My seven-year stint with Organiser came to an end in 1967. An important responsibility paved my return to Delhi’s politics. Delhi was a full-fledged state from 1952 to 1955. However, its statehood was annulled by the Central Government on the recommendation of the States’ Reorganisation Commission in 1955. It was declared a Union Territory, with two municipal bodies: New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).
The decision to revoke the statehood of Delhi had not gone down well with its citizens. Jana Sangh articulated their aspirations and became the first party to demand full statehood for the national capital. As a compromise, the Central Government consented to constitute the Delhi Municipal Council, which had the status of a deemed State Legislative Assembly. It also announced that the new Council would be elected along with the fourth general elections scheduled in March 1967. This did not satisfy people’s aspirations and, hence, the government was forced to establish an interim Council in October 1966. Its members were nominated by parties on the basis of their respective strengths in the MCD. The Jana Sangh nominated me to the Council and I became the leader of the Opposition in it.
Within five months, Delhi witnessed three elections, almost simultaneously—to the Lok Sabha, Metropolitan Council and the Municipal Corporation. The Jana Sangh triumphed in all three elections. Our party secured six out of seven Lok Sabha seats; fifty-two out of hundred seats in MCD; and thirty-three out of fifty-six seats in the Council. This staggering triple-victory in the national capital, along with the substantial increase in our tally in the Lok Sabha from fourteen in 1962 to thirtyfive in 1967, catapulted the Jana Sangh as a potentially powerful force in Indian politics.
I had not contested the Council elections since I was entrusted with the responsibility of organising my party’s city unit for the three polls. Under the Delhi Metropolitan Council Act, the Union Home Ministry could nominate five members to the Council. Making use of this provision, Atalji persuaded the Union Home Minister Y.B. Chavan to nominate me to the Council. The party then decided to field me as a candidate for the election of the Council’s Chairman. I won the election and became the Presiding Officer. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, my colleague in the Jana Sangh, became the Chief Executive in the Council.
As the sun set on the decade of the 1960s, my stint at the Council also drew to a close.
ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE AT THE HELM OF THE JANA SANGH
The sudden and tragic demise of Deendayalji in February 1968 had plunged our party into darkness and despondency. Our loss was all the greater because the veil of mystery that covered his murder would not lift even though months had passed.
It was in this dark hour of adversity that the party turned to Atal Bihari Vajpayee for leadership. He was elected the party President when he was all of forty-three years old. Already renowned as an outstanding orator and parliamentarian, he was now called upon to lead the party. And he answered the call splendidly.
MY ENTRY INTO THE RAJYA SABHA
In April 1970, I moved from the office of the Chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council to India’s Parliament. There was a vacancy created in the Rajya Sabha after the term of Inder Kumar Gujral who was a member from the Union Territory of Delhi. The party fielded me and I was elected on the strength of the Jana Sangh’s majority in the Council.
In my early speeches in the Rajya Sabha, I articulated my thoughts on some issues that I have subsequently raised in Parliament in one way or the other during the past decades. These were: how to strengthen the unity and integrity of the country; how to safeguard our democratic institutions and make them more effective; why the ruling party must learn to respect the voice of the Opposition; and how to make Centre-state relations smooth and harmonious.
BECOMING PARTY PRESIDENT FOR THE FIRST TIME
I was a most reluctant party President. How the mantle of presidentship fell on me merits a mention. Atalji, who had become the party President in February 1968, was seriously considering stepping down after the 1971 general elections. Around the beginning of 1972, Atalji told me, ‘You become the party President now.’ When I asked him why, he replied, ‘I have already completed four years in this office. It’s time for a new person to take over.’
I said, ‘Atalji, I cannot even speak at a public meeting. How can I head the party?’ In those days, I was apprehensive of speaking publicly, believing that I was a poor orator. I must confess that I had developed this complex largely on account of my close association with Atalji, who used to captivate the audience with his magical speeches.
‘But you have now begun speaking in Parliament. So why this diffidence?’ Atalji persisted.
I said, ‘Speaking in Parliament is one thing, and giving a speech in front of thousands of people is another. Besides, there are many senior leaders in the party. Let one of them be made party President.’
‘Even Deendayalji was not an orator,’ Atalji continued. ‘But people listened to him with rapt attention because of the profound thoughts that his words contained. So, it’s not necessary to be a great speaker to lead the party.’
I remained unconvinced and said, ‘No, I can’t be the party President.
Please find another person.’
‘Who can it be, then?’ he asked.
I said, ‘Why not Rajmata?’
Vijayaraje Scindia, known as the Rajmata of Gwalior, was married to the Maharaja of one of the largest and richest princely states in India. After her husband’s death, she became a MP on a Congress ticket in 1962. Five years later, she quit the Congress to join the Jana Sangh, guided by her ideological conviction. Though hailing from a princely family, she endeared herself to one and all in the party with her honesty, simplicity and commitment, soon emerging as one of the pillars of strength of the Jana Sangh.
Atalji agreed to my suggestion and we both went to Gwalior to persuade her to accept the post. After a lot of persuasion, she fi nally said ‘Yes’. Relieved and happy, we thanked her for her assent. Just then, she said, ‘But please wait. You have to give me another day to give my final consent. As you know, I do not take any important decision in my life without seeking the approval and blessings of my Guruji at Datia.’ The same day, she went to Datia, a small district town in Madhya Pradesh, and returned the next day with the bad news. ‘My Guruji has said “No”. ’
‘What do we do now?’ Atalji asked.
I said, ‘Why don’t we persuade Mahavirji?’ Dr Bhai Mahavir, son of the noted freedom fighter Bhai Parmanand, was a Senior Vice President of the Jana Sangh and a member of the Rajya Sabha then.
Atalji agreed with me and both of us, accompanied by Jagannathrao Joshi, went to meet Mahavirji at his residence at Pant Marg in New Delhi. He agreed, after some persuasion. Just as we were feeling relieved at the success of our mission, he said, ‘Please wait a minute. I would like to consult my wife.’ He went inside, and returned after some time with the bad news. ‘My wife is not agreeable.’
When we left, Atalji said to me, ‘No more of this fruitless search now. You have no option but to say yes to what I say.’ Thus, I was formally elected President of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in December 1972. Soon thereafter, I presided over the eighteenth annual session of the party in Kanpur.