Bring chaat for Sonia ji: How Vajpayee broke the ice
More than 700 women hanging on to every word of a bachelor-that was Atal Bihari Vajpayee at a chaat party on Women's Day in 2003. That March afternoon, the lawns of 7, RCR-now known as 7, Lok Kalyan Marg-had women from all walks of life swishing around in silk and fine jewellery.
There were two women at the centre of attention-Congress' new president Sonia Gandhi and her loyal companion Shiela Dixit. Both were seated literally at the edge of a rather long cane sofa. The seasoned Sheila looked impassive staring straight ahead, but it was Sonia, whose every move was being watched.
Sonia was fidgety, defensive, almost squirming and wishing she could run away. Perhaps, she was remembering her famous words, "We have the numbers." In 1999, the Congress didn't have the numbers and no 'migratory birds'-as Arjun Singh called them came to the Congress' aid. When the Congress was accused of bringing down the fledgeling 13-month Vajpayee government, Sonia was accused of foisting elections upon the country.
That did not matter now. Vajpayee, in a dark bandhgala, sat on a chair at the other end of the sofa, smug, smiling and almost appeared enjoying the discomfiture of Sonia caused by journalists. He finally broke the ice calling out to a bearer and gesturing towards his guests. "Bring some chaat; women like it," he said.
As journalists hovering around the then-Prime Minister burst out laughing, both Sonia and Sheila smiled. Vajpayee knew how to win over adversaries. In fact, as Prime Minister, he was often accused of being too kind to the Gandhi bahu.
Be it Bofors, the Central Bureau of Investigation probe into 'Affaire Vincent George, Sonia's private secretary or even the minor matter of divesting Maneka Gandhi of her culture portfolio, allegedly at the behest of Sonia, Vajpayee checkmated the Opposition by winning over the Congress president.
Now, as India mourns the loss of the greatest political Titan, Vajpayee will be remembered for, as Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram puts it, "It is not the fact that Vajpayee-ji had many friends, it is the fact that he had no enemies."
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