Skip to main content

Vajpayee cultivated liberal ethos, triggered peace with Pakistan, yet failed to step out of hardline Hindutva

IK Gujral with AB Vajpayee
By Adv Masood Peshimam*
It was late Prime Minister IK Gujral who had the charm of Urdu poetry. He had a lot of fondness for couplets of Ghalib, Mir, Iqbal, Majrooh and others poets. He could recite Urdu couplets during his talk with ease. Urdu literature, liberal and cosmopolitan, particularly Urdu poetry, had impacted his personality. Urdu literature, which was promoted by the progressive movement in pre- and post-Independence era, was left leaning.
The progressive movement was rooted in the study of problems of the poor and the downtrodden, and the poor formed the theme of writers like Prem Chand, Ismat Chugtai, Rajendra Singh Bedi and others. Gujral, as a liberal, was quite impressed with Urdu literature. He had very good relations with Sahir Ludhiyanvi. Sahir sought to reflect the anguish and pain of the neglected, which left a deep impression on him.
Despite being secular to the core, deeply liberal and catholic in outlook, Gurjar was not tolerated by the Congress. It was the Congress, which facilitated the collapse of Gujral government.
After Gujral, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poetic charisma, which was much talked about. Vajpayee’s poetic renderings were projected so much that Gujral’s flow and fluency in quoting Urdu couplets went into the oblivion.
But Gujral was not a poet. Being a poet, Vajpayee’s grew into becoming a gifted orator. His poetic persona had an imprint on his eloquence. His speeches were marked by his own inimitable style. His wit and charm captured the young, inspirational India.
But Vajpayee was also steeped in the RSS ideology. The philosophy of extremism and the spell of poetry cannot go together. Vajpayee was groomed in hard-line Hindutva, and despite his poetic passion, he failed to step out of that fully. He was passionately devoted to RSS, and in US he drew pleasure in declaring that he was from RSS and would continue to be part of it.
Notwithstanding this, Vajpayee many a time avowedly declared his faith in liberalism. There were times when he had to balance the contradiction between poetry and politics. There were times when the niceties of his poetry overwhelmed his politics, and vice versa.
Vajpayee’s meteoric rise through RSS can well be attributed to his dedication to the cause he held dearly. With his oratory, laced with organisational skills, he became the face of the Jan Sangh. He was instrumental in mainstreaming the Jan Sangh on the national stage.
However, it would not be out of place to recall that, more than anything else, it was Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, which provided Jan Sangh the centrestage in national politics. The excesses of Emergency made heterogeneous forces come together. The result was, in 1977, after she lifted the Emergency, she had to suffer electoral loss.
Indira Gandhi bounced back but died at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. Later, Rajiv Gandhi, riding on the sympathy wave, travelled to the pinnacle of power. Hard-line Hindutva votaries at that point of time had only two seats in the Lok Sabha.
The newly-created BJP, following the collapse of the Janata Party, found flamboyant LK Advani to hold a Rath Yatra, which provoked tense atmosphere, leaving imprints of violence, especially in North India. The Ram Mandir movement provided an opportunity to manoeuvre BJP into the position of spectacular strength. The launching of Ram Yatra by hardliner Advani helped ignite communal political climate.
Advani's Rath Yatra
The Congress failed to take any bold step to restrain the yatra, creating a spell of violence. It was Lalu Prasad Yadav who stopped Advani’s Rath Yatra in Bihar. Lalu, this way, succeeded in lowering the political temperature in the country. Advani, with his hard-line Hindutva, laced with his own shrewd political calculations, mobilised communal forces, which enabled BJP to earn electoral dividends.
However, in the wake of any crisis, Vajpayee helped maintain balance. He appeared to suggest that BJP’s hawkish stance maybe just a strategy to acquire power.
The Rath Yatra culminated into the wanton destruction of Babri Masjid. It was not historic Kar Seva. it was barbaric Kar Seva. Despite all the commitments in the Apex Court, Babri Masjid was pulled down, which sparked worst ever communal violence in the country, particularly in Mumbai. There was scant regard for rule of law or secular ethos.
Preceding the tumultuous and gory event of December 6, 1992, Vajpayee also addressed a meeting in his own characteristic ambiguity. He said that a lot of people had gathered in Ayodhya, that there was a lot of jostling of the crowd with no space to move, causing discomfiture, which forced the land to be flattened.
The extravagant drama culminating into Babri demolition left the world stunned, leading to strident denunciation of the move all over. Late Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao, who allowed the occurrence of the unfortunate event, condemned the demolition, closely followed by Vajpayee, who, changing his stance, found no rationale in what had happened.
Sharing his relationship with Vajpayee, a senior leader, Prof Vijay Kumar Malhotra, said, he had been told by Jaswant Singh that the veteran saffron leader had described Babri demolition as a “black day” in Indian history. Earlier also Vajpayee, while touching upon the “Ram toofan”, had rued that his colleagues should have been careful, should not have blown things out of proportion.
Vajpayee’s affirmation of the ethos of tolerance and secular values epitomised the paradox of a person who had reconciled with hard-line Hindutva, and at the same time he wore a liberal face.
Vajpayee’s sensitive, liberal and sometimes controversial face can be illustrated by an incident quoted by eminent journalist Iftekhar Jilani. It so happened that in the Basti Nizamuddin in Delhi, there occurred a severe Hindu-Muslim riot. Jilani with a view to cover the communal violence went to the predominantly Hindu area, where he had an interaction with Vajpayee. Jilani smelt Vajpaee’s blinkered vision and partisan approach.
But what Jilani experienced subsequently illustrated Vajpayee’s great human face. Vajpayee sensed that Jilani was a Muslim from the type of questions he was posing. Vajpayee understood: Jilani had the serious risk to his life. Jilani was instantly provided with a guard to ensure his protection.
Another instance worth quoting is of Kalyan. Azhar Kazi said that his late father, ex-municipal councillor Kabiruddin Kazi, was attending a BJP meeting in Kalyan, which was also addressed by Vajpayee. In that meeting, local BJP leaders like late Narayan Marathe and late Bhagwanrao Joshi, were also present. In the course of the meeting, clarion call of azan was heard. Vajpayee asked Kabiruddin Kazi to offer namaz and then come back to the meeting.
It is well known how Vajpayee reacted to the worst-ever communal violence in Gujarat, in which the Modi Government was an alleged participant in the massacre of Muslims. Vajpayee asked Modi to abide by Raj Dharma to protect the minorities. He wondered what would he say to Muslim nations, which he was to visit. It is said that he wanted to remove Modi from the chief ministership, but was prevented by Advani and late Pramod Mahajan.
The question also remains why he succumbed to the pressure of Advani and other hardliners. The absence of action against Modi might be out of political compulsions. In the absence of action against Modi, the question remains whether Vajpayee’s was an empty rhetoric, or some sort of cosmetic exercise.
Yet, the fact is, it was Vajpayee who extended the hand of friendship to the neighbouring Pakistan with his bus yatra to Lahore. At Lahore he mesmerised the audience with his excellent oratory, and his initiative of befriending Pakistan was massively admired by the people of both the countries.
But Pakistani rulers retaliated by incursions into Kargil. The establishment there tried to wash its hands of the Kargil incursion. It said that it wasn’t in the know of the situation. It is learnt that in the teeth of the crisis he sent Dilip Kumar talk to Nawaz Sharif. The veteran film star hit Sharif hard by stating that Pakistani bellicosity is not in the interest of Indian Muslims.
The highlight of Vajpayee’s positivity is equally illustrated by the fact that he invited his counterpart Parvez Musharraf, the architect of the Kargil incursion, to Delhi. He acted with reason, sensitivity and sobriety. He has left the legacy of normalising relations with Pakistan, refusing to encourage the extravagant belligerence and bellicosity on the domestic front.
Saffron forces, instead of raising their pitch for 2019 elections, should instead focus on his legacy of peace and harmony. The poetry of Vajpayee and Gujral should continue to be the guiding spirit. The best tribute to the icon would be by ushering in human values, which he sought to highlight in his poetry.
---
*Based in Kalyan, Maharashtra

Comments

TRENDING

It's now official: Developed Gujarat's regular, casual workers earn less than 19 top states

By Rajiv Shah
Though not as low as state chief minister Vijay Rupani claims it to be (0.9%), Gujarat’s unemployment rate, at least as reflected in a recent report released by the Government of India, is 4.8%, lower than the national average, 6%. Yet, ironically, the same report, released soon after the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in May 2019, brings to light an even grimmer reality: Lower wages in "model" and "developed" Gujarat compared to virtually the whole of India, including the so-called Bimaru states.

Amaravati: World Bank refusing to share public grievances on Land Pooling Scheme

By Our Representative
A new report, prepared by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), New Delhi, has taken strong exception to the World Bank refusing to share its independent assessment of the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS), floated by the Andhra Pradesh government in order to build the new capital.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

Why crib? 4.5% is far better than pre-1980 'Hindu rate of growth': Subramanian replies

By Rajiv Shah
Even as sticking to his original argument that India's gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 has been overestimated by 2.5%, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian has said in a fresh paper that his estimate of post-2011-12 growth rate at around 4.5% is surely not "implausibly low", as some of his critics have been arguing following his controversial June paper.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

Govt of India 'lying': MGNREGA budget reduced by Rs 1,084 crore in 2019-20

Counterview Desk
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a well-known advocacy group for the rural jobs guarantee scheme, under implementation since 2005, has said that the statement by the Rural Development Minister has a made a mockery of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the floor of Parliament, revealing the ruling BJP’s “anti-worker and anti-poor bias”.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.

UP's Sonbhadra killing of 10 tribals highlights 'failure' to implement Forest Rights Act

Counterview Desk On July 17, as many as 10 people, including three women, were killed and 28 injured when a village head and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Ubha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. While the firing took place following a clash between over a land ownership dispute, it reportedly highlights failure of officials enforce Forest Rights Acts (FRA) and Survey Settlement in favour of tribals.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.