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How Atal Bihari Vajpayee won over Mamata Banerjee

Prabir Ghosal
Prabir GhosalAug 20, 2018 | 13:59

How Atal Bihari Vajpayee won over Mamata Banerjee

Though they belonged to two different political ideologies, there was no personal barrier between them.

In an age of political alliances, the most successful Prime Minister that India has ever seen was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Owing to his liberal views, his tolerance and his able leadership, he was popular across political parties.

In the present political scenario, regional parties are becoming increasingly significant. Amid their ongoing bickering over various demands, one can’t help but remember Vajpayee, who knew how to handle political allies who were not on the same page on various issues. Forget the BJP, I have never come across any political leader of his stature in any party.

PV Narasimha Rao ran a minority government with external support and Manmohan Singh ran a collation government. But I think Vajpayee rose above his party and became a leader of all.

mamata-vajpayee-insi_082018125703.jpgAtal Bihari Vajpayee knew how to steer a coalition government (Photo: Reuters)

At times, many allies of his government were not happy with each other, but Vajpayee was the link. One of the biggest examples was Mamata Banerjee.

There was a time during Vajpayee’s prime ministership when LK Advani and Mamata Banerjee were not on talking terms. But Mamata Banerjee never hesitated to go to Vajpayee. Even at that time, the BJP supported Banerjee, though she was not a minister.

Banerjee was not willing to take up the coal ministry thinking that she would have to take the responsibility of a portfolio which was mired in controversies. But then Vajpayee convinced her.

Today, the scenario is completely different. Today’s BJP, which is far stronger than it was during Vajpayee’s time, is not being able to pacify parties like the Telugu Desam and Shiv Sena. The absence of a leader like Vajpayee can be felt. It’s his leadership to which the party owes much of its present strength.

But Vajpayee, the person beyond politics, could easily come out of this political cloak and mingle with people. In the 1990s, when he used to come to Kolkata, he used to visit the house of Ghanshyam Beriwal at Chittaranjan Avenue. In the evening, he would visit Prinsep Ghat and eat phuchka (golgappa).

atal-mamata_082018125729.jpgPolitical ideologies never became barriers in their personal relationship (Photo: Reuters)

Those who know how small Mamata Banerjee’s Kalighat residence was would not second-guess how uncomfortable Vajpayee would have been there. And yet, the former Prime Minister spent long hours there — sweating but smiling.

Though they belonged to two different political ideologies, there was no barrier between them.

As a journalist, I saw a different Vajpayee in one of the meetings of BJP’s national executive committee. The meeting took place in Panjim, Goa. After the meeting, a beach party was organised which Vajapyee attended in a trouser and a casual shirt. He even recited poetry and mingled with everyone, including the journalists.

It was a party meeting. So, every other leader was in dressed formals.

But Vajpayee was completely in a party mood.

Last updated: August 21, 2018 | 12:55
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