Atal Bihari Vajpayee

By Sunil Kumar

“A successful politician is someone who means all things to all people”. This enigmatic phrase seems to sum up this insightful biography of Vajpayee; by Kingshuk Nag.

For someone who is psychologically invested in the future of his nation; despite a somewhat pretentious world repeatedly stressing on the ill-effects of so-called “jingoism”; and media commentators cooking up daily excuses to undermine national identity; the history of the Indian republic is a roller-coaster ride much like the long narrative of an ancient civilization. Public memory is short; something that is top-of-mind today seems like a shadow only a decade later.

Atal”ji”; a Bharat Ratna is currently incapacitated both physically and mentally. His long innings in public life; poetic nature, witty repartee and thoughtful oratory were appreciated across the Indian political spectrum. Unlike our present prime minister; who draws extreme adulation or revulsion; Vajpayee was a generally liked “middle-0f-the road” politician.

Português: O primeiro-ministro da Índia Atal B...

Português: O primeiro-ministro da Índia Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nag informs that Jawaharlal Nehru was subjected to Vajpayee’s critiques; but was very fond of this fiery orator from Gwalior; who came to Delhi in 1950; a mere three years after independence. Unlike the general lack of civility in public discourse and the instant reactions of social media; Vajpayee was of a more genteel mindset; a wily old man; but appealing nevertheless.

English: President George W. Bush welcomes Pri...

Visit English: President George W. Bush welcomes Prime Minister Vajpayee of India to the Oval Office Friday, November 9, 2001; Source: White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The internal dynamics of the RSS and the Jana Sangh; the formation of the BJP; and Vajpayee’s electoral fortunes make for engaging reading. The writer reveals that M.S Golwalkar; the first sarsanghachalak was instrumental in promoting “cultural nationalism”; was a semi-mystical recluse; not very interested in the trappings of power. Core governance with development is an agenda most people aspire for; the author seems to suggest that Vajpayee provided this in ample measure during his tenure as the first BJP Prime Minister.

For a TV generation; Modi’s achievement has been in making Jana Sangh icons such as Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay more well known. Vajpayee who by general consensus; is the current “Bhishma Pitamah” of Indian politics; started his political career when the Congress was the only major planet in the political solar system. A junkyard of leftist waste and thought has led to disastrous consequences in practically every country; with very few exceptions. Vajpayee; in true Indian tradition was a “so-called” right-wing party figurehead who espoused leftist socialism for most of his political life.

Many people; including this writer are sick of politicians making a mockery of democracy; indulging in personal turf wars; and ego struggles. Vajpayee’s statements here are illustrative; “The greatest curse, not merely of Indian politics but of national life as a whole, is the general incapacity to work together. Let’s learn to unite, instead of dividing to create harmony where disharmony exists and to keep our self-interest and ego in leash”. Atal also alluded to how centre-state relations in the country had become akin to a saas-bahu relationship.

Although the book stops short of a hagiography; Atal’s power dynamic; his relations with people such as Balraj Madhok, L.K Advani, Jaswant Singh; K.S Sudarshan, Govindacharya and his personal life are described in some detail. A mild-mannered leader ranks higher in public perception than a so-called “dictatorial” leader; but everything is subjected to the relativity of time; and overall results.

Vajpayee was also instrumental in building a momentum for economic liberalization; and laid the groundwork for “India Shining”; an economic base which helped his arch-rivals when they managed to crawl back into power in 2004. Cynicism is something Indians seem to have picked up hook, line and sinker from the acerbic British; sans their very strong nationalistic pride; which never seems to be demeaningly equated to jingoism; although it is of a more racist, virulent variety. The belligerent Chinese netizen also never seems to find fault with one of the most murderous regimes of human history; the People’s Republic.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s politics stem from a conciliatory; all-encompassing Indian world view; pluralism which can sometimes not feel right in a world that is a sordidly brutal power struggle. As a nation; positive icons are needed in times of great upheaval. A.B Vajpayee; A.P.J Kalam seem to inspire faith in an age of over-the-top histrionics and the increasingly dark spectre of votebank politics. Motivation can indeed bring about change; and this sincere citizen earnestly hopes that there is a new dawn.




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