|With PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee & Krygyz President|
Bharat Ratan, the highest civilian honour in India, has been conferred on PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 90th birthday on December 25, 2014. It has also been decided by the Government of India to observe the Day as Good Governance Day every year. It is a well deserved recognition to the worthy son of India to put him in league with the galaxy of Indian leaders of the Indian society.
The occasion gives me an opportunity to recall my own cherished memories and recount my brief encounters with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I first saw young Vajpayee in 1968 in Jalandhar when I was a student at the local DAV College. As a student, I had a good interest in the socio-political activities in and around Jalandhar. The annual session of the then Jan Sangh was held in Jalandhar. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected as the President of Jan Sangh. He was taken, I vividly remember, in a regal horse-driven carriage in a procession around the city. I saw the procession, standing in the crowd, at the famous Patel Chowk. I don’t remember as to what he said in Jalandhar but I certainly recall that he was the talk of the town for his spell-bound oratory.
I went to Delhi in March, 1970 to join Ministry of External Affairs as a junior official. I had a good interest in the day to day politics of the country as an aspiring apprentice and as such it was natural to follow Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an able and lively politician. In spite of some spicy stories about his personal life, he commanded all respect and acceptability in the political and social circles of the society at large. In slow progression, I also rose in the ranks of the MEA and was posted in the PMO during the emergency years for protocol and hospitality duties not only for the foreign visiting delegations but also for the cabinet meetings and other related matters. After the emergency was lifted and elections were announced in the early months of 1977, I distinctly recall Vajpayee speaking at a mammoth public meeting on Rajpath, probably the last public meeting before the canvassing came to a close. It was a spirited and emotional speech, an excellent piece of oratory. The Congress Party and PM Indira Gandhi were trounced in the elections. The rest is all history. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was appointed as Minister of External Affairs in PM Morarji Desai’s Government. It fell on me to escort Atal Bihari Vajpayee from his office in South Block to the Conference Room in the PMO for the first Cabinet meeting of the Janta Government. It was a pleasant experience. Later in the evening when I reached home, my wife told me that I appeared on the TV with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I was delighted. I witnessed him speaking in Hindi at the delegation level talks with the Foreign Minister of the then USSR, Andrei Gromyko in the Committee Room of the MEA. It was for the first time, I understand, when any Indian Minister of External Affairs spoke in Hindi with his foreign counterpart.
During my long diplomatic career, I could have some more intimate moments with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He visited Peking (now Beijing) in 1978. We at the Indian Embassy arranged a tea party for him to meet the slander Indian community in Peking and the Embassy staff. I was looking after the service and hospitality. Vajpayee, as it is well known, has a great sense of humour. We offered him Pakoras. He was not inclined to pick up one. I said, ‘ Sahib Leejiye. Garam Garam Hai.’ He touched the Pakoras and retorted, “Agar Yeh Garam Hai To Thanda Kya Hota Hai.’ We all laughed. During the course if my duties and work from 1998-2000 when I was the Director of Central Asia Division in the MEA, I had a couple occasions to come close to Vajpayee during the state visits of the Presidents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. I was to help our leaders to sign the Agreements during one of these visits at the Signing Ceremony at Hyderabad House. The first document was to be signed by the visiting President and our PM. Two special pens are generally kept for the purpose. I got the documents signed by PM. After the signing, PM instead of keeping the pen on the table, subconsciously, put it in his pocket. The next document was to be signed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. There was no time and option. I immediately pulled out my pen from my pocket and gave it to the EAM for signature. Jaswant Singh is fond of good pens and knew that there has to be a special pen for the purpose. There was no time to discuss. He reluctantly signed the documents with my personal pen. All the remaining documents were also signed by other dignitaries including Lal Krishan Advani and Ananth Kumar with my pen. Later, I explained the mishap to the Chief of Protocol and EAM Jaswant Singh. He smiled. Later, with the help of my friends in the PMO, Ajay Bisaria and Sunil Jain I obtained one of the photographs of these ceremonies autographed by PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I keep it as a prized possession.