In the hills, neighbours miss Atal Bihari Vajpayee

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Prini (Himachal Pradesh), Nov 9: Residents of this picturesque village are missing a gentleman politician who built a cottage here hoping to spend time amid apple and walnut trees before illness gripped him: Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The tastefully built house in typical hill architecture is located on the banks of the Beas river, on the Manali-Naggar road. Prini is located on the outskirts of the Manali resort. Vajpayee last visited the house, currently out of bounds for people due to security reasons, for a quiet sojourn in June 2006. That was two years after his government was voted out in the national elections.

Since then, the house has been wearing a deserted look. Neighbours fondly recall the days when Vajpayee as prime minister came here every summer and mingled with the villagers.

"For us he's a god. He had a soft corner for his neighbours and was particular about the development of the village," resident Tule Ram told IANS.

Remembering one of his visits in May 2001, Ram, 55, said that on the request of the locals, Vajpayee directed the immediate construction of a bridge and strengthening of a road connecting the village to Manali.

Kundan Lal, a former village head', described Vajpayee as "a true statesman".

"He's emotionally attached with this place. He penned some of his poems during his stay here. In fact, he wanted to develop this cottage as a poet's retreat," Lal added.

During his 2001 visit, Vajpayee told reporters that he composed his poem "Unchai" at Prini. He also recited some couplets.

Solang, popular among skiers for snow and steep pistes just 13 km uphill from Manali, still bears a foundation stone laid by Vajpayee May 26, 2002.

The stone reads: "Commissioning of works for access road to south portal of proposed Rohtang Tunnel by Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee."

Septuagenarian Mehar Thakur, who is settled here, recalled that it was Vajpayee's old friend Tashi Dawa who persuaded him to construct the Rohtang tunnel beneath the majestic Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet) to ensure round-the-year accessibility to the remote areas in Lahaul valley.

Dawa alias Arjun Gopal, a resident of Lahaul, died in December 2007.

"They (Vajpayee and Dawa) were good friends. Whenever Vajpayee used to visit Prini, he called on Dawa. They used to share their nostalgic moments for hours," Thakur said.

"When Vajpayee became prime minister for the first time in 1998, Dawa met him in Delhi along with a delegation of people from the Lahaul Valley," added Thakur, who was a part of the delegation.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, in public addresses, makes it a point to express his gratitude to Vajpayee who, as prime minister, provided all the support-- allocating central funds and projects -- to speed up development of the state.

"The people of the state are indebted to Vajpayee. At no point of time did he turn down any request made by the state and was liberal in granting financial packages," Dhumal told IANS.

IANS

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