Vajpayee would be very surprised by the kind of tributes that have come after his death was announced on August 16, 2018. Many opinion-makers and political leaders described him as a person almost opposed to the BJP’s ideology and to the RSS’ core thinking. The fact is that Vajpayee was a product of a political thought that deferred with the Congress and its handling of issues and concerns confronting the country.
Vajpayee was as much a staunch nationalist as any other BJP leader was but his method of engagements was different. In fact, his speeches in Parliament in the 1970s would bring out this fact. He may have admired India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s style of approach in some matters. But he was no admirer of Nehruvian policies. Vajpayee, as a strong opponent, felt that many things in the country were the result of Congress’ approach to problems like Kashmir.
The truth is that Vajpayee was BJP’s Nehru. He was liberal, perhaps like Nehru, on some matters, but on core issues that Nehru represented Vajpayee had a completely different take. He believed like many others in his party and RSS that Nehru’s approach, or for that matter any other Congress stalwarts’ , was not correct.
Vajpayee strongly opposed the Congress and its policies. He articulated the BJP’s concerns and its approach to India’s problems in his own style. He believed that the Congress was responsible for a lot of mess in the country. He evolved as a Parliamentarian during the years he spent in the Lok Sabha as well as in the Rajya Sabha. His interactions with many different leaders in five decades in Parliament gave him an insight into the problems and challenges faced by India.
Vajpayee was a true democrat, who was wedded to the Hindu nationalist political philosophy. He believed in engagement with other political leaders even if they sharply differed with him or his ideology. Yes, he did believe in accommodation, conciliation and dialogue. But he was always true to his own beliefs in the ideology that he represented.
The only difference was the way Vajpayee projected that ideology. After becoming the Prime Minister in 1998 in a coalition era, he had to adjust with the demands of the allies, who constituted the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Many would recall that even as he accommodated their concerns and demands, he always knew where to draw the line. In 1998, he refused to accept the demands of the late J. Jayalalithaa to withdraw Income Tax cases against her, filed during the time of the Deve Gowda government, in which P. Chidambaram was the Finance Minister. He rather chose to face defeat on the floor of the Lok Sabha than submit to her demand.
Vajpayee was a statesman in his own style. But if one concludes that he was opposed to his own party on certain issues, it would not be totally correct. He had differences with other BJP leaders on some issues, but he did not disagree or oppose once a decision had been taken on the issues like Ram temple movement. On Ayodhya, Vajpayee may have disagreed with Advani, but it was he who flagged off the Rath Yatra.
If Vajpayee appeared to be moderate to his political opponents, it was more because they found it politically convenient in that way. But a closer scrutiny of his writings, speeches and utterances would reveal that he was as much a staunch believer in the ideology as any other BJP or RSS leader was.
By Shekhar Iyer