FROM A PhD student waiting outside 6 A, Krishna Menon Marg, to a PWD worker at the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal. From a civil services aspirant and an advocate from Bihar to a group of migrant workers from UP. As the sun set on August 16, the legend of Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought them all together. One said Vajpayee brought communities together, another said he stood for an ideology he admired, a third said he didn’t know the man at all, he was merely focusing on his job — sprucing up the memorial where thousands will stand Friday.
“Atalji worked for the nation. It didn’t matter for him whether someone was a Hindu or a Muslim, all communities had faith in him,” said Sudhir Kumar Ojha, a 49-year-old advocate from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, waiting outside Vajpayee’s residence on Krishna Menon Marg late Thursday night to pay his last respects.
“As news of his deteriorating health spread, a friend and I took a flight from Patna to reach Delhi to catch a glimpse of his body,” he said. Also in the queue, was 29-year-old engineer Ashish Upadhyay, who “supports the ideology” of “Vajpayeeji’s party”. “But he was above party and politics. He kept all people united, and this had a deep impact on me,” he said.
Dinanath Gupta, a PhD student at Jamia Millia Islamia, says he had been keeping watch on the former prime minister’s health. “In the afternoon, when his condition worsened, I left my research work and went to AIIMS. I wished for his recovery but all of us knew his condition… I am prepared to wait here all night, if that’s what it takes to get one look at his face,” he said.
Also in the queue outside the Vajpayee home, RSS member and UPSC aspirant Rahul Ahvad says Vajpayee is his idol. “I met Vajpayeeji twice, in 2013 and 2015. He was not well then…Today, I just want to look at that great man once more. He maintained good relations with all parties, he took everyone along with him. His poems had a great impact on me, too,” he said.
Barely 7 km away, 18-year-old Rahul Yadav leans on a plough, having removed a few rocks along a service lane near Rajghat. “I was not aware of who Atal Bihari Vajpayee was until this afternoon. I had never heard of him,” he said. Yadav was not born when India and Pakistan were engaged in the Kargil War, only a year old when the Parliament House in New Delhi was attacked, two when Gujarat was rocked by the Godhra riots, four when the Vajpayee government was voted out of power and just nine when Vajpayee slipped into the shadows.
Clad in a neon-orange jacket, Yadav was one of the four men employed by the PWD to spruce up the lane leading to Rashtriya Smriti Sthal, where the former prime minister will be cremated. “I lived in my village in UP’s Etah till a year ago and I dropped out of school when I was in Class 8. I used to help my family in farming. I have been working at PWD for a month and I get a monthly salary of Rs 10,000-11,000 before which I was doing odd jobs. I didn’t know who he was. All I knew when I came here today morning was that the memorials of important people are here,” Yadav said.
Yadav’s colleague Uday Kumar, 25, says he heard the news about Vajpayee’s illness. “Around 12 pm, a municipal worker told me that he has passed away. I knew he was a prime minister and a man like Abdul Kalam and Manmohan Singh,” said Kumar. Around 7 pm, a group of four men — between 18 and 26 years and from Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh — carried their ploughs to go home. For the last “2-3 months”, all of them had been working as daily wage labourers earning Rs 300 a day for an eight-hour-shift.
“I had read about Atal Bihari Vajpayee in school. We read about him in school and college. He was a good man,” said 19-year-old Bipin Kumar, one of the four, adding that he has a BA degree. “All of us were taken by the contractor to this place at 9 am. We were asked to clean the grass. We came to know about Vajpayee’s death through some security officials around 3-3.30 pm. He was a good politician, everyone knows of him. He was a good prime minister,” said Bipin’s co-worker Harinder Kumar, a high-school dropout.