Former PM and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on August 16 at AIIMS, New Delhi
When the state of Emergency was declared in India on the night of June 25, 1975, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, along with LK Advani, Madhu Dandavate and SN Mishra, was in Bangalore (Bengaluru) as part of a parliamentary delegation visiting public sector units.
Madhu Dandavate was put up at the Ashok Hotel, while the other three preferred to stay at the more mundane legislators’ home, close to the state secretariat, Vidhana Soudha.
The next morning, while Mishra was still busy doing yoga in his room, Vajpayee and Advani came down to the first floor to have their breakfast, where they were met by young ABVP activists, Dattatreya Hosabale and PGR Sindhia, among others.
Even before breakfast was served, deputy commissioner of police Srinivasulu landed up with a posse of policemen. By then, Mishra also had joined the table. Srinivasulu politely told the gentlemen that an Emergency had been declared and he had been given orders to arrest and send them to the Central jail. He said he had a jeep waiting for them downstairs.
Mishra immediately flared up and asked the police officer to show the arrest warrant. Srinivasulu told him it was only an oral order and he had to carry it out. A cool and composed Vajpayee then said: “Ab tho hame mamaji ke ghar jaana padega (Now we will have to go to uncle's house)…”
Narrating the above incident, Dattatreya Hosabale, who is currently the Joint General Secretary of RSS and No 3 in the organisation’s hierarchy, told Moneycontrol: “Advani ji asked us to contact PTI and UNI (the news agencies) and confirm the news of Emergency. Those days, a trunk call had to be booked to speak to Delhi… Meanwhile, Advani ji wanted to issue a statement to UNI condemning the Emergency.”
Hosabale recalled Vajpayee’s prophetic remark right then: “Aap ka statement kaun chhapega…Press freedom bhi nahi hoga. (Who will print your statement...there will be no press freedom either).”
Within a few days of being incarcerated, along with Advani, Dandavate, Ramakrishna Hegde, Deve Gowda, Lawrence Fernandes (George Fernandes’ brother) and others, Vajpayee fell seriously ill in jail.
He was shifted to the government Victoria Hospital. Vajpayee then suffered from an ulcer and a kidney problem, but the doctors soon discovered that he needed to undergo appendicitis operation immediately.
Dr Srinivasa Gowda, a pathologist who was one of the doctors who attended on Vajpayee, recalled: “He had developed retrocaecal, which meant that appendix was not in its normal position. It was not a major operation and Vajpayee ji recovered quickly. But he continued to suffer from high temperature for the next 4-5 days.”
Vajpayee asked Dr Gowda to find out whether the hospital authorities could contact the then Karnataka chief minister Devaraj Urs and arrange for him to be shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, for further treatment. “They have been treating me for the last 3-4 decades and they know my medical history,” Vajpayee said.
Dr Gowda recalled that Devaraj Urs, who was very close to Indira Gandhi, had not used highhandedness against the political opponents jailed in Karnataka. He said within a matter of hours, Urs arranged for flying Vajpayee to AIIMS, and after his recovery there, he was shifted to a jail in Rohtak, Haryana.
Dr Gowda said, within half an hour of Vajpayee being airborne, he got the microbiological report saying he had contracted malaria. “I informed the doctors at AIIMS about the medial report and they were thankful that they could quickly begin treatment rather than subjecting Vajpayee ji to further investigation.”
Political activists S Suresh Kumar, V Nagaraj and K Narahari, who were among those who spent jail terms along with other national leaders, recalled that there was a lot of bonhomie among the inhabitants, though they came from different political backgrounds. “There used to be intense political debates, but never acrimonious. We were able to understand each other’s point of view better and this perhaps helped the opposition leaders to come together and form the Janata Party soon after the Emergency was lifted,” said Suresh Kumar, currently a former minister and BJP MLA.
Giving a glimpse of another dimension of Vajpayee as a parliamentarian, veteran journalist and now Chairman of Prasar Bharati, A Surya Prakash, recalled: “In the early 1980s, when I was covering Parliament, Vajpayee used to walk with me after the Lok Sabha got over, discussing the day’s proceedings and other developments, till I reached the bus stand to go Indian Express, my office. Vajpayee generally preferred to walk to his home at 7, Tuglaq Marg.”
After Vajpayee had become prime minister, Surya Prakash had written something critical in the paper about the government. Vajpayee accosted him at the Central Hall, and merely said: “Aapne kya likha hai, mujhe samaj nahi laga (What have you written, I could not understand).” In hindsight, Surya Prakash recalls, that he too was unconvinced about his own writing!That was Vajpayee, who mingled with the people, and who could disarm his own critics in a gentle way.