From close quarters

Virendra Pandit | | Updated on: Aug 16, 2018

I vividly recall how some of RSS leaders reacted when, in May 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took oath as the Prime Minister of India for the first time. Watching the event on television, two of the senior-most RSS Prantpracharaks , Baba Sahab Natu and Sharad Malhotra — otherwise reticent — were overwhelmed with emotion and cried like children as I watched them in amazement.

After sipping from a glass of water, Natu remarked: “It was for this day that we worked our way up and struggled since 1925…”

My wife’s maternal grandfather, Pandit Uddhavdas Mehta, was the founder of the Hindu Maha Sabha, and the RSS in the then princely State of Bhopal. Mehta, who led the popular movement for the merger of Bhopal with the Indian Union in the late 1940s, often hosted the young saffron leaders — Deendayal Upadhyaya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, and Kushabhau Thakre, among others — at his home in Chowk Bazar, in the minority-dominated Walled City of Bhopal.

Vajpayee was a famous foodie and loved street food. During an election campaign in Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) in 1991, a shutterbug captured him enjoying butter chicken — the BJP was worried about a possible negative fallout. When journalists asked him about this ‘anomaly’ in a party that boasted of vegetarianism, Vajpayee disarmed the Fourth Estate with a simple remark: “The next time I have a go at chicken, I will ensure no journalists or photographers are around!”

Published on August 16, 2018
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