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The unseen side of Vajpayee and how national security was everything for him

By Vicky Nanjappa
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    New Delhi, Aug 18: The three stints that Bharat Ratna, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had as Prime Minister of India were filled with challenges, especially when it came to Pakistan. Be it the Khandahar hijack, Kargil War, Parliament attack, the challenges were immense and Vajpayee spent a considerable amount of time with the security mechanism.

    Atal Bihari Vajpayee

    C D Sahay, the former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing who had a long association with Vajpayee between 2000 and 2004 says he was a man with a golden heart, who spoke less and did more.

    Sahay took time off to speak with OneIndia and share some very memorable moments he had with the Vajpayee which is not in public domain.

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    My first meeting with Vajpayee:

    " My first meeting with Vajpayee was after in 2000. The Khandahar hijack had taken place and I was nominated to go to Afghanistan to be part of the negotiations along with Ajit Doval and Vivek Katju. There was a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

    I was supposed to brief the CCS and such things which usually last for 10 minutes ended up being a 40 minute affair."

    " I briefed the CCS for a good 40 minutes, which involved various components on how the attackers had come, obtained identification documents etc. It was decided that Doval would be part of the negotiations and Katju would handle the diplomatic side of it."

    " Those were hard times and the nation did not back Vajpayee. People were backing their political views instead. We were as divided as we are now. However during the meeting, Vajpayee listened through the entire presentation and did not ask a single question. He listened intensely, but remained cool. He was absorbing every bit of it."

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    Vajpayee's gestures:

    After the entire episode had come to a close, there was another meeting of the CCS. All of us had returned fro Afghanistan. We were tired and had not eaten properly. At the meeting, when the tea and snacks were brought in, some said, ' what is the need for all this.'

    Vajpayee who was seated across just raised his hand as if to suggest, ' it is alright.' The tea and snacks were served. He realised that we were tired after this exercise.

    Following the meeting, I went up to him and said, " sir, the team has done some outstanding work in such tough conditions. It would be nice if we could get a photograph with him. He was under immense stress at that time. However he smiled and finally gave us that exclusive photograph.

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    From the heart:

    I became the R&AW chief in March 2003 and had various interactions with him. At every interaction, for Vajpayee the rank did not matter. It was what you were saying to him that mattered.

    Whenever I asked him for a meeting, it was immediately. He had a lot of consideration for intelligence, but never blindly believed anything that was told to him. He made his own decisions and had a mind of his own.

    In April 2013, when he went to Srinagar, he extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan. It came from the heart. When I met him, I asked, " what did you say?" He responded, " how was it?" I then asked him," did you speak from the heart or mind.?" He did not say anything, but only touched his heart.

    He was under immense pressure at all times. Be it security or the problems of coalition politics. Not many were with him on the same page when it came to Kashmir or Pakistan. He balanced it all out.

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    I always had the privilege of briefing him directly. Usually such meetings last ten minutes. However every meeting that I have had with him has lasted over 60 minutes. Can you imagine a PM giving so much time? That is the patience he would have and during meetings, he would listen very carefully and ask pointed questions.

    I am holding my knees:

    When I was asked to play a role in the Indo-Pak relations, I was asked to go and meet Vajpayee. I went in and asked him what is my brief. He said, " I am confident what you will do would be in the interest of the nation and whatever you do I am with you."

    There was a time when I could not make it to a meeting as I had a slip disc and my back was hurting. I got a call asking why I had not met with the PM. I explained that my back was hurting. I finally met the PM during which he said, " you remain busy all the time?" I replied, " I had problems with my back and did not want to present myself in front of you that way."

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    Vajpayee who had knee surgery at around the same time replied, " main gutne pakad ke baita hun, aap peet pakad ke bait jayiye." ( I am holding my knees and sitting down, you hold your back and sit down too)

    There was another instance when his sister had passed away and I had a pre-scheduled meeting at 11 am that same day. I saw it in the news that his sister had passed away and I presumed that the meeting would be cancelled. I got a call asking if I would be going to the meeting. He had cancelled all meetings except for the one with Secretary R. I met him and he called for tea. I politely told him no to the tea as his sister had passed away. He appreciated that.

    The Vajpayee I knew was a man with a golden heart. I never saw a touch of anger in him. He would listen a lot and would never forget.

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