Who Is The Real Atal Bihari Vajpayee?
When Nehru passed away, Vajpayee was the one who gave him the most fitting tribute.
Human beings are complicated. You can’t judge them in black and white. And that is exactly what makes them interesting. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one such loveable riddle.
Who was the real Vajpayee? A magnanimous leader with mesmerising oratory or a right wing bigot who instigated Karsevaks? A RSS Swayamsevak or a scotch enjoying poet? A democrat who believed in dialogue or a weak leader who succumbed to pressures? Or a bit of everything? What we can certainly say is that he was the most popular opposition leader of India. He was the first opposition party Prime Minister who survived his full term. And it was not an easy task. He had to resign twice in 1996 and 1998 because of lack of majority. Eventually, cobbled up an alliance of 17 parties in 1999. He overcame every obstacle and kept them together from 1998 to 2004. As George Fernandes once said, “I am in this alliance only because of Atalji.”
Vajpayee commanded respect and love of not only his cabinet colleagues, but Opposition as well. He was a consensus man of India. He was often described as ‘Swadeshi Nehru.’ In spite of being an ideological opponent, he was smitten by Nehru’s personality and endorsed his democratic values. Nehru, being the biggest democrat of all, made it a point to listen to his speeches. In one of his many captivating speeches as PM, Vajpayee recalled how he once called Nehru a mix of Churchill and Chamberlin. “He didn’t get angry,” said Vajpayee. “He met me in the evening and said it was a powerful speech.”
When Nehru passed away, Vajpayee was the one who gave him the most fitting tribute. “ln the Ramayana, Maharashi Valmiki has said of Lord Rama that he brought the impossible together. In Panditji’s life, we see a glimpse of what the great poet said. He was a devotee of peace and yet the harbinger of revolution, he was a devotee of non-violence but advocated every weapon to defend freedom and honour,” he said. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly said, “Vajpayee shared Nehru’s Idea of India, his legacy of consensus politics is in danger today.”
The reason I cite Vajpayee’s relationship with Nehru is that it is a symbol of healthy democracy, which is fading alarmingly today. Vajpayee was an RSS Swayamsevak and he never denied it. But his critics called him the ‘Right man in the wrong company.’ How can a person with liberal traits be a part of a right-wing organisation who wanted to establish Hindu Rashtra?
However, he may have risen through the ranks of RSS, but eventually grew bigger. He realised India could not continue without inclusive politics. He tried to change BJP by instilling Gandhian Socialism in the party but failed miserably. RSS was his political necessity. In 2015, in a newspaper article, he had even advised RSS not to indulge in politics.
And when you run such a tightrope, instances of compromises are bound to taint your career. His ambivalent stands during Ayodhya and Gujarat riots are prime examples. He delivered inflammatory speeches egging the Karsevaks on in 1992, but apologised for the demolition of Babri Masjid. Some call it a face-saving act, other believe the poet in him woke up his conscience.
Even in Gujarat 2002, he asked Narendra Modi to follow Raj Dharma without discriminating between his subjects, but turned on his own words in Goa. There is no doubt he was disturbed with what had happened, but it is said the Advani convinced him to not act against Modi.
There was a permanent tussle between Hindutva and Secularism inside his vision of India, which he couldn’t overcome. One may doubt his intentions, but that was his political personality. And insecurity was never a part of his personality. He trusted his colleagues, gave them adequate freedom in party and government. He was never into micro management of affairs. He praised his contemporaries and opponents at the right time and place. Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, Chandrashekhar, V P Singh all experienced his large heart. He was a man of love, not hate. It’s very important in today’s poisonous atmosphere.‘Insaniyat’ and ‘Samvad’ were the masterkeys of his politics. He wanted to solve the Kashmir problem in ‘Insaniyat ke dayre main’. He went on a limb to broker peace with Pakistan more than once. One can imagine the kind of pressure he would have been from the hardliners in his own party.
In spite of the Kargil attack, he decided to go ahead with Agra Summit. It may not have worked out the way he wanted it to, but ‘Har nahi manunga’ was the motto of his life. He was an eternal optimist, and that kept him in shabby corridors of Indian politics for more than 65 years. His poetry reflects that spirit. When Janata Party came in power in 1977, Vajpayee was a minister of foreign affairs. He tried to create his own mark in that limited period by visiting China. He was the first Indian foreign minister to do so. He was the perfect ambassador of India on world stage and knew he had to continue Nehru’s policy of non-alignment, not RSS’ policy of Akhand Bharat.
Prime Minister Narasimha Rao recognised his skills and send him to United Nations to lead Indian delegation in spite of being the opposition leader. His speech in Hindi over there created history. Vajpayee was a leader who touched your heart in spite of political differences. He was honest, transparent and communicative which reflects in his adorable smile. There was something endearing about his personality. Nobody was scared of him. He had a special bond with media and never got angry at an inconvenient question. Only exception was sting operation conducted by Tehelka and harassment caused to them thereafter. He was open about his personal life as well.India will definitely miss its beloved leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But his party will miss him more in the near future. If Narendra Modi fails to get majority in 2019 Lok Sabha election, he will have to adopt the Vajpayee path. Egos don’t win you friends, a human touch does.