As someone who was growing up in the 1990s, my father’s stories about Atal Bihari Vajpayee were an integral part of our lives. My father, a lawyer, was influenced by Vajpayee’s wit and extraordinary oratory skills.
One of the anecdotes centred around a speech that Vajpayee gave at Delhi’s Gol Market in 1977 while campaigning for Morarji Desai. My father, who was then a student in Delhi, was clearly impacted by the leader’s message of “patience is the key to maintain dharma”.
Quoting Mahabharata, Vajpayee spoke about how the Pandavas in search of water reached a lake. Yudhishthira, the oldest and wisest of the five, asked Sahdev, the youngest, to go and have water first. As soon as Sahdev tried to quench his thirst, an invisible voice roared and said: ‘First, answer my questions’. Sahdev did not pay heed and soon fainted. Now Nakul, Arjuna and Bhima came one after the other. They too fainted upon hearing the invisible the voice. It was finally Yudhishthra’s turn. The same voice again sought answers. Unlike his brothers, Yudhishthra patiently listened to the voice and tried to answer all its questions. When the task got over, Yudhishthra was asked who amongst his four brothers he wants to be alive. After a pause, the eldest Pandava said he wanted to save Sahdev. But why Sahdev, he was asked. Yudhishthira answered that Nakul and Sahdev were sons of Matri, while he, Arjun and Bhim were Kunti’s. If Sahdev gets life, both the mothers would have at least one son alive, he said, adding that to his mind would be justice. Pleased at the answer, Dharamraj (The God of justice) appeared and granted life to all the Pandavas. “It was the test of Yudhishtra’s sense of justice. He managed to win by application of mind and patience,” Vajpayee told the crowd, adding: “Here Yudhishthira’s patience leads to his win and this is how it always happens.”
The speech was a huge influence on my father, who had come to Delhi from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, and it formed a big part of the life lessons he imparted to his children.
This sense of justice is clear even in Vajpayee’s popular speech in Parliament in 1996, before giving resignation as the prime minister. “Satta ka khel to chalega, sarkare aayegi..jaayegi…partiya banegi..bigadegi… Magar Ye desh rahna chahiye, is desh ka loktantra Amar rahna chahiye. (In Democracy, winning or losing elections, parties will come and go. But our nation must remain united, our democracy must remain eternal),” he said, almost reminding everyone why Jawaharlal Nehru had once remarked how this young MP from the opposition showed “immense possibilities”.
Yesterday, my father’s voice was trembling when he narrated another Vajpayee story on my insistence. Apparently, when Vajpayee was an MP, he used to have juice outside Parliament daily and developed an affection for the seller. When Vajpayee became the prime minister, the juice seller went to meet him. Seeing his friend, Vajpayee hugged him with his usual warmth. When the juice-seller came out, he told people that Vajpayee was still the same, simple, generous man he knew.