection of poems) and Meri Ekyavan Kavitayen.

He often felt that politics did not afford him time for his poetry. In a public event, he had once remarked that the “streams of poetry ran dry in the desert of politics (‘lekin rajniti ke registan me ye kavita ki dhara sukh gayi’)”.

But, even if couldn’t find time to write new poems, he compensated for that by liberally peppering his speeches with his poetries.  In a public address, he had spoken in his charismatic style about the idea of freedom and hit out at those forces who were threatening — “Ise mitane wale ki saajish karne walon se kah do ki chingari ka khel bura hota hai; Auron ke ghar aag lagane ka jo sapna, wo apne hin ghar mey sada khara hota hai (Tell those conspiring to destroy it that playing with fire is dangerous; Those who think of burning someone else’s house, that would often happen to their own house)”.

A romantic at heart, Vajpayee, who mostly wore dhoti-kurta and bandi, wrote poetry in his spare time, and was a connoisseur of good food, but was unabashedly honest about not finding the conducive environment while being in active politics. “Poetry needs environment, concentration, poetry means self-expression, and self-expression cannot take place in noise (‘Kavita vatavran chahta hai, kavita ekagrata chahti hai kavita atmaabhivyakti ka naam hai, aur wo atmaabhivyakti shor-sharabe mey nahin ho sakti’),” he had said.

Known equally for his humour, Vajpayee had once remarked the he had wanted to leave politics but politics wouldn’t leave him (‘Main rajniti chodna chata hun par rajnti mujhe nahin chhodti’). “But, since I have entered politics, and got stuck in it, my desire was and still is that I leave it without a blemish, and, after my death, people say that he was a good man, who endeavoured to make his country and the world a better place,” he had said.

And, perhaps that is how Vajpayee would be remembered. In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded India’s highest civilian award Bharat Ratna in March 2015. A modest Vajpayee had once said that his contribution in the field of poetry was “almost nil”.

“If I had not entered politics, I would have recited and listened to poetries, attended ‘mushairas’ and ‘kavi sammelans’; would have been in the mood of writing and the poet’s sentiments would have kept expressing,” he said.

(With agency inputs)