Gwalior: For a statesman who made a humble beginning on the streets of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh in pre-Independence era and went on to become country’s Prime Minister thrice, Atal Bihari Vajpayee could only win a poll once in his lifetime in his home town, in year 1971.
The sixth child among seven brothers and sisters, Vajpayee was born in a middle-class, Brahmin family to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior’s Kamal Singh ka Bagh area.
His grandfather Pandit Shyam Lal Vajpayee had migrated to Morena from his ancestral village of Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh.
It was Jivaji Rao Scindia, the last Maharaja of Scindia dynasty who had offered a handsome Rs 75 a month scholarship to a young poet (Vajpayee) in 1940s so that he could pursue his studies on a condition that Vajpayee will render his services throughout his life after completing his education.
However, after finishing his course, Vajpayee returned to king’s court pleading that he be allowed to join Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and a humble Maharaja obliged him with a smile.
Meanwhile, in 1984, when a 39-year-old Madhav Rao Scindia decided to take an electoral plunge from Gwalior, he found Atal Bihari Vajpayee from BJP in front on him in the epic electoral battle.
The unique background of the rivals, their personal appeal among voters, resources by their side and aggressive campaigning made it a riveting poll battle in 1984.
Then BJP vice president and mother of Madhav Rao Scindia, Vijaya Raje persuaded hard to make her son backtrack but he did not budge.
A humble yet articulate Vajpayee had called it ‘Raja aur Rank ki Ladai´ (A fight between the prince and the pauper). Vijaya Raje the Rajmata of Gwalior state even crossed swords against son and campaigned in full vigour against him but could save grace for her and the party as Vajpayee who had won the seat in 1971 lost the poll by a massive margin as an articulate and charming Madhav Rao managed to woo voters in his favour.
Locals claimed that both the leaders used to draw huge crowds who turned out to listen to them in poll rallies.
Shocked by the defeat, Vajpayee shifted electoral base to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh after 1984. He did come back to Madhya Pradesh with a Lok Sabha poll in year 1991 but chose Vidisha over Gwalior.
However, as the famous adage goes, Vajpayee was taken out from Gwalior but Gwalior could never be taken out of Vajpayee who served a lifelong link with the fort city.
What added to the sweetness of the bond was Gwalior’s famous Bahadura Sweets, which still exists in the city. Vajpayee was so fond of the desi ghee ladoos that one of the national English dailies had termed them as the ‘Passport to PM.’ Even after attaining global fame, Vajpayee kept coming back to the shop whenever possible to savour the delicacy. His family too never forgot to carry the sweets to New Delhi when they visited him.
Decades after Vajpayee attained matchless fame in Indian politics, he still remained an approachable friend for many in Gwalior. In a previous interview, his old associate Jhammanlal, who has an ironing shop in Naya Bazaar in Gwalior, recounted an instance which stood testimony to Vajpayee’s simplicity.
“When Atal ji was serving as minister of external affairs from 1975 to 1979, he once reached Gwalior from Punjab Mail and landed at my shop. He asked me to quickly down the shutters and spent time with close friends over snacks and tea,” Jhammanlal had said.
Gwalior Mela, an annual trade and culture fair, was also quite close to his heart and he often paid a visit to the extravaganza. In his youth, he used to have Gajar ka halwa in the fair from Haridwar halwai. A foodie, Vajpayee also frequented at another local shop Chachi ki Mangodi in old days.