Amidst a vitriolic election campaign, Congress president Sonia Gandhi paid a quiet visit on Saturday morning to the residence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He would have smiled. Not that the former BJP prime minister or Mrs Kaul ever sought that gesture, but there couldn’t have been a more powerful confirmation of the standing of the woman who lived in his house and who died earlier on Saturday.
Vajpayee’s constant companion of many years and the mother of his adopted daughter Namita Bhattacharya, Rajkumari Kaul died of a cardiac arrest in AIIMS. She had been admitted to the hospital on Friday. A press release described the 86-year-old as Vajpayee’s “household member”.
While BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi could not make it to Delhi given his tight campaign schedule, top party leaders, including L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, were present for the cremation. Vajpayee, who is bedridden, could not attend the last rites.
Also present at the cremation was Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia — the lone major Congress leader present. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was learnt to have offered his condolences to Namita over the phone.
BJP leaders often talked of Mrs Kaul’s affectionate nature. “Bahut mamata se bhari huin thi,” Swaraj said, talking about her to Prasad on Saturday.
However, very few outside Vajpayee’s close circuit had actually interacted with her. The widow of a Delhi University teacher, who used to be a friend of Vajpayee, Mrs Kaul lived at 7, Race Course Road, when he was the prime minister and often fielded calls made to him simply saying “Mrs Kaul bol rahi hoon”. The two never gave their relationship a name, and whispered rumours apart, were never pushed to do so.
There was another reason Vajpayee would have chuckled Saturday. Also present at the funeral were RSS functionary Suresh Soni and RSS pracharak and BJP general secretary (organisation) Ramlal.