Atal Didn’t Let Ideological Differences Disrupt Political Dialogue

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government didn’t let ideological differences interfere with dialogue in the Parliament.

6 min read
The passing of Atal ji is the end of an era in Indian politics.

The passing away of Atal ji is the end of an era in Indian politics.

The era in which ideological differences did not disrupt the dialogue. When a bitter back and forth in Parliament did not lead to mutual animosity. When political conflict did not turn into personal conflict. Where the dream was to build India together. Where, even though the paths were different, the goal was the same.

The paths were valued. Dreams were respected.

Times Have Changed

Today, times have changed. Victory is paramount and eliminating the opposition is the only rule. Everything is justified in this war and there is nothing moral or immoral anymore.

Vajpayee Ji belonged to an ideology that I have fundamental differences with. I believe that this ideology is dangerous for the country and will take the country towards the abyss. But I cannot hate Vajpayee Ji because of this – nor the people who subscribe to this ideology. I respect Vajpayee Ji; I respect him, even as I oppose his ideology.

A Master at Befriending His Opponents

As a person, Vajpayee was very gentle. His gentleness was a shield for the Hindutva inside him. This gentleness hid the faults of his ideologies, it covered for him. It sometimes even led to people wondering if he was, perhaps, actually secular.

Is he different from the RSS while being a part of the RSS? This question remained till the end of his life.

Sometimes, his own colleagues would start to doubt him. Is this man straying from his ideology? Has he, maybe, joined the opposing camp? Then, his own people would launch bitter attacks on him.

After moving on from the post of prime minister, he was very hurt by the attacks on him. At a party meeting in Mumbai, he even said – “Apnon ke baaron ne mara” (The arrows of friends hurt me). He was emotional. Then he gathered himself and moved on.

That was Atal ji. He harboured nothing malicious in his heart, but was skilled at the art of befriending his opponents.

When Atal Asked Pramod Mahajan to Apologise

While Vajpayee was the the prime minister, during a debate in Parliament, Pramod Mahajan got irritated with something Chandrasekhar had said, and stated: "Chandrasekhar Ji, I also have opinions about your four-month government. Do you want me to express them?”

This really angered Chandrasekhar Ji. He was hurt. Atal Ji sensed this. When he went back to his room, he called Pramod Mahajan and scolded him, asking him how he could have insulted a senior MP and former prime minister? He asked Pramod Mahajan to apologise.

Chandrasekhar was not a member of his party. But he knew that despite opposition in Parliamentary democracy, nothing should hurt mutual respect. Yet, BJP today does not miss any opportunity to make fun of the opposition. This is an example for all of them. A lesson.

Today, the ideas Vajpayee Ji espoused cannot be seen in this Parliament. The idea of parliamentary dignity is absent on both sides. All are alike.

When the Sangh Continued to Attack Vajpayee

Vajpayee Ji's dignity was not taken care of by the Sangh, however.

When he lost the election in 2004 and the BJP were ousted from power, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a press conference in Delhi; Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore, at this press conference, put all the responsibility for the defeat on Vajpayee and Advani. Not only did they hold them responsible, they also challenged Vajpayee and Advani to quit and make way for the new generation. Vajpayee Ji was quite hurt.

This had happened even while they were in power. He was the leader of a coalition – the leader of 23 parties. BJP at the time had about 180 MPs – 90 less than the required majority. There was a lot of antagonism towards Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Brajesh Mishra. The senior people of the Sangh used to say that American stooges were sitting in the Prime Minister's Office.

Brajesh Mishra was directly targeted by the Sangh and an attack on Brajesh was a clear attack on Vajpayee. He bore all this in silence and ensured that the government kept running.

Sangh chief K Sudarshan also did not miss any opportunity to attack him.

There was also a time when news began to circulate that the coalition wanted to remove Vajpayee and make Advani the prime minister, as the party seemed to be deviating from its main Hindutva ideology.

There were discussions about making Advani the deputy prime minister.

Famous journalist and then editor of India Today Swapan Dasgupta went as far as to write that the country that had been waiting for his (Vajpayee’s) leadership for so long, was now awaiting his departure.

In those days, Swapan was considered very close to Advani.

Upset at this, Vajpayee, at an event at the Prime Minister’s residence, said, “Na tire, na retire, Advani Ji ke netritv mein vijay prasthaan” (No tiring, no retiring, under Advani Ji’s leadership will I exit).

As he said this, the faces of Advani and party President Venkaiah Naidu, who were sitting on stage, went pale. They immediately launched into damage control mode.

But the arrow had hit its target. Vajpayee had once again defeated his opponents by bringing up the issue before the public.

It was common knowledge that no one could match Vajpayee Ji’s popularity in the country.

After this incident not even a whisper was heard about replacing Vajpayee. Those in the know also say that he was not in favour of the 2004 elections being held six months early, but strategists like Pramod Mahajan believed that the situation in the country was better and that if the elections were held then, the BJP government will come back. But the opposite happened.

Vajpayee Stayed True to His Roots

Despite being an RSS pracharak, Vajpayee was a practising politician. He kept his feet on the ground. He never lost touch with what was happening at the grassroots level – but he did not want to tarnish the party's honour and his dignity in any way. Can the BJP of today think like that? History will ask this question some day.

No matter what, Vajpayee always followed parliamentary norms, gave the party the status of a mother, stayed true to its ideology. That does not mean that Vajpayee Ji never made any compromises at the cost of the party ideology – however, despite internal and external attacks, he stayed true to his tune.

He did what was beneficial for the country.

Co-ordination with an ideology even after confrontation with the same ideology was a symbol of his political ability.

He was never a Nehruvian, nor did he ever try to become a Nehruvian. However, it is also true that if Nehru ji was convinced of his talent, then Vajpayee ji was also bowled over by him.

Surprisingly, a part of the county’s intellectual class kept trying to prove that Vajpayee was secular. This, according to me, is an example of intellectual ignorance.

Vajpayee never tried to dismiss the basic idea of Hindutva. He would, however, certainly find flexibility in it, in light of the country’s political atmosphere, so that it could be acceptable among the masses – and in this, he was successful.

The Path Did Emerge From Vajpayee’s Way

If Advani took the Rammandir movement and the rath yatra and made an elementary attempt to change the ideological direction of Indian politics, then Vajpayee used the charm of his personality to honour it. We should not forget that after the Sangh’s involvement in the assassination of Gandhiji, the subsequent arrest of RSS chief Golwalkar and the subsequent ban on the Sangh, the atmosphere of the country had become anti-Sangh. The insinuation – although it was never proved – stuck.

This was the time that the Congress swayed from east to west, north to south.

Communism was at its peak on the world map; socialism had become fashionable in the country; the establishment of the Sangh and the BJP’s former avatar, Jan Sangh, was a big thing. That too at a time when the untimely death of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the senior most leader of the Jana Sangh, had created a void.

Deen Dayal Upadhyay too had passed away before his time.

The responsibility of filling this void fell on Vajpayee, and he filled it very well.

Today, the BJP has come a long way from Vajpayee’s era.

They are crossing every boundary that Vajpayee had set for himself.

If the Sangh wants to win over every Indian, then what is happening right now is not the way to do it. Victory will come through Vajpayee’s way. But it might be too late.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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