The railwaymen recalled the saffron leader’s dedication to the workers’ movement.
New Delhi: Hundres of railway workers on Saturday paid homage to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The unique aspect about this gesture was the fact that he was once the president of a station masters’ union.
The railwaymen recalled the saffron leader’s dedication to the workers’ movement. All-India Railwaymen’s Federation president Shiv Gopal Mishra, in a statement, recalled how he met Vajpayee, then a Member of Parliament, on board the Delhi-bound Lucknow Mail during 1996-97.
“He told me that he was in a hurry and was very hungry. We managed to get him a dozen or so bananas. While he distributed four or five among the passengers, he ate the rest. I couldn't believe how simple he was. After eating, he gave us his blessings,” he was quoted as said in the statement.
The union leader also recalled how, as the leader of opposition, Vajpayee was quick to arrive at the house of T.N. Bajpai, the veteran trade union leader, after his demise to pay his respects.
He added that despite being followers of opposing ideologies, Vajpayee maintained a close relationship with Mr Bajpai.
“Even when he became PM in 1999, Vajpayeeji came and paid his respect to Bajpai’s statue at Alambagh in Lucknow. He even addressed the huge gathering of railway workers present there,” Mr Shiv Gopal Mishra said.
Mr Vajpayee, in fact, had a special spot for workers, and his association with the Railway workers' unions was particularly close, he added.
It is a little known fact that former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was the president of a union for station masters, who fought for the right of the men on whose shoulders rested not just the smooth running of trains but also their safety and security.
The former Prime Minister spent 12 years, from 1959 to 1971, as the president of the All-India Station Masters' Association (AISMA) — the last non-cadre member to be an office-bearer of the union.
Umashankar Singh was just shy of 30 years of age when he first saw Vajpayee, who was then emerging as the leader of the union. He remembers the former Prime Minister as a "man who led from the front".
"He inspired generations at a time when we did not even know what our rights were. He encouraged us to demand our rights. His speeches were awe-inspiring. He was the president of AISMA from 1959 to 1971.
He is no longer leading us, but we still follow his ideals," Mr Singh was quoted as saying by agencies.
He recalled meeting the BJP stalwart when the latter had become the Jan Sangh chief in 1968 and said he met them as one of them and not as one of the most prominent leaders of the country. At that time, Mr Singh recalled, Mr Vajpayee was already an elected member of Parliament.
In 1986, when Mr Singh became the president of AISMA and was on a hungerstrike in front of Parliament, Vajpayee intervened and convinced him to break his fast.
"He visited me and pushed me to break my fast. His kindness was touching," Mr Singh remembered.
Mr Vajpayee prominently featured in the annual diary of the AISMA last year as a "legendary" workers' leader. The former prime minister's 12-year stint as the AISMA president also finds a mention in the "biography" section of his profile on the Lok Sabha website.
Thousands of mourners from across the country gathered outside the BJP headquarters here and hundreds lined up inside to pay their respects as the veteran poet-politician's cortege left for the Rashtriya Smriti Sthal for the last rites.
Mr Vajpayee, 93, passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here last evening after prolonged illness.