I have always been prodigiously amused at how the pseudo-intellectual chatterati of India romanticizes Atal Bihari Vajpayee's "Raj dharma" phrase to lionize him as a true nationalist, perhaps the most synthetic assessment ever of any Prime Minister. A leader is judged by his actions, not by some empty Kafkaesque rhetoric, which Vajpayee, and now another " orator" Narendra Modi are celebrated for.
Bottom line, Mr Vajpayee was a colossal disaster as a PM, if only on the singular count of fiddling like Nero while Gujarat was consumed by the conflagration of sectarian hate in 2002. In any modern civilized society it is the responsibility of the government to protect human lives and rights, shelter vulnerable minorities from frenzied mob elements. Gujarat, run by a BJP government, burnt for weeks (2000 people did not die in a few days), innocents were mercilessly slaughtered, but Mr Vajpayee chose to cocoon indoors in Delhi, expressing self-righteous indignation by uttering "raj dharma".
The inconvenient truth is he compromised with BJP hardliners like LK Advani to save his wobbly government. Or maybe with elections beckoning in Gujarat, he did not want to upset the obvious political windfall of the inevitable polarization post-riots. Truth is during his reign, communal violence escalated, and anti-Christian movement erupted at several places resulting in the ghastly murder of missionary Graham Staines and his two young boys. It was a dark, dismal day for India, but the BJP-led NDA just " moved on". Truth is that India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put his UPA government and Prime Ministership at stake on the Indo-US nuclear deal because he was convinced that our national honor and credibility was at stake. Vajpayee had no such moral compunctions.
"Babri ya barabri," said Vajpayee, clearly postulating a trade-off to India's Muslims, and yet astoundingly he assiduously donned the " moderate" avatar. He steadfastly maintained LK Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi in his cabinet although they were charged with the Babri Masjid demolition. Vajpayee 's strategy was unambiguous; keep running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Like Nero, both Modi in Ahmedabad and Vajpayee in Delhi allowed communal retribution to play out, remaining virtually immobile, nonchalant .
Govindacharya of the RSS was therefore appropriate in calling Vajpayee a "mukhauta", a mask, a carefully calibrated facade that ingeniously concealed a man who was soft-pedaling the RSS. Vajpayee was an excellent orator, so perception management with a gleeful media was comparatively easier. He was a closet RSS man, whose gift of the gab sailed him through many a complex predicament. He may be the BJP's tallest leader but he is easily the weakest Prime Minister we have ever had.
It was rumored that Yashwant Sinha was appointed Finance Minister at the behest of the RSS, and that Suresh Prabhu was sacked as the Power Minister on instructions from his party supreme Shiv Sena's Balasaheb Thackeray. The late Brajesh Mishra , National Security Advisor, apparently ran the Prime Minister's Office.
At the time of the Kandahar hijacking, the NDA manifested its egregious, inherent incapability, as the government had a complete breakdown. Incredibly, the Home Minister Mr Advani was not even aware that the Defense Minister Jaswant Singh was accompanying the released terrorists by plane to Kandahar.
A laundry list of scams dominated the NDA's abject performance; Defense (Operation Westend), financial (UTI), telecom (2G license fees, CDMA-GSM), Disinvestment (Centaur Hotel/VSNL ) etc. Media freedom was severely curtailed , apropos the vindictive assault on Tehelka, and tax raids on Outlook. India's GDP touched its lowest ever in decades at 3.9% in 2002-03.
The disastrous foreign policy with Pakistan (General Musharraf reportedly flew into Indian territory within the LOC and spent a night on Indian soil with his Pakistani troops), the disingenuous, exaggerated India Shining campaign and the Gujarat communal violence hit Vajpayee's government like an unrelenting avalanche , which was insouciant to ground realities and inebriated on hubris. Not surprisingly, the NDA collapsed like a pack of cards in the summer elections of 2004.
A similar arrogance and chest thumping on a 56-inch chhaati is currently on display. Why do I get a sense of dejavu?
(The views are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Indian National Congress party)
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