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BJP Needs Him More Than Ever

What the saffron party misses most today is a voice of reconciliation

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With the demise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 93, India has lost its tallest statesman — a voice of reconciliation, much needed in these polarising times. A founding member of the BJP, Vajpayee was thrice prime minister of the country — for the first time for 13 days in 1996, then for 13 months in 1998, then a full term in 1999. The patriarch succeeded in mainstreaming the BJP — which had been confined to the periphery by a dominant Congress.

Vajpayee’s BJP was unlike Narendra Modi’s BJP. He didn’t flaunt muscular nationalism. Yet, he did the Pokhran nuclear tests and successfully tided over the sanctions in their aftermaths. At the same time, Vajpayee was held in very high esteem by the entire Opposition. BJP critics often said, “He was the right man in the wrong party.”

But Vajpayee was a thoroughbred swayamsevak as well. It was under him that the saffron brotherhood first tasted official power. Along with L.K. Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Vajpayee was one of the founding members of the BJP in 1980.

A party that was once a two-MP outfit dominates the Indian political spectrum today. A large credit for this goes to Vajpayee for he converted the fence-sitters and naysayers to join a BJP that didn’t speak a polarising idiom, and was inclusive in outlook.

Advani recognised this pretty early. After his muscular Ayodhya movement saw the rise of the BJP in the heartland, many saw in him a natural claimant for the prime ministership. In 1995, at the BJP national executive meeting in Mumbai, Advani, however, declared Vajpayee the PM candidate, if the party came to power. Rest, as they say, is history.

Vajpayee did his bit in easing the country’s relationship with Pakistan. The Delhi-Lahore bus service was inaugurated under his watch, and the Lahore Declaration, wherein he got Pakistan to recommit not to use their soil for anti-India activities, remains a milestone in the bilateral ties. Pakistan however backstabbed India. Kargil happened, and India gave a befitting reply to Pakistan.

In 1999 general elections, the BJP-led NDA won 303 seats, and Vajpayee masterfully led a coalition of 24 parties.Vajpayee undertook a series of reforms. The highway expansion – something that is to be seen in the Modi regime as well — was initiated in the Vajpayee era, and it became one of the success stories of the government. The unprecedented telecom revolution too was kickstarted by his government.

Vajpayee may have lost the subsequent general election, but he remained a cut above the rest. A voice of reason and reconciliation made him a much-sought-after statesman, in all quarters.

In the wake of the Gujarat riots, Vajpayee had a point of view, though it failed to prevail.

A poet-orator par excellence, a parliamentarian born once in an era, Vajpayee’s presence in Parliament was for four long decades. It’s said that Jawaharlal Nehru had spotted the young talent that Vajpayee was.

What would Vajpayee be remembered for? For one, he got the BJP mainstreamed in a polity that had once heaped scorn on the nationalist party. Two, he showed that even while being in the BJP, one can reach out and provide a healing touch to the marginalised, including the Muslims. Many would say the Vajpayee dictum is needed more than ever today.


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Magazine 18 August 2018 atal bihari vajpayee obituary