Hiren Mukherji, an arch political adversary of Nehru, called him A Gentle Colossus. But he had feet of clay, as well. If anyone deserves this sobriquet unequivocally amongst all our PMs, it would have to be Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is no more.
He had no political adversary, and it’s rumoured that he used to watch movies with Mrs Gandhi! I heard him for the first time in Delhi University Campus, when Emergency was lifted in 1977. He was the star speaker, though JP was the main attraction. I recall him saying: ‘ If Nehru would have been alive, he would have strongly disapproved of Indira’s action’. He never mixed his firm conviction in democracy with friendship. Those who stridently attack Nehru these days, would be disappointed to note that he really admired his scholasticism and kept a copy of Glimpses of World History on his table when he was India’s Foreign Minister. When he noticed that the framed photograph of Nehru adorning the walls of South Block was missing when he took over as the PM ,he ensured that it was quickly restored to its place of dignity.
I worked as Director (Finance) in DRDO from 1995- 1998, when Dr Kaplam’s was my boss.
I recall a little incicident vividly, when he was PM of a minority ministry in 1996 and Mr Pramod Mahajan was our Defence Minister. Mr Mahajan was keen that India should go for a nuclear test. It had Dr Kaplam’s go ahead. When he went to Mr Bajpayi for his approval, he called Mr Brajesh Mishra, his Principal Secretary & NSA with whom he had an instant Chemistry, and was closeted for a few minutes. He told Mr Mahajan that he did not have the majority in the house to go ahead with such a critical decision. He knew well that it would have helped him in the floor test, but he had the spine of a true democrat and resigned. Alas, all the three are no more! A scholar, a diplomat and a doer.
He did go for the Pokhran blast in 1998, only he had a resounding support behind him. I remember how Dr Kalam wore the uniform of a Colonel at the blast site. Even the then COAS at that time had no inkling of the impending test! He believed that nuclear deterrence was an antidote to an unreliable adversary like Pakistan.
He paid fulsome compliments to Mrs Gandhi when she went for the blast in 1974. He did not follow her in 1996 when he did not have the majority. He was the ultimate Colossus. He did not have the feet of clay of the Nehrus!
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