When Sharif said, ‘Vajpayee ji now you can win elections in Pak also’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 18 Aug 2018 10:05:17


By Ashok Kumar Tandon



IF HIS popularity helped him win Parliamentary elections 12 times in India, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s oratory passionate in words and sincere in message endeared him to people in Pakistan as well.

So much so that after a powerful appeal for peace by Vajpayee in a speech during a historic visit to Lahore in 1999, then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quipped: “Vajpayee ji ab to aap Pakistan me bhi election jeet sakte hain” (Vajpayee ji now you can win elections in Pakistan also)Such was the charisma of Atal-ji for whom I had the privilege of working.

Ashok Kumar Tandon, a former PTI Special Correspondent who was also posted to London, was the late Atal Behari Vajpayee’s media adviser from 1998 to 2004. He is currently the media adviser to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, and wrote this first-person account for PTI of his impressions working with Vajpayee. I had accompanied Atal-ji on his historic bus trip from Amritsar to Lahore _on the first ever direct bus service between India and Pakistan _as part of his effort to build peace with Pakistan, a goal that remained close to his heart.

As we all know, he signed the Lahore declaration with Nawaz Sharif. I remember in his speech from the lawns of Lahore Governor’s House he literally engaged the people of Pakistan in a sort of a dialogue and he made a very passionate appeal for peace which was broadcast live by Pakistan Television. Besides achieving peace with Pakistan, Atal-ji’s dearest wish was to restore normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.

Once we were on a holiday in Manali immediately after the 1998 Government was formed. At a brainstorming session Atal-ji indicated his mind about his priorities and said his topmost priority would be to improve relations with all our neighbours including Pakistan in a peaceful manner through bilateral dialogues and other priority set was if he could resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue. He said both the issues were inter-related and then started working in that direction because when he met. Sharif at the Colombo SAARC summit they had one on one talks on the sidelines.

He broke the ice and there and I think the dialogue also started there. Then we went on the Lahore Bus peace mission and then the Lahore Declaration followed. Sharif’s comment on Atal-ji’s popularity was not only interesting but spoke volumes of his charisma.