Brajesh Mishra, Nitin Gadkari
New Delhi, Oct. 6: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foster family was keen to ensure that at least in death, the BJP was appropriately respectful towards Brajesh Mishra, the former Prime Minister’s most trusted aide.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari didn’t let the family down today. But by then, more than a week had passed since Mishra’s death on September 28, and at least one BJP leader had to face some soul-searching questions in front of others from a person close to Vajpayee.
Gadkari showed up at a prayer meeting organised today by Mishra’s son and daughter for their father, Vajpayee’s national security adviser and principal secretary. Gadkari spoke at the meeting, although he had interacted with Mishra just once when the current BJP president was a minister in the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra.
Gadkari’s part-personal-part-formal tributes to the departed soul partially filled a void caused by the BJP’s largely hostile equations with Mishra.
Namita and Ranjan Bhattacharya, Vajpayee’s foster daughter and son-in-law, had personally asked Gadkari over and requested him to speak.
The presence of two former officials from Vajpayee’s PMO, Kanchan Gupta and Ashok Tandon, at the prayer amid the pristine ambience of the Chinmaya Mission helped undo some of the imbalance that marked the BJP’s approach towards Mishra both in his life and his death. Gupta and Tandon are part of Gadkari’s core team.
Gadkari’s presence and address acquired more significance because of the BJP’s perceptibly cavalier response to Mishra’s passing.
The BJP chief had issued a pithy condolence message three days after Mishra’s death and on the day of the funeral, describing him as a “veteran diplomat and an able administrator”.
There was no allusion to the fact that for years, Vajpayee’s national security adviser had headed the BJP’s foreign cell and crucially influenced and shaped its foreign policy perspectives at a time the international community had started regarding the party as a serious national player.
In contrast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed their condolences hours after Mishra’s death.
Few notable BJP leaders have called on Mishra’s family despite the party being a stickler for form in such matters.
Sources said so incensed was a Vajpayee aide that the person confronted a BJP leader and asked him how the party could ignore Mishra’s death for three days.
The incident occurred in front of a few others but neither the BJP leader nor the person who reportedly asked him the searing questions wanted to be quoted or named in this article.
The RSS, a perennial votary of Hindu “samskar” (ritual) and “sabhyata” (decorum), did not even take cognisance of Mishra’s passing. There was not a word in its weekly mouthpieces, Organiser and Panchajanya.
Sangh sources said the publications’ pages were already “replete” with homages to other departed leaders such as former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan and Kidar Nath Sahni, a senior pracharak.
On Monday, when word was out that Sonia would attend Mishra’s funeral, L.K. Advani bestirred himself and paid homage before the body before it was taken for cremation.
Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Vasundhara Raje and Ramlal, the general secretary (organisation), were present at the last rites. Sonia and Vice-President Hamid Ansari also went to the cremation ground.
At the core of the BJP-Sangh’s indifference to Mishra in death and dislike for him in life was the fact that he had surprised them by proving that for the six years Vajpayee had ruled, he could govern fairly well without their advice or intervention.
The Sangh and the BJP were stunned when one of Vajpayee’s first acts as Prime Minister was to conduct the Pokhran nuclear tests. The detonations quickly invited sanctions from the West. However, not only were India’s relations with the US restored later, they soared to a new high.
Mishra’s ability to straddle the space between the BJP’s “nationalist” politics and the complexities of diplomacy silenced the RSS and the BJP for a long time.
To the BJP, a party nurtured on an uncompromising anti-Congress and anti-Nehru-Gandhi ideology, Mishra’s ability to steer Vajpayee on the path of bipartisanship and coax out the Congress’s help during crunch times in Parliament and outside was unpalatable.
When, for instance, Mishra ensured that Sonia led a delegation to a UN conference on HIV/AIDS and got her first big international exposure as Opposition leader, then health minister C.P. Thakur was miffed. Mishra didn’t care.
It was such gestures that saw a bigger line-up of non-BJP representatives than those from the party at today’s prayer. They included Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Nationalist Congress Party MP D.P. Tripathi and Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav.
A bit out of place in a gathering that was full of former and serving Indian and foreign diplomats, bureaucrats, industrialists (Sunil Bharti Mittal was spotted), with a sprinkling of non-BJP politicians, the safari-suited Gadkari placed his one tete-a-tete with Mishra in the context of one of his pet themes: the Mumbai-Pune express highway, whose construction and completion he had commissioned as then PWD minister.
Mishra, Gadkari recalled, had sought a presentation from him when the Vajpayee government embarked on a scheme to refurbish and expand highways through the Golden Quadrilateral project.
“He was a sharp thinker and instinctively grasped issues. I had good relations with him,” Gadkari said.
To the Bhattacharyas, who sustain their relations with the BJP through Vajpayee loyalists like general secretary Vijay Goel (also present today), the words were reassuring.
By design or by coincidence, today’s event was as much theirs as that of Mishra’s children, who live abroad. The affable couple and their daughter, Niharika, received the callers and saw them off.