Baapjii the Prime Minister that I knew

Yambem Laba *

It was in 1974 when I had landed at Delhi for my College for the first time. Armed with a letter addressed to Mr.B.N.Kaul former Warden of Ramjas College, Delhi. The address was a bit baffling cause it read 1-Ferozeshah Road. That was the house of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee firebrand Member of Parliament belonging to the Jana Sangh then. The Kauls were his guests in as much the Warden house in Ramjas College was his.

All of us addressed him as Baapjii since then and even when he became Prime Minister.

Then came the Emergency and he was imprisoned but had suffered a slip disc and had to be admitted at AIIMS where I visited too.

Upon release from AIIMS he was interned in his house under house arrest and everytime I visited the place, Gunoo and I would have a big laugh over the Delhi Police’s inability to record my Manipuri name straight.

Then in 1977 when the elections were declared he along with Jay Prakash Narayan,Vijaya Lakhsmi Pundit and Raj Narayan came to Delhi University to address a rally. After the speeches were over we retired to the official residence of Mr.B.N.Kaul in the Ramjas Campus. There I asked him “Baapjii how much seats are you expecting?”. Then he said Dekho Bhai if we get 200 plus we will make a good strong opposition.

Elections came and when the results were being announced on TV, I was at 1-Ferozeshah Road. He would pop out once in a while and ask bhai score Kiya hai. I would tell it has crossed 300 and finally when it reached the 400 mark he quipped “Hindustan Pagal Ho Gaya Hai” (the country has gone mad).

He was then made External Affairs Minister and began touring the world.

Manipur at that time was also erupting because of the arrival of N.Beshswor and his group from Lhasa and launched the PLA movement.

It was in the aftermath of his visit to Beijing that I went and asked him about his conversation with Huang Hua then his Chinese Counterpart inter alia Manipur.

He said that the Chinese frankly admitted that they had helped but that was a thing of the past. He had by then moved to 7-Safdarjung Road.

Then he lost in the hustings from the New Delhi constituency and moved to 6-Raisna Road. He was planning to visit Manipur and assigned with providing him with a brief on the State. Did a 20 page write up and the only line he had earmarked was the sudden jump in the Christian population of the State from 1961 to 1971.

Then Sudeb Basu, a friend from North Point came to me and asked me if I can take him to one of his speeches. Said yes and didn’t tell him where we were going but took him straight to 6-Raisna Road had lunch with Baapjii and travelled with him till the Ram Lila Grounds and sat behind him on the podium. He was greeted as the next Prime Minister of India and when reminded of it he dismissed it as *don’t believe in astrologers*.

But at the Ram Lila Grounds you could see how, with a gesture of his hand, he could sway the over 5 lakhs people that had gathered there.

Then he became Prime Minister and had just made two visits. First was a courtesy call and the second was being deputed by Chief Minister Ibobi when my cousin Yambem Thamkishore was abducted first by the United Kiki Liberation Front and later handed over to the NSCN(U-M). He was DC Chandel then.

When the news of the abduction of an IAS officer reached the Prime Minister’s ears and the name Yambem came out, Gunoo later told me that “if he is a Yambem then he must be related to our Manipuri affairs advisor meaning me.

I got to work overtime in tandem with the Late Ashok Saikia my senior in Ramjas and the Prime Minister’s Joint Secretary or Major Domo. That was how Thamkishore was released.

That was in 2000 whilst I was a Member of the State Human Rights Commission. He had also come to visit Manipur then and whilst calling on him personally Shri Oudh Narayan Shrivasthava then Governor of Manipur wanted to introduce me to him.

He shrugged his hand and told him “I know him from long back”.

Then when the 18 June, 2001 uprising in Manipur happened he was in Beach Candy Hospital in Bombay for a Knee Replacement Surgery. On the 19th he instructed Ashok Saikia to get a full report and he rang me up. Almost gave him a blow by blow account and added that perhaps the only thing left is for the Declaration of Independence.

Ashok Saikia called me up again the next day and asked me to inform my friends to watch the TV program as the PM has made a very important announcement on Manipur. That was when I told Ashok Saikia to issue a directive from the PMO to Bed Prakash Marwah then Governor of MANIPUR to stop behaving like the Delhi Police Commissioner which he was before and had shut down the entire TV network over the State.

Ashok Da simply said OK and the TV channels were resumed from 6 PM. There in Bombay he confessed that a misunderstanding seems to have occurred in Manipur. And thereafter the word without territorial limits were removed from the Bangkok Declaration.

Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bharat no Ratna, Voice of the opposition and the People’s Prime Minister of India has passed away and this is a small tribute as I had known him.

* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on August 30, 2018.

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