Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister and BJP leader, passed away leaving the country poorer from his absence. Often called a sheep among the wolves for his moderate stance as opposed to the aggressive Hinduvta ideology of his party, Vajpayee was an astute politician and a core democrat who played the politics of agreement.
Born in 1924 on Christmas in a family with moderate income, Atal Bihari Vajpayee struggled hard to carve out his way to country’s top post. He first became the Member of Parliament in 1957 when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister who once prophesied that he sees in him a future Prime Minister.
Vajpayee went on to become the Prime Minister thrice ensnared by the number 13. His first government lasted 13 days, the second government lasted 13 months and his third government was a coalition of 13 parties. Vajpayee was country’s first non congress Prime Minister to complete a full term – a feat only he could have achieved with ability to hold together a delicate coalition.
On his death, he leaves behind a unique political legacy much in need in contemporary India. In today’s dirty world of politics, the humble poet stood out believing in “matbhed hona chahiye, manbhed nhi”. He stayed away from poisonous words and ruthless opportunism criticising his own party members when they indulged in such practices. His parliamentary speeches often delivered in poetic form layered with humour in purest form demolished his opponents but left no bitterness. Atal Bihari Vajpayee took opposition as rivals, not enemies.
In fact, when Vajpayee became foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government in 1977, he asked officials to restore a portrait of Nehru on the wall behind the foreign minister’s table and chair. Some over-enthusiastic babus had removed Nehru’s portrait as the first non-Congress government was formed at the Centre.
A self-claimed staunch follower of RSS, Vajpayee didn’t let the extreme ideology of the Sangh to mar the democratic nature of the country. Vajpayee was not Atal just in name. He was a firm man who stood on his principles against the hardcore Hinduvta ideology of his party for which he was often termed as the right man in the wrong party. He was the one of the few BJP leaders who expressed remorse on the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 calling it a worst miscalculation. Again in 2002, he chided then CM of Gujarat Narendra Modi when thousands died in the Godhra communal riots.
Vajpayee’s most enduring legacy remains his initiatives to foster friendly relations with our neighbours. He continued dialogue with Pakistan in the backdrop of Kargil War, 2001 Parliamentary attacks and an airplane hijack. Even after being betrayed in Kargil in 1999 by Pervez Musharraf, the Mastermind of the Kargil Conflict, he extended a hand of friendship towards Pakistan which resulted into the historic 2004 meeting between him and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad.
For Kashmir, he came up with the formula for Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamooriyat which brought about the much-needed stability in the state. For the first time, the Kashmiris felt reassured that after many false promises, Delhi is genuinely interested in enabling peace in the valley. He received electrifying response from the people, which helped to bring Kashmir closer to mainstream India.
The template of peace he developed was followed by his successor Dr. Manmohan Singh to devise a solution to the twin problem of Kashmir and Pakistan. Surprisingly, the BJP government that succeeded Dr. Singh, shied away from the path shown by its Bhishm Pitamah with no effective dialogue taking place with Pakistan in the recent past.
Vajpayee was instrumental in taking the BJP to the national plank keeping the contentious issues, Ayodhya, Article 370, uniform civil code, out . His doors were open to everyone. “If India is not secular, then India is not India at all”, he used to say. His speeches had drama, anguish, integrity, hope and sincerity seeped through in every word and in every phrase. He breathed Indian culture, heritage and politics with every breath he took.
Looking back at his legacy on his death only highlights how we have strayed away from the path he envisaged. The best tribute to him would be to continue to uphold the democratic principles he adored in his words – ” Governments come and go and parties are born and disappear. Above it all, the country must stay shining, its democracy immortal.”