New Delhi, Aug 20: In a moving tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani on Monday recalled several moments from his close to seven decades of friendship with the late former prime minister and said that he had never thought he would be addressing a meeting "where Atal ji would not be there". Vajpayee passed away at Delhi's AIIMS hospital on August 16.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Lal Krishna Advani relationship is seen as one of the most remarkable partnerships in Indian political history. Both owed their loyalty to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its worldview of uniting Hindu society. They both had interests in literature, journalism and cinema.
"I consider myself fortunate that my friendship with Atal ji lasted for 65 years during which I watched him closely. Working together, we shared our experiences, watched films together and read books together," LK Advani said today (August 20) at a prayer meeting held in memory of the former prime minister.
"I have addressed several public meetings but I had never thought that I will once have to address a meeting like this, a meeting where Atal ji would not be there," he added.
Vajpayee was senior and took over the Jana Sangh after Deen Dayal Upadhyay's death in 1968. Advani, with Vajpayee's backing, followed soon after. Both spent time in prison during the Emergency.
Senior political leaders, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, LK Advani, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Jammu and Kashmir CMs Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, as well as Yoga guru Ramdev were also in attendance for today's prayer meet.
"He did not become popular because he was the PM. I think he would have been as popular as he was after being the PM, had he worked in any social or political sector," Rajnath Singh at the meeting.
"Atal ji's words and his life...be it someone who watched him closely or saw him from far away, everyone found him to be the same and believed in him," said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
"Even after his death, he has brought us together in one room, which is great. When I was a minister and he was leader of opposition, we used to have lunch & tea in each others office. It was not that difficult in those days," said senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, said that it was Vajpayee's efforts ensured that India became a nuclear power.
"Atal Ji's efforts ensured Indian became a nuclear power. He attributed the tests of 11th May 1998 to the brilliance of our scientists. Two days later, India tested again & showed what a strong political leadership can do. He never buckled under pressure. He was Atal after all," he said.
When the Vajpayee government created the three states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, the process was peaceful and without bitterness, the prime minister said.
Vajpayee died on August 16 at the age of 93 following a prolonged illness. He first became prime minister in 1996 for 13 days, then in 1998 for 13 months when the National Democratic Alliance again came to power and finally in 1999. He served as prime minister for a full term before being voted out in 2004.