The Man Friday who stood by the legend yet kept to the shadows

The Man Friday who stood by the legend yet kept to the shadows
Shiv Kumar Parikh & A B Vajpayee

New Delhi: Shiv Kumar Parikh has been something like a Man Friday for Atal Behari Vajpayee for more than five decades. The Jaipur native has abandoned his practice at the Supreme Court to be with the charismatic leader and he had a reason for the move.

A Jan Sangh activist, Parikh was pained to see many of the party leaders, including Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Raghu Vira snuffed out prematurely. Mukherjee died under mysterious conditions in a hospital near Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir. Upadhyaya was murdered at Mughalsarai in Uttar Pradesh while Vira died in a car accident near Kanpur.

Parikh paid Vajpayee a visit as soon as the leader took the reins of the Jan Sangh. He told Vajpayee that he wanted to be a companion, but Vajpayee initially tried to dissuade him. Parikh was adamant and Vajpayee had to let him be his aide. The association lasted for decades. Parikh sent his family back to Jaipur and roamed the country as an aide and bodyguard of Vajpayee.

He never misused his proximity to the leader. He kept his word and rejected all positions offered to him. His mission, he would say, was to serve his leader.

Vajpayee’s public meetings were so much different from the BJP’s new-age campaigns, Parikh reminisces. The mass of people waited with pin-drop silence for every word uttered by Vajpayee. The gifted orator did not need any preparations before a speech, even if he were to talk in Parliament. Audience were enamored when he played with poetic freedom.

Parikh could recollect a hundred speeches when Vajpayee mesmerised his audience with a speech dotted with lyrics and fables. He spoke to the masses through the characters they knew.

He drew from mythology and fairy tales.

Parikh remembers with awe many of Vajpayee’s predictions. Vajpayee knew the shape of things to come. He had warned ordinary villagers on the Indian hinterland the economic transformations to come in two decades. He had foreseen the plight of the credit-wary small merchant at the hands of big traders who offered goods on EMIs. Mushrooming shopping malls and credit card culture realised the prophesies of Vajpayee, Parikh says.

He vividly remembers the day when he accompanied Vajpayee to Delhi after the leader was defeated in Gwalior in the sympathy wave created by the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. The BJP could win only two seats in the general election. Shiv Kumar was crestfallen but Vajpayee seemed unaffected when he faced the army of reporters who descended on his Raisina Road residence. When someone asked about the future of the BJP, Vajpayee said the prospects were bright. The reporters laughed out loud but Vajpayee had a point. The Congress has hit a ceiling and the BJP had nothing to lose, he reasoned. He was proved right.

Vajpayee was at his aggressive best during the campaign for the 1989 election, Parikh says. He was desperate to lift the party from its nadir. While the opposition put the Rajiv Gandhi government in the cross hairs over the Bofors scandal, Vajpayee scooped out issues that could strike a chord with ordinary folks. He highlighted the attacks against women across the country. He called out the masses for a battle, evoking memories of the legendary Kurukshetra. The Congress was trounced in the election.

Vajpayee was so grounded that he forecast the BJP’s fall after the 2004 election two weeks before the outcome. Vajpayee, who led the National Democratic Alliance's 'India Shining' campaign as prime minister, clearly saw that the ruling coalition was losing ground.

Amid a hectic campaign in Lucknow, Vajpayee told Parikh that the campaign was senseless and the party was about to lose power. Many of his colleagues in the party were still in a fool’s paradise even then.

Vajpayee thought it was a mistake to conduct election six months earlier than scheduled, instead of using the time to launch more welfare measures. He was not in favor of early elections but had to yield to the general opinion in the party.

Parikh also remembers that Vajpayee enjoyed a cordial relation with Lal Krishna Advani despite media reports of rifts between the senior leaders. They differed in opinions but their hearts were close, he says.

The aide says he cannot think of any long-standing partnership other than that of Vajpayee and Advani. Vajpayee never had a second thought while letting Advani be the opposition leader after the fiasco in 2004, he says.