Why Atal Bihari Vajpayee remains Pakistan’s most beloved Indian Prime Minister

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Sagarika Ghose, author of a famous biography of Indira Gandhi, did it again – this time with Indira’s rival and successor on several occasions: Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His writing technique is very similar to that of a first-class motion picture camera. She zooms in and out of her narrative, sometimes emphasizing the intimate and the personal, sometimes surveying the larger picture. The reader thus ends with a living portrait of the personality painted against the background of his time.

Ghose’s Vajpayee is a big-hearted chameleon, ensuring that his colors change in sync with changes in the political environment. But the story also emphasizes what a chameleon he may be, but he is a “big heart”. He wanted power and could sing any tune or put on any face that would give him that power, but once installed on the throne another Vajpayee would surface: generous; full of good humor; nice to his friends but, more importantly, also to his rivals (with the sole exception of his party challenger, Balraj Madhok); faithful to its origins as a swayamsevak but absorbing like a sponge the nuances of a parliamentary democracy, abandoning in passing the fascist tendencies of its parent organization; paying lip service to the likes of VD Savarkar, MS Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhayaya (whose woolly philosophy of “integral humanism” he sincerely admired) but, after entering Parliament in 1957 when he was no was not quite 32 years old, he remained all his life under the influence of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Idea of ​​India; deep in its understanding of unity in diversity and impartial in its dealings with minority communities and the neighboring Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Hindutva rhetoric was reserved for public meetings when his party came out of a hole; once in office, his tone became soft and it is difficult to recall any act of discrimination in thought or deed attributable to Vajpayee. The one big and unforgivable exception was his U-turn on the Gujarat pogrom under the watch of Narendra Modi. The parivar sangh was so divided over events there that it took Vajpayee over a month to visit Ahmedabad. There he thundered publicly: “My only message to the Chief Minister is that he should follow Raj Dharma… A ruler should not discriminate between his subjects on the basis of birth, caste or religion. Modi weakly added, “I do that too, sir.” Vajpayee, says Ghose, “after one of his long pauses said, ‘I’m sure Narendrabhai is doing this'”. That said, Vajpayee continued, in at least six private political confabulations, to push for Modi’s resignation, but could not get his way. The die was cast: it was now Modi against Vajpayee and Moditva was clearly winning, with Vajpayee “risking the volcanic wrath of the Hindutva cadres”. At this, Vajpayee quickly changed his tune, trying to turn the tide against their “relentlessly anti-Vajpayee mood”. Returning from his visit to Southeast Asia in time for the BJP plenary in Goa on April 13-15, 2002, he tried to salvage his position in the eyes of the RSS-BJP’s hardline element by a sinister outburst of Unusual Muslims. -bashing: “Wherever Muslims live, they do not like to live in coexistence with others…instead of spreading their ideas peacefully, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.” It could have been Golwalkar speaking. But this did not help Vajpayee the “mukhauta”, because Govindacharya cursed him. The communal tiger was unleashed: “the rise of Narendra Modi sounded the death knell for Atal Bihari Vajpayee”.

More true to the real Vajpayee was his “reaching out to Muslims, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir”. While Ghose chose to describe Vajpayee, with some doubt, as ‘India’s most beloved Prime Minister’, there is no doubt that in Pakistan he has certainly remained India’s most beloved Prime Minister. from Pakistan! I confess to being deeply upset that Morarji Desai appointed him foreign minister because I imagined he would make Pakistan-bashing his foreign policy theme. Instead, whether as prime minister or EAM, he always remained determined to find a viable modus vivendi with Pakistan despite more than one setback. Some of the setbacks he faced – the terrorist attack on Parliament, Kargil – would have driven most others to take shelter. He remained convinced and consistent, fiercely determined and tirelessly persistent, laying the foundations for the huge backchannel advancements made during the time of his successor, Dr. Manmohan Singh, along with none other than the butcher of Kargil, General Pervez Musharraf.

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Vajpayee’s fault was that he thought foreign policy was all about grand personal gestures — like jumping on the first bus to Pakistan — and Urdu rhetoric instead of boring banquet speeches. He never recognized the need for a carefully planned Sherpa job to make the final ascent to the top. Accordingly, as Pak’s prime minister recited Vajpayee’s, “Jang naa hone denge” (or, at any rate, his opening line), and Vajpayee replied with Ali Sardar Jafri’s, “Phir uske baad yeh poochein ki kaun dushman hain” (the whole stanza), Kargil was planned with the full knowledge of the Pakistani Prime Minister (as revealed by his Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz). Mujahideen terrorists were congregating on high ground overlooking the vital Srinagar-Leh highway, heavily backed by Pakistani troops and high level Pakistani planning and logistical support, even as Vajpayee visited the Minar-e-Pakistan, site of the resolution of Lahore which signaled the partition, and wrote in the guestbook: “A strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest. Let no one in Pakistan doubt. India sincerely wishes Pakistan good luck”. “Akhand Bharat” was buried in Minar-e-Pakistan. The Pakistanis have never forgotten it.

Vajpayee also clearly understood the connection between Pakistan and Kashmir. “He warmly offered peace to Pakistan at a rally in Srinagar.” It was also in Srinagar that he coined his famous phrase ‘insaniyat, ‘jamhooriyat’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’ instead of just the ‘Constitution framework’ in which to find the answer to the lingering discontent in the valley. This on the eve of his trip to Islamabad in January 2004 to launch a new cycle of promising dialogue with our “distant neighbour”.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Union minister, MP and social commentator)

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