When great personalities end their lives, there is a vacuum that takes their place, a vacuum filled only with silence and sorrow. Atal Bihari Vajpayee perhaps knew that, and graciously decided to liberate his soul on the 16th of August rather than the 15th of August. A patriot to the very end, he could not sully the day that brought him and his countrymen the greatest joy with the sadness of his departure. As history is our witness India will now and forever, celebrate the 15th and then mourn the 16th.
He lived a long 94 years and was one of our last tenuous connections to a past where our destiny was not in our hands but in the hands of foreigners. He struggled to change that, not only till 1947, but till the last years of his life. The defining characteristic of Shri Atalji was that he may have been the only Indian politician to have conviction in his ideals, who was not to be swayed from them by any pragmatic or realistic interpretation of how elections are won or lost. Perhaps that is why his detractors could never remove him, he simply played by rules the others did not have the courage to follow, the rules of truth and perseverance in the face of all odds.
He was the face of Indian opposition when the INC was all Indian politics was about. When the Jan Sangh lost almost all seats to a resurgent Indira, Atalji stood strong in his constituency braving it all from the help of the people who knew the heart of their leader for he wore it on his sleeve, always. What else is expected from a sensitive soul who wrote poetry and read prose? The people knew it and loved him for it.
He gave us the nuclear tests, he gave us liberal markets, he gave us an Indian identity, but most of all he gave us a belief in our own morals and virtues when we felt emulating the west in their morals is the way forward. Atalji was chosen by the congress to represent India in the UN and give a speech. He did so, praising the work the INC has done for India while the world heard him. Atalji knew he was representing India, and had no qualms in elaborating on the good work his political rivals had done. Moreover, he did so in his ‘maatrabhaasha’ and the world applauded. When he had to declare war on Pakistan for daring to take Kargil away, he declared war not by cursory declarations, not by the inflaming hatred of rhetoric, but by the passionate resolve and articulation of poetry. He remains the only head of state till date to have done so.
The man is no more, but the India he created is very much alive. Soon he will be one with her soil, as the Ganga will take him with due honor to a ‘moksha’ he deserves like no other. An era closes, the flower is dead. But the scent remains, as always, it remains.