The two Telugu states declared a public holiday on Friday.

 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was more than a Prime Minister for the people of Telugu states Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The amount of affection and popularity he enjoyed among people since Thursday here is a testimony to his charismatic personality that weaved a bond with them over the years. Normal life came to a halt in both the states as the state governments declared a public holiday on Friday.

Thousands thronged the streets right from Friday morning and set up tents to watch live his funeral procession in Delhi. Scores of BJP, RSS and other affiliate outfits gathered at their offices and played out audio and videos of his speeches over the decades. Surprisingly, people of the Muslim-dominated Old City of Hyderabad witnessed people from all walks of life paying tributes to Vajpayee.

Vajpayee has personal contacts with hundreds of people, mostly RSS karyakartas as well as erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh members in the combined Andhra Pradesh right from 1957. He was a star campaigner for Jana Sangh in 1957 elections and there are some people who still remember his chaste Hindi in the Old City meetings.

Hyderabad, in fact, remained a stronghold of Arya Samaj and Hindu outfits ever since then Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan surrendered to the Indian Army in September 1948. By then, banned Razakars (private army of Nizam’s kin, Qasim Rizvi) disappeared from the scene, but there was none to articulate the nationalist views like Vajpayee, as Congress sided with the local Muslim leaders.

Vajpayee was specially invited at every meeting of Jana Sangh and he was a star speaker at the party’s state executive meeting held at Abids Hotel in 1960. When the agitation for a separate Telangana first reached its peak in 1969, Vajpayee attended a Jana Sangh meeting in Hyderabad and felt that it was a just demand and that the same would be brought to the notice of the party national leadership.

This is one of the reasons for the RSS and BJP backing the separate Telangana demand whenever it was raised over the years. “At our meetings, Vajpayee was a star attraction as he was a good listener and great orator,” Professor Seshagiri Rao, a BJP veteran, told The Sunday Guardian. Vajpayee toured AP extensively when ABVP or BJP workers were killed by Maoists (then People’s War Naxalites) in 1980s. Vajpayee’s popularity as an Opposition BJP leader rose when he solidly stood behind when late N.T. Rama Rao was unseated by a Congress backed rebel, Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, in 1984. Many Opposition leaders camped in Hyderabad, but it was Vajpayee whose speech used to draw crowds at public meetings in those days. Even in Andhra, too, Vajpayee was a household name as he as Jana Sangh and BJP leader extensively visited every district and actively participated in the relief works when a massive cyclone wreaked havoc in Divi Seema in Krishna district of coastal Andhra in 1977. “Then, Vajpayee visited us several times,” said former Union minister Bandrau Dattratreya, who was an RSS worker at the time.

As Hyderabad has a sizeable population who can understand and appreciate good Hindi, Vajpayee’s speeches at public meetings used to be a big draw, mostly at Nizam College Grounds in the heart of the city. “It is enough for us to announce that Vajpayee is the chief guest, we can rest assured that the grounds would be full,” said Dattratreya.

The defeat of Vajpayee’s government in Lok Sabha by one single vote in 1996 created huge sympathy for him in Andhra Pradesh and the same was reflected in subsequent elections in 1998 and 99 when BJP’s vote share sharply rose from usual 4% to 19%. In 1998, the party won four MPs and in 1999, seven MPs on its own. All this is due to the personal charisma of Vajpayee.

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