Poonam Mahajan, BJP MP and his grand daughter of late Pramod Mahajan, remembers Atal Bihari Vajpayee Baapji has passed on and for the second time in my life, I have lost my father. Words fail me today as I’m consumed in grief, but at least I know that my Baba and Baaji have united once again.
My birth coincided with the historic founding of the BJP in the year 1980. When my father started working in New Delhi for the party, I was far too young to grasp the intricacies of politics and leadership. For me, the lotus symbol of the BJP only meant one thing - Atal ji and Advani ji whom we fondly called Baapji and Dada. They have always stood strong as the father figures of the party.
On a personal note too, we have innumerable treasured memories with Atal ji and Advani ji. Baba lost his father at a very young age but Atal ji and Advani ji were no less than fathers to him. They both offered unwavering support to my parents under many difficult circumstances. When Pramod ji passed away, the Mahajan family witnessed so many hardships. Unfortunately Baap ji was unwell at that time and we sorely missed his quiet support and serene voice that comforted thousands of Indians with such ease. However, we could always sense his watchful eyes and blessings on us. Today, he may have passed on but that sense of support will always stay strong.
My fondest and most prominent memories of Baapji are from the 90’s, when I was around 14-15 years old. Atal ji had been declared the Prime Ministerial candidate for the BJP. Mumbai was the host to the BJP’s National Executive Meet and I had accompanied my father to the venue. I so vividly remember my father’s chant where he vehemently said, “Atal ji’s victorious horse ride will now conclude only at 7, Race Course Road.” This had created a wave of enthusiasm among the audience sending thunderous cheers across. It also piqued the curiosity around Atal ji at that point in time.
The year 1996 witnessed BJP coming to power with Atalji as the Prime Minister for 13 days. He had to then resign, as we could not gather a majority in the house. I still vividly remember my father’s teary eyes and watched his pain as the government collapsed. My father tried relentlessly to form Atalji’s government. My mind takes me back to his discussions with Baapji and even the disagreements that happened between them. There were times Baba would aggressively urge Atal ji to do something and Baap ji would pacify him by simply taking his name ‘Pramod’ in the most calming manner. That was all it took for Atal ji to understand what Baba was trying to say. But the beauty of their relationship went beyond work and politics. I have even seen my father discuss daily chores with him. That was the magic of the chemistry Then came NDA’s stable government in the year 1999. For us, visiting the Prime Minister’s residence had the same sense of familiarity as visiting our grandfather’s place. Gunno Didi, Atal ji’s daughter was my father’s Rakhi sister.
Another anecdote comes to mind. On one Diwali evening, my father sent me with sweets to Atal ji’s house. When Baapji asked me what I had come with, I innocently told him that my father had sent me with sweets. He opened it only find some savoury chaklis in the box. Baap ji smiled at me and said, “Chakli god naste” in Marathi, implying that chaklis weren’t sweet! I was quite amazed to see his command over so many languages.
Atal ji moved in to the Prime Minister’s residence at 7, Race Course Road. He urged Baba to take his previous residence, the bungalow on 7, Safdarjung Road. That bungalow and Baapji’s belongings were his precious memories. Atal ji was a devotee of Lord Shiva. The Shivling that he prayed to everyday was located inside the bungalow. Baba decided to make our temple around the same Shivling. He was very particular not to replace any of Atal ji’s belongings in that house. I remember that there was a wooden table, which my mother wanted to replace but my father wouldn’t agree. Many remarkable political decisions were taken sitting around this table. Even the decision to conduct the Pokhran nuclear tests, which makes every Indian proud, was taken sitting right beside this table. Atal ji’s family would continue to visit this house even after we moved in. His daughter Neha regularly visited us as her favorite cat was buried in that garden.
I last met Atalji during his Sahasrachandra Darshan program on the 14th January of 2006 which my father had the pleasure to be the host of. My father had gone all out to ensure the event was a grand success. He had made sure the menu included all of Atal ji’s favorite dishes. Leaders from across the country cut across party lines and came to wish him. Pandit Jasraj ji was Atalji’s favourite singer and it was such a pleasure to watch Baapji fully engrossed in his performance. I had my then 2-year old son Aadya holding my hand and I requested Baapji to bless him. He immediately took him in his arms and started playing with him. My heart was so full of happiness at that moment.