The Prime Minister as Gentleman
Columns, Point of View

The Prime Minister as Gentleman

August 21, 2018

By T.J.S. George

My Lord,

Never let me climb so high that I’m unable to embrace a stranger.

The humanism in Atal Bihari Vajpayee made him taller than a Prime Minister. In the vastness of his mind the ephemerality of political glory counted for what it was. He once said: You might become an ex-Prime Minister one day, but you will never become an ex-poet. He was a universalist, his literate self dwelling above his political persona.

Vajpayee was reared in the RSS school, attending officers’ training courses from 1940 and qualifying as a full-time pracharak the year India became independent. But he was seldom seen as an activist pracharak preaching the prescribed gospel. He looked more like a dreamer, reaching out to people in ways that went beyond his training. Although he is on record as saying “The Sangh is my soul,” sensibilities of a larger mission seemed to be working within him. Above the pracharak and the politician was the poet. His spirit roamed free.

This drew wider attention as Vajpayee entered Parliament. It is part of legend that the young MP’s flowing oratory turned Jawaharlal Nehru into an admirer. The oft-repeated story is that Nehru would rush to the House when Vajpayee rose to speak, and that he once told the BJP leader: One day you will be Prime Minister. Nehru sent him to the UN General Assembly one year to help him get international exposure and some useful training in diplomacy.

Such non-partisan functioning in the larger interests of the country is difficult to imagine nowadays. Nehru’s very name has become taboo in patriotic circles and young leaders of Opposition parties are ridiculed as childish. One reason Vajpayee rose to greatness was that he lived in an age that valued political courtesies and did not allow petty-mindedness to cast shadows upon it. That age is behind us. What the poet in Vajpayee described as “darkness in the middle of the day” has come.

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It started sending early signals in the middle of Vajpayee’s term in office. His stature had grown as he progressed from frustrated short terms to a full term as Prime Minister beginning 1998. The Pokhran atomic explosion that year and the Kargil War the following year put garlands of glamour round his neck. He asserted his personal supremacy over his party hardliners when he took a bus to Lahore in 1999. His initiatives for peace provoked a Vishwa Hindu Parishad Secretary to call him a “pseudo-Hindu.”

The ultra Hindus got their chance to punish him in 2002. When Gujarat exploded into communal violence that year, Prime Minister Vajpayee was outraged. Within a month of the atrocities he visited the State and said at a press conference that the king’s duty to uphold rajdharma had not been carried out. He decided to seek the resignation of the State’s Chief Minister when the National Executive of the BJP met in Goa a few days later. The flight to Goa turned out to be one of the most historic in India’s aviation history. L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley strongly opposed any action against the Gujarat Chief Minister. Vajpayee was further rattled when slogans were raised at the meeting in favour of the Chief Minister. Vajpayee had to forget his concept of rajdharma and watch his critics celebrating their triumph.

The post-Goa Vajpayee was a politically enfeebled Vajpayee. Advani now became Deputy Prime Minister. RSS demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister and got it, establishing the restoration of its political influence, which Vajpayee had kept at near-zero level all along.

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It is now 14 years since Vajpayee retired as Prime Minister. It can be seen that Vajpayee’s India was different from today’s India. Vajpayee’s BJP was different from today’s BJP. Democracy itself was different, allowing space for opponents of the government, dissent playing its essential role in public life, the spirit of freedom never suppressed overtly or covertly.

For these extraneous reasons as well as for the vibrancy of his mind, Vajpayee’s place in history will be above that of all others in his party. He represented the ethos of the nation — spiritualism without zealotry, tolerance, liberalism. Such was the roundedness of Vajpayee’s make-up that we could stand up and say to all the world: This was a gentleman. And sing with him: It’s dark in the middle of the day / The sun is defeated by its shadow / Squeeze the oil from your soul and feed the wick / Come let’s light the lamp again.

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4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Prime Minister as Gentleman”

  1. Raju says:

    Vajpayee was a very simple character with ethics and to naive to understand that Congress dynasty and supporters dirty tricks department that leaves no stone unturned to get back to power. History has shown us time and again that they do not honor loyalty even to the ones wo saved them, if it suits them! Here are the examples.
    1. After emergency wad lifted and Indira Gandhi lost the elections badly, her image was so low that even a stray dog would not show her any respect! Devaraj Urs brought her to stand election from Chikkamagalur literally used his influence, image and money to get her win a seat! What was the reward, he was dumped like a dirty sock and lived miserable till death,
    2. She promised charan Singh the support to pull down Morarji from his PM ship and dumped Charan Singh too by withdrawing support.He too lost his career!
    3. P.V Narasinha Rao was the mentor and guru of Manmohan Singh! He wad the root cause of market liberalization and all the progress! But when he became the PM, Sonia with zero experience started hating and dictating the terms! She hated him he badly while he was alive and ecpven after death that he us the only PM whites body was not buried in Delhi, dud nit get miniltary honours, his body was waiting because Sonia’s men did not want any respect to be given to him. After 2 hours if wait, hugs body was flown to Andhra to be cremated there! And all the credit for his policies was attributed to Manmohan Singh! This isCongress! Even Manmohan Singh was not allowed to show any respect to PVNs body!
    So, the author has distorted the truth. Here it is
    It is not the untra Hindus who wanted to punish Vajpayee, but the congress that was playing the trick! The people who killed 88 Hindus setting fire to a train and burning locking the compartments were loyal Muslims of congress! Then, they blamed it on BJP. Author seems to forget that conveniently! When the communal viloence broke, Modi was the first time CM for a few days ! Even Supreme Court and All the SIT probes under 2 decades of congress government has confirmed yet! It was vajapayees inexperience that he talked about raj dharma who was about to fall for the congress tricks’! If congress really believed in justice why were 8500 Sikh families murdered under their rule!?
    Another proof, they used Jayalalitha yo pull out the support so that Congress can come back! So, Vajpayee list power not because of BJP but because of Congress
    Congress hates Modi because the tricks that worked against Vajpayee is not working against Modi Inspite of the support from media , pseudo Seculars, terrorist organizations, clergymen and mullahs!

  2. Appreciation of Sri Vajpayee need not be based on the demerits of Congress party. He was above the petty mindedness and a Bharat Ratna in true sense.

  3. Mr. Vajpayee was a Bharat Ratna in true sense and therefore comments appreciating him need not be based on the demerits of Congress party.

  4. Venkatesh says:

    So called Young leaders of opposition parties (close to 50) being termed childish is being lenient. They cannot even read straight from a sheet of paper!


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