Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a great statesman and a true democrat who always had a heart for working classes and even stood with journalists in their struggle against their mighty and powerful management. He was a man of great convictions and always lived to his ideals. He was member of parliament from Lucknow and the management of Times group closed down part of its establishment of Hindi daily ‘Navbharat Times’ (Lucknow Edition) without any prior permission of the state government in June 1993. It rendered 92 newspaper employees including 49 journalist jobless because Times group refused to bear expenditure as per recommendations of the wage board.
The employees were demonstrating against the decision of the management and were sitting on a round the clock Dharna outside its office. Some of the journalist friends informed Atalji about this and he was so hurt that he could not resist himself to join us on Dharna. He sat with us couple of hours to protest the decision and promised all his support to the struggling journalist and employees. He tried to persuade the top management of that time but could not succeed due to their adamancy to crush the movement. Later the battle converted into lengthy litigation.
Atalji never forgot the plight of struggling journalists and used to help some of us at personal level. When he became prime minister the employees won their case in the high court and management went to Supreme Court. Our leader met him in Delhi and expressed inability to contest due to poor resources. He showered his magnanimity and spoke to his Solicitor General Harish Salve and Additional Solicitor General R.N.Trivedi to stand for us before the court. Later he requested Fali Nariman to appear for the employees without charging any fees. His personal staff including Shiv Kumar Mishra and R.P.Singh, IAS knew his sympathies for Lucknow journalists.
I remember one of his press conferences in Raj Bhawan where he broke all the security protocols and closely sat among us. He talked very intimately with journalists. Unlike todays arrogance in political leaders he used to be very humble and polite and very witty. We were just stunned when a just fresher lady journalist shot a question at him to tell, “Are you a bachelor or a virgin?” He frankly and smilingly replied, “Though I am unmarried but not a virgin.” He was a totally transparent and clean hearted person unlike many hypocrite politicos and openly acknowledged his live-in relationship.
Vajpayee worked as a journalist for varies publications including Rashtradharma (a Hindi monthly), headed by Deendayal Upadhyaya, Panchjanya (a Hindi weekly and mouthpiece of RSS) and the dailies Swadesh and Veer Arjun. He had also very close association with veteran journalists like Vachnesh Tripathi and Dr Nand Kishore Trikha. Vachneshji use to prepare him to deliver public speeches. The soul of a journalist in him had always dominated his thinking process that outshine him sometimes at divergence from party line and allowed to attain the stature of an independent and dispassionate thinker within and outside his party as a liberal leader. Perhaps this unique distinction allowed him to manage a coalition government with 23 political parties having divergent ideological streams.
Lucknow has always been close to his heart as he enjoyed tremendous confidence of the people. He was easily accessible to everybody and his closest aide Shiv Kumar and former minister Lalji Tandon proved to be his troubleshooters for addressing civic grievances of peoples of his constituency. The journalists of his times enjoyed special rapport with him as he used to identify them even in the crowded gatherings of Delhi. The people of Lucknow deeply mourned the death of a true and trusted leader who tirelessly shaped the overall development scenario of Lucknow putting it on the international map.