Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee On His Birthday : A Remarkable Story of Courage

santosh-bhartiyaHow the ways of Parliament and Parliamentarians change, we will give you an example of this. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name is at the center of the example. But before that, if we look at the history of Parliament, then we’ll find that previously sessions of Parliament were held regularly and all topics were raised with great seriousness. Every MP believed himself to be an MP of the country, because at that time the belief was that an MLA will represent the constituency, will solve the problems of the constituency and an MP will concentrate generally on those issues which were related to the country. Those days most of the MPs worked on this principle itself.
Members of Parliament, be they in the Rajya Sabha or the Lok Sabha, used to work very responsibly. We can recall some names, in which people like Bhupesh Gupta, Jyotirmoy Basu, Raj Narain, Chandrashekhar remained mostly in the Rajya Sabha and they raised major issues. In the Lok Sabha, there were many MPs like Nath Pai, Madhu Limaye, Kishan Patnaik, George Fernandes and before that Feroze Gandhi, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, who always raised issues related to the country in Parliament. There were debates on those issues in Parliament, despite the Congress being in a vast majority then. But wherever the Congress understood that there was strength in what the Opposition was saying, it accepted it and in those days too the resignations of prominent Ministers took place over issues raised by the Opposition. There were debates in Parliament, but those debates were not heated. Logic used to come forward. After the debates, the Central hall of Parliament used to be the centre of discussion of those debates, and not like today a centre for gossip. Those days MPs thought it their duty to sit in Parliament. Today, MPs consider signing the attendance register of Parliament to be their duty, but don’t consider sitting in Parliament their duty. If you want to see an example of this today, then watch a Parliament session any time after 12 o clock on Rajya Sabha TV or Lok Sabha TV, and the proverb of seeing is believing will be seen proved true.
Because all important debates would took place in the Parliament, decisions would get taken; only those topics went to Parliamentary Committees on which either a debate was not to be conducted or where investigation had to be done. But now Parliamentary Committees have taken the form of a small Parliament. Now debates cannot take place in Parliament. The knowledge of most of the people sitting in Parliament has become limited to their election constituencies. In Parliament there are very few such MPs who raise issues or topics related to the country, that is why serious issues go to the Parliamentary Committees. Even though in Parliamentary Committees too debates takes place on the basis of parties, MPs don’t create an obstruction there on a party basis unless questions or doubts start being raised on the leader of their party.

After the 1965 Indo-Pak war, it was decided to send a Parliamentary Committee to see training of mountain warfare or winter warfare. In this committee of almost 20 MPs which went to Sonmarg, which is near Kargil, to see a temporary army camp, the names of MPs like Sushila Rohtagi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were included…The next day the MPs had to go to see the training, but out of 20 people, 19 refused to go to see the training, because they were already having difficulty in breathing. They said that if we go to see the training, then we will die…But one MP said, I will go wherever the training is being held. Mountain horses were brought for him, but that lone MP said, I will not sit on a horse, I will walk…That lone MP was Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

But what I want to tell you here is related to after the war of 1965. After the India –Pakistan war of 1965, army expenditure on mountain warfare started increasing suddenly, because till that time our army didn’t have any training to fight in the mountains and in 1962 we had borne the jolt from China. In the 1965 war, we got victory against Pakistan, but that victory came after paying a very huge cost. That is why the Indian Army started giving training afresh to its troops. Because the army began giving training and nobody had any experience of it, therefore expenses on it began to be noticed. MPs sitting in Delhi started criticising it. They felt that the army is doing unnecessary spending. The army worried that it has to fight a mountain war with both China and Pakistan and its officers have no knowledge of mountain warfare, training of it should be given as early and quickly. Questions started being raised in Parliament — why is the army spending so much, what is the need? People sitting in Delhi, especially MPs, were just not able to understand the problems and difficulties that soldiers fighting on mountains have to face. Actually, bureaucrats of those times used to explain to the MPs that the army is spending unnecessarily.
When the ruckus increased to a greater extent, then it was decided to send a Parliamentary Committee to see training of mountain warfare or winter warfare. In this committee of almost 20 MPs which went to Sonmarg, which is near Kargil, to see a temporary camp, the names of MPs like Sushila Rohtagi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were included. As soon as the aforementioned MPs reached the temporary camp near Kargil, their health condition suffered due to the cold. Some of them started experiencing difficulty in breathing. The army made special arrangements for them. A tent was brought in which heaters were installed. MPs were given fur coats to wear. But this was the first step. Officer’s were worried whether these MPs should be taken or not to where the mountain warfare training was going on, because perhaps they may not be able to withstand the conditions there. How would they be able to see the conditions there? The training camp was located on Tiger Hill.
To tell you about Tiger Hill — a big area of a copper mine is there. Copper is seen lying there in the form of small mounds. To look at, a mound seems very small, but it is very heavy if you lift it and if you throw it at or on someone’s head, then the head will get smashed. The training camp was atop this Tiger Hill. The next day the MPs had to go to see the training, but out of 20 people, 19 refused to go to see the training, because they were already having difficulty in breathing. They said that if we go to see the training, then we will die. These MPs wearing fur coats wanted only to sit in their warm tent and eat and drink well. Because nobody could force or compel them, the army said that fine, you stay here itself. But one MP said, I will go wherever the training is being held. Mountain horses were brought for him, but that lone MP said, I will not sit on a horse, I will walk. He got ready at 7 in the morning and started moving forward with the officers of the army to see the training. But the officers of the army became worried and concerned about what would happen if due to lack of oxygen the MP had to be brought down, as that time no solid arrangements existed to transport the injured in mountain warfare. That lone MP was Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayeeji set out from the temporary base camp at Kargil on foot towards Tiger Hill and after 10 minutes he started breathing heavily. The oxygen had decreased. Army officers had made an arrangement for this. Around Vajpayeeji 4 people carrying big oxygen cylinders were walking and they started spraying oxygen continuously in the air near Vajpayeeji’s face. Due to the spraying of oxygen it became easier for Vajpayeeji to breathe. Army officers requested him to sit and proceed on a horse, but Vajpayeeji refused to sit on the horse and he walked all the way to where the mountain warfare training was going on.
Those days Second Lieutenant C B Singh was also there amongst those taking mountain warfare training. He became a Captain later and in the war of Bangladesh put up an amazing showing. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s courage gave a lot of strength to officers of the Second Lieutenant and above ranks, but in their hearts a sadness remained that the remaining 19 Members of Parliament of the Parliamentary Committee could not see the difficulties and problems for themselves. Only Atal Bihari Vajpayee saw those difficulties and problems which the army faces while fighting on the mountains. They don’t have clothes, shoes, socks, weapons. They have to walk carrying everything on their back and if even the smallest mistake happens, then a bullet can strike their chest. To combat and face upto all this the army was giving training to its courageous soldiers and those 19 Members of Parliament were sitting at the base camp, eating and drinking and resting in that special warm tent. On returning to Delhi, the country came to know through the description of that training of the army, of those difficulties and problems of the army which Atalji gave in Parliament, that the spending that was being done by the army, that in itself was too little. Today Atal Bihari Vajpayee is ill. His memory is fading, he doesn’t remember a lot of things. But Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s life remained a spectacular life. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s associates of course tell stories and cases of his courage, his hard work, but former Prime Minister Chandrasekharji told me a lot of stories through which the thoughts of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his courage and his vision regarding the country have got etched in my mind.
When a week ago army officers told me this story related to Atal Bihari Vajpayee seeing the mountain warfare training, then that scene came alive before me. And I started imagining how Atal Bihari Vajpayee went there courageously, risking his life, because where there is a lack of oxygen, for a civilian to face the risk of breathing problems and return alive, if courage is needed for it, then it has to be courage like that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Maybe that is why Atal Bihari Vajpayee also became Prime Minister of the country. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday falls this week. Our heartfelt birthday wishes to Atalji and we wait for the day every Member of Parliament is imbued with such courage.

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