For Lucknow, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Legacy Is More Than Just Roads

Atal Bihari Vajpayee had represented Lucknow five times in parliament

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Lucknow: 

The morning after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died, the consensus in Lucknow - which he represented five times in parliament - was that his most important legacy for the city was a 24-km peripheral highway called the Shaheed Path. This road, now fully operational, has decongested Lucknow in a big way.

Work on it started in 2001, when Mr Vajpayee was the Prime Minister and represented Lucknow in the Lok Sabha. It was scheduled to be completed in 2004 but eventually got done only in 2012 -- at least three years after the former Prime Minister retired from public life.

"The Shaheed Path was a direct gift to Lucknow. But he also gave the country a web of wide roads. Earlier, all roads used to be two-lane. He is the one responsible for four-lane, six-lane and eight-lane roads," said Ratan Kumar Srivastava, a businessman who counts two meetings with Mr Vajpayee -- one in Lucknow and one in Delhi -- as cherished memories.

But while most in Lucknow remember Mr Vajpayee as an approachable and warm person, some bits of his legacy are contentious.

The biggest talking point is a speech he gave in Lucknow while addressing a rally on December 5, 1992, a day before the Babri Masjid was demolished.

"Wahaan nekeele paththar nikle hain. Un par to koi nahin baith sakta to zameen ko samtal karna padega, baithne layak karna padega, (there are sharp stones there. The ground needs to be levelled, so it is fit to sit on)" Mr Vajpayee said at the rally.

Many have interpreted this as a direct incitement to kar sewaks ahead of December 6 -- the day the Babri Masjid was razed.

Bang opposite the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Scientific Convention Centre, another big project conceived by Mr Vajpayee, Shamsher Ali and Tej Bahadur, both shopkeepers, say the BJP could have forced his hand.

"This was all about the party. He did not have any personal enmity against anyone. You find one person on the road, from any religion, talking against him, then I will see," said Mr Bahadur, who came to Lucknow from Gorakhpur in 1981.

Shamsher Ali, who runs a kabadi shop, is coincidentally from Balrampur, where Atal Bihari Vajpayee won his first Lok Sabha election way back in 1957.

Mr Ali came to Lucknow in 1974 and stayed put, closely following Atal Bihari Vajpayee's career graph.

"One thing the BJP should remember is this. Whatever they are today as a party, is because of Vajpayee. Even this government should take lessons from Vajpayee's government. There is a lot of difference between today's BJP and the BJP of Mr Vajpayee's time. I feel the government and the party then was much more oriented towards the welfare of the nation. These days their policies like notebandi led to a lot of hardship," said Mr Ali.

Apart from 1991, Mr Vajpayee was elected to the Lok Sabha from Lucknow in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. His opponents included eminent local leaders like Congress' Karan Singh, current Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali.

To buttress the point about Vajpayee's acceptability even among parties with different ideologies, deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma, whose father was a close associate of Mr Vajpayee, has an anecdote to tell.

"I was a small boy. I sat on my father's Luna and went to Vajpayee's rally in Lucknow. He turned up at 11.30 pm. It was winter. My father suddenly saw someone, wrapped in blanket who was listening to Atal-ji. My father removed the blanket a bit and realised that the gentleman was a famous communist leader and a Muslim. He was also an opponent of the Jan Sangh. So my father asked him in jest whether he was joining the Sangh. He replied, 'Arre look that side, a big Samajwadi thinker is also here in disguise to listen to Mr Vajpayee'," Mr Sharma recalled.



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