Another big chapter that made the back days, especially the 90s is now over. One of the best things being born in the 80s was to witness India evolve. The 80s were marked with some monumental events such as Operation Blue Star and its bloodier aftermath. But it is the 90s that have charted the path for the country to move forward. The decade saw the implementation of the Mandal Commission, the emergence of coalition politics, the emergence of an India now open to the world and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a big part of the 90s.
Pune was a quaint little place in that time and traffic was much less. Streets would be largely deserted by 9.30 pm. The television was, believe it or not, watchable. Although satellite TV was making inroads fast, Doordarshan had gems like Byomkesh Bakshi and a whole lot of cartoons to make Sunday mornings special. Also, there was no 24*7 outrage and people relied (and I guess still do) on newspapers for their daily dose of politics. Of course, politics had not become everyone’s favourite topic to talk, except for the elections. Pune also had strong leaders who had national importance, like Vitthalrao Gadgil and everyone was worth a listen.
Elections before the TN Seshan era were a spectacle, marked by huge rallies and grand spectacles, and there were a lot of great speakers. And everyone had his own style. Balasaheb Thackeray’s speeches came at you like a tiger (pun intended), Gadgil had a witty style, but everyone was always eager to listen to Vajpayee.
Even if one were to sit through one of his speeches on YouTube, it will be easy to know why he was such a draw. Unlike his peers, he was also a poet, and his speeches were full of wit, eloquence and poetry. Of course, the shadow of 1992 will always hang over him, but for us 10-12-year-olds, that didn’t matter much then. May be because we were not bombarded with loaded politics 24*7, the era was much less poisonous. May be that is why we had politicians of different philosophies who were respected by one and all, like Somnath Chatterjee, Gadgil, HK Surjeet are some of the names still widely respected across all party lines.
Because of such high standards, Parliament was somewhat of a mystical place where such people held forth. So transmission from inside the Lok Sabha was a crowd-puller in every sense of the word. And two of his speeches, made during two of his 13-day and 13-month ministries are a course in how to give political speeches without coming down to personal terms. It is sans any theatrics, just words.
But it is not only his speeches. Kashmir was a hot button topic with everyone witnessing the plight of the Pandits and the valley being engulfed by chaos of religious militancy. This was a new phenomenon, so his steps towards solving the conflict were seen as a bold move, which till date is appreciated even among the hardliners.
So, another titan of the era has fallen and now none of that political period is alive.