The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee payoff to keep Sangh happy

New Delhi, Jan. 6: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s lengthy exposition on education and the pro-Hindutva slant his government has allegedly given to history has confirmed what members of the Sangh parivar said of him in a lighter vein — he thinks “globally” and acts “locally”.

Lengthy because education was a subject on which Vajpayee was reticent. But the fact that he used Murli Manohar Joshi’s birthday party to justify the rewriting of history undertaken by the human resources development ministry and followed it up with an elaboration at a Mumbai function shows that Vajpayee has read the writing on the wall, post-Gujarat. Narendra Modi’s Hindutva card did wonders for the BJP after an electoral drought. It is the only card that yields votes.

Vajpayee, whose political reflexes have always been quick, gave his secular self a rest once the Gujarat results came in. The admonitory tone he used for Modi after Godhra gave way to adulation. He directed his ire against Muslim community leaders for not condemning the Sabarmati Express tragedy “sufficiently”.

But the Prime Minister’s gesture did not placate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, (VHP) whose campaign against him grew shriller after the Gujarat victory. Its leaders alleged that Vajpayee was a “turncoat” who went back on the assurances he gave on the Ram temple.

Despite the RSS’ endorsement of his Goa musings, in which Vajpayee gently chided the VHP for projecting the harsher face of Hindutva, it was apparent that neither Ashok Singhal nor Praveen Togadia would soften their temple campaign and give Vajpayee a breather.

Vajpayee’s support for Joshi’s education agenda is meant as much to further pacify the VHP as keep the RSS and the BJP’s hardliners on his side. While education is not high in the VHP’s priorities, the rewriting of history is an RSS obsession, particularly of its sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan whose relations with Vajpayee had a rollercoaster ride before a fragile state of stability was reached.

In that context, Vajpayee’s strong defence of Joshi was his way of thanking the RSS for backing him against the VHP. Also, Joshi is the most trusted ally he has in the BJP after his former confidant Jaswant Singh gave signs of moving closer to L.K. Advani once the latter was anointed deputy Prime Minister.

The stream of Vajpayee’s responses on the subject shows how he has changed. On November 24, 2001, he said guardedly in his first public comment on the subject: “If history is one-sided, we should change it.”

The statement was made against the backdrop of an orchestrated Opposition protest against the “Talibanisation of education” in the winter session of Parliament after Joshi went ahead with changes in the history texts.

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