Former Union minister and BJP’s national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain shares some of his personal experiences with former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna awardee Atal Behari Vajpayee in an interview with Yojna Gusai. Mr Hussain earned the title of youngest Cabinet minister of the country post-Independence when he was given the coal portfolio by then Prime Minister Vajpayee.
You are among the few BJP leaders who were considered close to Vajpayee. How will you describe him?
Atalji was a legend who never had any enemies. People like him are born once in a century. He lived for the nation. He always used to say that organisation is bigger than an individual and the nation is bigger than the organisation. Vajpayeeji was my guardian and also a guardian of thousands of BJP workers for whom he was a source of inspiration. Though he is physically not among us, he will always remain with us. The love and respect for him grew manifold in the last few days when the younger generation got to know about him through the media — about the work the party did and is doing and the various initiatives taken by the NDA government during his regime.
What do you think were his greatest qualities?
There were many but one quality that was exemplary was that no one had anything bad to say about him, even in the political circles. Despite having divergent views, different political parties, different ideologies, he had no enemies in politics. He had the ability to easily win over political rivals. Whether a Communist or a Socialist or a leader from any political party, he could convince political opponents that there would be no differences on issues. He was someone who would convey a message in few words, no matter how big the issue was.
Wo badi badi baat aur kadi-kadi baat bhi kuch shabdon main bayaan karte the (In just few words he would convey his message on big and tough issues). He was a great orator, a prolific writer, a statesman and a legend in politics. But above all, he was a gentleman and a very good human being. He touched the hearts of people even if many had never met him personally. That was the reason why thousands and thousands of people gathered to say their final goodbye to him.
You have the title of youngest Cabinet minister in India.
Youngest Cabinet minister post-Independence, and the credit goes to Vajpayeeji. I joined the BJP in 1986 and in ’87 I met him for the first time. I was in the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha when Umaji (Uma Bharti) was heading it and I had invited him to a Yuva Muslim Sammelan. He came there but that was the same day the Lok Sabha got dissolved in 1997. But because he had promised that he would attend it, he came and was overwhelmed to see the gathering as we were expecting 10,000 people, but many more came just because Vajpayeeji was the chief guest. Such was his personality and his aura.
After that he asked me whether I would contest the coming election (1998 general polls) from Kishanganj, which I lost but then won the 1999 election. I became the youngest Cabinet minister at the age of 32 in Vajpayee’s Cabinet in 2001.
Any personal memory of him you would like to share?
I remember that I used to carry a rosebud in my pocket for him as the SPG would not allow bouquets. One day I could not get the rosebud and to my surprise he enquired about it. He was so attentive about things which we would find small.
He used to come every year to my house for iftar. One time he said something on Ayodhya, which became a major controversy and led to the disruption of Parliament for 13 days. I remember Vajpayee called me after he read media reports that I had some altercation with some Congress leader on his purported remarks on Ayodhya. He then asked me whether I would speak in Parliament on Ayodhya. I said yes, and that was my maiden speech (in 2000) in Parliament.
Which of his government’s decision do you think were exemplary?
Many. His concern for the common man was evident in all his decisions, like the Gram Sadak Yojana. It was the Vajpayee government that built roads in far off places in the country. It was him who though of education for all and started the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the “School Chale Hum” campaign.
Pokhran nuclear test?
Definitely. He showed the world India’s capability and how he was ready to take a risk for country’s security.
Sada-e-Sarhad bus service?
He always wanted good relations with neighbouring countries. Our government under him made sincere efforts so that India and Pakistan relationship become cordial, but such efforts need reciprocation from the other side as well.
As a PM and as a BJP leader, what do you think was his biggest quality?
Every Prime Minister and every leader has his/her individual qualities. But I think, perhaps, Vajpayeeji’s biggest quality was forgiveness. He could never remain angry with anyone for long.
Something extraordinary happened when PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah walked behind the carriage in his funeral procession all the way to his final resting place?
It was the greatest and the biggest homage that Vajpayeeji received from the people and the party he nurtured. I don’t think anyone had received such a tribute. It showed the immense respect and admiration he received from people whose lives he had touched.