A lot of people took the news of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s passing away pretty hard. Compared to Bhishma Pitamah, a hero from one of the tales in the all-important Mahabharata texts, it seems he was more than just a politician. Atal Bihari had certainly been around for a long enough time – since the Quit India movement of 1942. From then up until now, he managed to win the hearts of many, many Indians.

So what exactly is it that helped him achieve legendary status?

1) He linked Delhi to Lahore, Pakistan

In 1999, he unveiled a bus service that provided a direct link between the two cities. In doing so, he very obviously implied that he wanted a connection with Pakistan – a remarkable idea in itself. Furthermore, he got on this bus and traveled to Lahore to meet with Nawaz Sharif. The latter later said, “Vajpayee sahab can now win an election even in Pakistan”.

2) He Denounced All Forms of Discrimination

He was one of the few politicians who prominently spoke out against widespread discrimination. This was despite the fact that a hugely multi-cultural country like India often finds itself steeped in religious and creedal disputes – ones that cannot always be easily overcome.

3) He Always Put Up a Strong Front

Despite being of a liberal mindset even when it came to dealings with Pakistan, Vajpayee made sure everyone knew not to mess with India. The testing of five nuclear bombs right under the CIA’s nose turned him into the stuff of legends.

4) A Man of Heart

Perhaps part of what really endeared him to others was his sensitivity – not just his political adeptness. People like to know they can relate to their leader. And it seems Vajpayee’s persona was such that he made the public feel one with him.

5) A Vanquisher of Muslims?

Many Pakistanis and Muslims otherwise view his legendary status with a major negative connotative hint. Why didn’t he take a hard line with Modi during the Gujarat riots? And what about the demolition of Babri Masjid? These are the questions some Muslims demand to know the answers to.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was, doubtlessly, a unique leader. Whatever his faults, it does seem he tried to battle the oppressive forces within India to bring forth a better, freer ideology. For this reason, he will always be remembered, even on this side of the border.

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