File photo of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his residence in New Delhi | PTI photo
The persona of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
transcended well beyond the political sphere to both Hindi and Urdu literature and poetry.
In the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, eminent Urdu poets like Bashir Badr and Manzar Bhopali had formed the 'Atal Fan Club' to root for Vajpayee's fifth successive win from the Lucknow parliamentary constituency by consolidating the sizeable Muslim vote in his favour.
The Atal Fan Club comprised 21 core members, the majority of them Muslims, associated with Urdu poetry and literature. One of the founding members was Lucknow-based Urdu litterateur Athar Nabi, who played the role of the sheet anchor. The formation of the club had made quite a buzz in the media at that time.
"Our aim was to ensure the victory of Atalji
from Lucknow since he was the most capable and qualified among all the candidates in fray across all parties for the Lok Sabha seat," Nabi told Business Standard
Before the club was formed, Nabi had called upon Vajpayee during his visit to Lucknow in 2004. "We met him at the Raj Bhawan with our charter of demands. We also told him that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto did not broach upon minorities issues and promises for the community. He took note of our suggestion and asked his aide Shiv Kumar to look into the issue," he recalled.
Later, the club was formed, although its members faced a lot of flak from the minority communities for seeking votes for a BJP candidate (Vajpayee). "The fact was that we were supporting Atalji
as an individual and in his capacity as the local Member of Parliament (MP) and not on behalf of BJP," said Nabi.
He said the club did not seek any funds from the BJP for its activities that included public contact programmes and 'padyatra' in the minority-dominated areas. "We were apprehensive that we would face open opposition from the people. However, there was none. Although, we were roiled in the media and criticised in our personal interactions with the Muslim intelligentsia," Nabi claimed.
Vajpayee went on to retain his seat for the fifth straight time in Lucknow by defeating Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate Dr Madhu Gupta. However, the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre was dislodged by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
"We had achieved our prime objective of ensuring Vajpayee's victory, although the BJP government lost the election," said Nabi.
In his maiden win from Lucknow in 1991, Vajpayee had defeated Congress' Ranjit Singh. In 1996 and 1998, Vajpayee defeated SP candidates cine star Raj Babbar and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, respectively. In 1999, he trumped Congress' Karan Singh. In December 2005, Vajpayee announced his retirement from politics owing to poor health.