On a day the entire nation was praying for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s health to improve after it further deteriorated in the last 24 hours, Mamata Banerjee on Thursday remembered the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) co-founder as extremely kind hearted and one above party lines.
“He was a different kind of a man. Very kind hearted, he used to respect us a lot. In this difficult time, I think I should stand by him. Atal ji was a different kind of man, his style of working was also very different. The kind of politics that BJP engages today is very different. We've had a relation above party lines with Atal ji. We had an opportunity to work with him in the government. Atal ji was an exceptional gentleman, a statesman like figure,” Banerjee said while leaving for Delhi at the Kolkata airport.
In the year 2000, when Banerjee held the railway ministry, the former prime minister visited Banerjee’s mother Gayatri Devi at her Kalighat residence. Some recall that Vajpayee took blessings of Gayatri Devi by touching her feet, in return she offered him a Bengali sweet made of coconut flakes – ‘naru’.
“Atal ji came to my house, met my mother and I'm really grateful to him. We still have family relations with him. And these relations are now a part of our tradition,” Banerjee said.
The West Bengal Chief Minister was the union railway minister in the NDA government between 1999 and 2001. From 2001 to 2004, Banerjee held the rank of a Cabinet minister but was not allotted any portfolio. She held the Ministry of Mines for a brief period between January and May in 2004.
“Atal ji's first government was supported from outside by us, when TMC was formed. The kind of human being Atal ji is, is rare to find now. So when given an opportunity, we worked with him. When his government fell, we stood by him like a pillar. In 1998 we didn’t join him but later joined him in 1999. So when his name crops up, it takes me back to those memories,” she added.
Meanwhile, Banerjee cut short her Thursday’s commitments and cancelled her prior engagements and left for Delhi to visit Vajpayee. She will return to Kolkata on Friday.
“I met Atal ji at AIIMS last month when I was in Delhi. I've heard his health is deteriorating and anything can happen any moment. Hence, I've cut short my engagements and programmes and going to Delhi to see him. I'll come back tomorrow,” she said.