Thoughts for ex PM!
This is not a charge sheet. Nor a balance sheet. It is a tribute to a leader who raised the image of India in the world.
The 2004 elections are variously called as a great historic turnaround for the country. The BJP which contested the elections on a very confident note was badly upset by the sudden exit! There would not be many who would cry for the NDA regime. But there would be a great many people, outside the BJP for the sudden exit of Vajpayee who himself seemed so sure of a second term. Now, having lost power, what the affable Atalji’s thoughts would be? An intriguing thought!
I myself had seen Atalji over the years as a very senior Parliamentarian. I met him once in 1986 at his Raisina Hills Road residence when I was in Delhi seeking a Congress ticket!
Why a traditional Congressman called on Atalji? For the obvious reason I didn’t see Atalji as only a BJP man, I saw him as a different type of personality. This aspect only I want to highlight here. Here was a politician as a gentleman and his very person draw many admirers cutting across party lines. At any rate, I was one such admirer. My admiration only grew when he became the Prime Minister and held on for the six years. Now, having lost power, there would be many judgements on the party he headed and the man who presided over it. What would history’s judgement be on Atal Bihari Vajpayee? History’s judgement as a Prime Minister?
History is a ruthless judge of men and times. I don’t know whether Atalji reads much history, as we know of say Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did as a student of history. If he hadn’t done much reading of history, this time he has much to study history and benefit from it.
For history has this one unique quality. The day-to-day press, the media lulls us into believing our admirers and disbelieving our critics. But history does the very opposite.
When the time passes and when men and affairs take a long-term character, Vajpayee would be seen as one who did achieve some landmark peaks in Indian history. He took India to new heights in world capitals. This peak was previously achieved only in Nehru’s time, when India, despite being far from shining. As it does today, India’s voice was heard with respect and attention in world capitals. This was also true in Indira Gandhi’s time, but not so, after she declared the Emergency. After that point of time, it was a steady decline in her stature. Stature of men and women come only when they are seen in the larger scheme of things. Fortunately for Vajpayee he went off the scene, off the screen when he peaked. His taking the Pakistan peace process to a new height would be difficult for his successors to keep up. This I would consider Vajpayee career’s great shining moment then. India’s stature in the world capitals. Yes, the normalisation of relations with China would be seen another breakthrough.
The one conclusive judgement of the 2004 election is the people rejected the communal agenda of the hard-core BJP. The poor rejected the perceived urban party. This is of course not fully true. Mumbai voted out the BJP/Shiv Sena agendas. So too Delhi. So, the BJP after Vajpayee has a difficult future. So, Vajpayee can take his “defeat” as a worldly wise and also as a philosophically wise turn in his life. The Financial Times of London in a rare tribute, carried a two full-page write-up on Vajpayee in its famous Weekend review. This is a great honour and recognition that Vajpayee and India had come to occupy in the imagination of the world. I don’t know whether he had read through this detailed write-up.
If he had, he would have noticed some very insightful remarks on Vajpayee and his beliefs. No Indian of his generation would have been left untouched by the impact of Gandhiji and Nehruji. But Vajpayee scrupulously avoided mentioning the two names in all his major speckles. This showed the flaw in his character. Or was his growing up as a staunch RSS man, that introduced a coarseness or lack of sensitivity to fellow Indians, fellow human beings? When the many atrocities, the Staines murder took place, when the Christians in Dangs were attacked and more seriously, when Modi went mad for days, we saw a stoic Vajpayee, he never for once spoke out. Not even mild by not directly. Even the last instance of the sari stamped that saw many poor women in Lucknow die so pathetically, we saw, an unmoved Vajpayee dismiss that episode not one of BJP’s concern. All these violences of serious nature were no issues of concern for a Prime Minister! We were all stunned and shocked.
So, in this hour of isolation, Vajpayee would deserve not condemnations but consolations of many kinds. Life doesn’t end with political offices. I am sure Vajpayee must be very much knowing, I had talked to great leaders after they left / or office defeated.
So many international events might interest a statesman like Vajpayee. There is so much to speak out against, so much to speak out for. He can take up some themes like peace with Pakistan as his life’s mission. He can join the illustrious world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Carter and Clinton and work for peace in the world. Oh, there is so much in life to do. If only one looks at life’s many splendours! All the best for Atalji, for a peaceful and yet an active life.