The country has lost a great leader, synthesiser and patriot. Everyone who takes birth has to die but then the saddest part is that none of the present-day politicians and leaders in BJP can live up to the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji.
The end of golden era of democracy
Despite being a hardcore RSS man, Vajpayee projected himself as both as pracharak and a leader with liberal attitude and proved that he was the ultimate Chanakya. There was never unnecessary chest beating (Something which many of the leaders, especially CMs, do today). With his death, the golden period of democracy has come to an end.
In 1957, he was elected as a member of the 2nd Lok Sabha from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh. Vajpayee caught Nehru’s eye who saw great potential in the young Parliamentarian. Nehru was said to have taken keen interest in Vajpayee, who though unsparing in his criticism of the government, yet respected the high office of the Prime Minister which Nehru occupied. Once, while taking a dig at Nehru, Vajpayee said, “I know that Pandit Ji practises Shirshasana and is welcome to continue doing so, but this does not mean that he should look at issues with an inverted vision.”
Despite this banter, Vajpayee and Nehru enjoyed a warm relationship. During a debate in Parliament, when the PM was coming under attack from the opposition, Vajpayee stood up and asked angrily whether it was mandatory for the opposition to attack the Prime Minister for the sake of opposition. Nehru, too, reciprocated the warmth and in 1961, and appointed the young Vajpayee to the National Integration Council (NIC).
Once Nehru was said to have introduced Vajpayee to the British Prime Minister and said, “He (Atal) is a young leader of the opposition who is always criticising me, but I see in him a great future.” To another foreign dignitary, Nehru described Vajpayee as “India’s blooming young Parliamentarian.”
Early in his political career, Vajpayee posed questions to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He once said in Parliament that Nehru’s personality was a combination of Winston Churchill (British PM known for his indefatigable qualities and spirit) and Neville Chamberlain (British PM known for his policy of appeasement). After opposing his policies, he compared Nehru to Ram. Nehru replied by saying he (Vajpayee) too would one day become the Prime Minister of India. With the passage of time, Nehru’s prophecy became true.
Let’s take a break here. In the first instance, it is impossible to expect or even to dream that we will have leaders of such stature in legislatures and this applies to all from the level of Prime Minister to the upcoming leaders across the country. I am making this statement with malice towards all.
Just imagine what would have happened if anyone had used such Vajpayee-type of banter against the present-day PM or CMs. The mikes would have been ripped off and street fights with choicest abuses would have been seen on the floor of the house. Family members’ names would have been dragged into accusations and even mothers of the leaders would not have been spared from accusations.
In the golden era of democracy, things were different. Despite bitter criticism of each other on policies on the floor of the house, the warmth Vajpayee shared with Nehru was not quite the same with Nehru’s daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi had several heated arguments in Parliament, where he accused her of running an authoritarian regime.
Old timers recall in 1970, during a heated debate, Indira Gandhi accused the Jana Sangh of being anti-Muslim and claimed she could deal with an outfit like the Jana Sangh in five minutes. In his reply, Vajpayee not only took a dig at the PM but also reminded her of how her father dealt with disagreements. “The PM says she can deal with the Jana Sangh in five minutes. Can any democratic PM speak like this? I say in five minutes you cannot even deal with your own hair, how can you deal with us? When Nehru Ji was angry, he would at least make a good speech!” Vajpayee's craft for weaving words was second to none.
While present-day leaders have made true federalism as a mere slogan, it was put into practice during that era when the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao picked up Vajpayee to lead a delegation to New York to counter Islamabad’s allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir at the third committee of the United Nations General Assembly. Islamabad was pushing hard at international fora to give a sectarian and religious tinge to the insurgency in Srinagar.
It had especially made much headway among the member nations - then 51 - of what was the Organization of Islamic Conference at that time. Rao had carefully picked the delegation to show the world that Indian Muslims did not subscribe to the Pakistani canard that Kashmir was the unfinished business of Partition, that India was persecuting its Muslims and that the government did not have the support of the country's Muslims for its Kashmir policy.
Can we imagine such a situation now? The modern Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers don’t even see eye to eye with the leaders of opposition and the leaders of opposition too don’t’ rise to occasion. They treat the PMs and CMs as sworn enemies and feel that only they have all the virtues in the world. Opposition for them means, tear the opposition for everything good, bad worse. Government can do no good is the attitude. Blame them, malign them and come to power is the order of the day. While at the national level, the opposition leaders at least participate in national celebrations like Republic Day or Independence Day, it is a matter of shame that in states they don’t attend these celebrations.
Vajpayee always displayed controlled aggression. While being soft, he could also be hard iron if need be. One of his ministers nominated by AIADMK wanted to take files to Chennai with him for weekends on the instructions of his leader J Jayalalithaa. But Vajpayee told his Principal Secretary Brijesh Mishra to convey to Jayalalithaa that she can chose another portfolio for her nominee and that no files can go out of Shastri Bhavan.
When Vajpayee became India’s foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government in 1977, there used to be a prominent portrait of Nehru ji in South Block (which houses the PMO). After the formation of the Janata Party government, he noticed that Nehru ji’s portrait was missing. He swiftly ensured that it was restored to its original place.
Similarly, in his house there used to be a photo of P V Narasimha Rao, and when asked his reply was: “I don’t change friends. We may differ on issues and policies, but we continue to be friends.”
Modi who is considered to be a great Sishya of Vajpayee should study how Vajpayee reached out to the opposition parties seeking their support. He always felt one should not push his or her adversary so much that the latter cannot bear. Similarly, leaders of all parties in states should also take a leaf out of his life.
He believed, all of us have to work together to face and overcome the problems and challenges before the nation. This cannot be done by a single party or a single alliance. Are the leaders in two Telugu states listening?
Vajpayee was India’s pre-eminent statesman who transcended the divisiveness that so corrodes our polity today. Hope the present-day politicians including the PM are listening.