A Titan departs

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a Titan among dwarfs. He had a vision of India. Few among his colleagues had anything that can be called a vision. As Prime Minister he knew that he was primus inter pares or first among equals – not above them all.  His innate sense of justice and fair play never deserted him. After the Gujarat communal pogrom of 2002, he asked the then Chief Minister of that State to do his rajdharma. He wanted to do more. Those who stayed his hands then, lived on to see themselves being reduced to political non-entities. He became Prime Minister for the third time on October 10, 1999 – this time to complete his full term. Those who had lamented at the time that a Hindu national party had come to rule India must be cursing themselves today.
The India of today is vastly different from the India of Vajpayee’s days. Though the same party rules, but it has undergone a metamorphosis. Vajpayee never talked about Hindu rashtra, never subscribed to the idea: “one country, one nation, one election.” He never talked of creating a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. Indeed, he never wanted any party to be liquidated by force. The very idea was abhorrent to him. Nobody dared commit public lynching of members of minority communities or dalits with impunity when he was the PM. The day the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992, he told a TV channel that what had happened was ‘unfortunate and it should not have happened. We tried to prevent it but we could not succeed.”
In many ways, Vajpayee was the right man in the wrong party. His commitment to the ideals of democracy and secularism was sincere. He was tolerant and accommodative by nature. Future historians may well wonder how and why the organization that he joined in his early life, failed to imbue him with its core ideas. The poet in him appreciated Nature and its rich bounties. The politician in him enabled him to visualize the future and prepare his country to meet that future. As prime minister he knew he had to transcend the narrow barrier of party loyalty and be fair to all. His famous comment about Pakistan: that “We cannot change our neighbours” was practical wisdom that demanded accepting the reality and learning to live with it. If illness had not bound him to the wheel-chair and deprived him of his cognitive and critical faculties, maybe he could have guided his party in a different direction. In his passing away he has made us feel acutely the void he has created.

Thursday, 16 August, 2018