No other Prime Minister of India has received so much media coverage as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the “Bhishma Pitama of Indian Politics”, on his death. The Indian Express on August 17 devoted ten pages with 20 photographs to the multi-faceted personality of A B Vajpayee. The former PM was a poet, an enthralling orator, a pragmatic and consensus building politician, an outstanding parliamentarian, a visionary statesman and above all an excellent human being, all rolled into one. His political career spanned over half a century, during which he was elected 10 times to Lok Sabha and twice to Rajya Sabha. The glaring difference between the present day BJP leaders and the amiable Vajapyee could be the reason for the opposition leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, showering adulations on the late Prime Minister. "Shri Vajpayee was a towering figure in our national life. Throughout his life, he stood for democratic values and demonstrated this commitment in all his acts, whether as a parliamentarian, a cabinet minister, or prime minister of India. He was a spell-binding orator, a leader of great vision, a patriot to the core for whom the national interest was paramount”, wrote Sonia Gandhi in her condolence message.
Vajpayee was a man of consensus building and he reached out to the opposition. The compulsions of a coalition government with thirteen parties might have made him to follow a method of consensus building. At the same time he was humble enough to reach out to the estranged partners. There was a serious difference of opinion with Mamta Banerjee, the Railway Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet on a particular issue. Instead of talking to her over phone Vajpayee visited Mamata’s house in Kolkota in 2000 and touched the feet of Mamata’s mother. The visit and the humble action on the part of Vajpayee made a sea of change in the attitude of Mamata. The opposition leaders had great appreciation for Vajpayee for his accommodative approach. “Though we opposed each other vehemently on political and ideological issues, Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji’s good nature, decency and willingness to engage with all political leaders always made him stand out,” tweeted CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on the death of Vajpayee. On the other hand, BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi has strained relationship with its partners. TDP has already left the alliance and the Shiv Sena has a hot and cold relationship. Modi even refused to give the status of the leader of opposition to the Congress in the Lok Sabha.
In fact Modi dreams of a ‘Congress- mukt Bharat’. Congress is the main opposition party that has a pan Indian character. The implication of Modi’s slogan is a government without opposition. The success of democracy in any country depends to a great extent on a strong opposition. In the absence of a vibrant opposition the government can become dictatorial and pass any law without arriving at a wider consensus. Modi and the Sangh Parivar leaders have to learn from Vajpayee how to arrive at consensus on issue of national importance. A crucial decision like demonetization was taken by the PM without consulting even his council of ministers and the consequence was disastrous. Similarly the BJP could not take into confidence the Congress in the process to be adopted to implement GST (Goods and Services Tax). The BJP was in a hurry to take the credit for the tax reform which in fact was initiated by the Congress. If the BJP had arrived at a consensus with other political parties, including the Congress, many pitfalls of the initial stages of GST implementation could have been avoided. Vajpayee did not resort to politics of confrontation, but politics of dialogues and engagement, according to Govindacharya. But the BJP leaders of today specialize in confrontational politics.
Vajpayee accorded higher priority to insaaniyat ( humaneness ) than to a purely legal approach in solving issues. Sudheendra Kulkarni in his homage to Vajpayee (Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Democrat in Nehruvian Mould) has referred to his policy towards Kashmir as follows. “When the journalist asked him after he became the Prime Minister, ‘How would you solve the Kashmir issue within the framework of the Indian Constitution?’ the immediate reply was ‘We shall solve the Kashmir problem within the framework of humanism.’ Being a poet at heart, samvedana (sensitivity) had become his second nature at a very young age,” according Sudheendra Kulkarni. What is totally missing in the present day BJP leaders is “ insaaniyat” and “ samvedana”. On the other hand India has been converted into a “republic of hatred” through hate speech and mob lynching by the cow vigilantes during the last four years. Even when the members of his council of ministers indulged in hate speech the PM failed to reprimand them. One of his ministers, Jayant Sinha, honoured with garlands those who are convicted by the court for lynching a Muslim trader in Jharkhand. The insensitivity of the BJP leaders is evident in their overt and covert support to the cow vigilantes who kill innocent Muslims under the pretext of cow protection.
Vajpayee was not in favour of people taking law into their hands, however noble the cause was. Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, Vajpayee described the incident as “unfortunate” in a television interview, and said that it “should not have happened”. He apologised for the demolition: “We tried to prevent it, but we could not succeed,” he said. On the other hand many Sangh Parivar leaders are proud of the demolition of Babari Masjid and they celebrate December 6 as “ shaurya diwas” ( bravery day). Committing a crime and celebrating it as bravery is nothing but contempt of the Constitution of India and an insult to the people of India.
According to Govindacharya, Vajpayee was not ready to compromise with certain core principles for the sake of power. In an interview with New 18 he said, “Politics should reach and benefit people, it should not be about grabbing the power." Vajpayee believed that political interests should be subservient to party interest, which, in turn, should be governed by the national and social interests. But today the interest of BJP is identified with the interest of the nation. Dissent is not tolerated. Any criticism of the BJP and the government is branded as anti-national. Ever since BJP came to power at the centre in 2014 it has been power driven and in election mood. As a result it could not focus on the implementation of the promises it had made to the people during the election.
Sagarika Ghose in “What Modi can learn from Vajpayee playbook” in The Times of India has pointed out that “Vajpayee’s generation was willing to accept failings. The former PM often spoke openly about the limitations of politics and state power, even admitting that his government’s “India Shining” programme may not have worked for all”. On the other hand “in the Modi era, it is almost as if citizens are simply not allowed to feel bad about India”. During his Independence Day speech this month, Modi narrated the saga of the achievements of his government. But he wilfully avoided mentioning the demonetization which proved to be a disaster. The BJP and PM have a moral responsibility to explain to the people of India how the avowed objectives of demonetization could be achieved. But the BJP and the PM do not feel the need for being accountable to the people of India.
All BJP leaders, especially the Prime Minister appeared to be very emotional at the death of AB Vajpayee. “Personally, Atalji was an ideal, a Guru, and a role model who inspired me deeply”, said Modi. Unfortunately, the BJP under the leadership of Modi is yet to reflect on the legacy A B Vajpayee has left: “ insaaniyat” and “ samvedana”, politics of dialogue and engagement, consensus building, reaching out to the opponents and readiness to acknowledge mistakes and lapses.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 27th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 35)