The BJP, which is in power at the Centre and in more than 21 states today, will miss the ‘right man’ Vajpayee.
The history of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ascendancy to power can never be complete without referring to the contribution of one individual, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was often called the “right man in the wrong party”. But Vajpayee was an institution in himself, he was the party.
Vajpayee laid the foundation of the BJP on the idea of Gandhian socialism. He was severely criticised for this by some of his own party members and the parent organisation of the BJP, the RSS. In one RSS meeting held in Pune, Maharashtra, he was grilled for more than two hours. Finally, he had the last word. He quipped, “Aap ke gale ke neeche kya nahi utarta hai, Gandhi ya socialism? (What is it that you cannot digest, Gandhi or socialism?)”
Later, the Rath Yatra undertaken by L.K. Advani and the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya catapulted the BJP to power. It was Vajpayee who was the right man to be the Prime Minister. Only he could bring together a coalition. For all the 24-odd parties in the coalition, the wrong party became the right one overnight.
But Vajpayee laid all the credit at the feet of the party and its dedicated cadres. He said in 2000, “The BJP has gained its present strength as a result of our collective efforts. We have seen many a success that have been preceded by tears, sweat and at times even the blood of our cadres. We have entered a crucial phase in our journey. Our acceptability has enhanced, it will enhance further. This is because we are different and we speak a language which strikes a chord with the people. We must endeavour to maintain the uniqueness as a party. Our political behaviour will determine this.”
The BJP, which is in power at the Centre and in more than 21 states today, will miss this towering leader, the right man.
In Parliament and outside, in prose and in poetry, in domestic and in foreign affairs, his indelible stamp is the guiding spirit for the party.
He impressed former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with his very first speech in Parliament on India’s foreign policy. But Nehru’s daughter was not as charitable. When the Jan Sangh opposed some of Indira Gandhi’s populist policies like the bank nationalisation and the abolition of privy purses, she labelled the party as a “baniye party”, a party of traders. Vajpayee replied with his trademark wit: “We also say Jan Sangh ke sadasya baniye (become members of Jan Sangh)”. He also said that Indira was actually “repeating what we say”.
Vajpayee never hesitated in supporting a national cause even if it meant applauding his political adversaries. When the first Pokhran nuclear test was conducted, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) was a bitter critic of Indira Gandhi’s economic policies. Vajpayee, the right man in the wrong party, congratulated the government for this bold step. He even held the view that Nehru was a visionary for founding a world-class nuclear establishment under the leadership of Homi Bhabha. But Vajpayee himself never received the same pat on the back from the Congress party when he conducted the second round of Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998.
No other political leader could have used speech and silence in equal measure to make one’s point and wriggle out of difficult situations or answer inconvenient questions.
During the 1992 party session, one reporter asked Vajpayee at the press conference if he was marginalised. After avoiding the question for long, he denied but offered a tongue-in-cheek one-liner: “No, I am not being marginalised, but usually corrections are done in the margin”.
Leaders like Vajpayee do not fit into stereotypical definitions. They define leadership.
The author is the former editor of Organiser, was the national convener of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP. He edited a pictorial biography on Vajpayee, Jananayak. Email: email@example.com