Softer glow

Vajpayee's fulsome praise of Nehru on the latter's demise will be remembered both for its oratorial flourish as well as genuine admiration. It was this ability to transcend differences, political or otherwise - a trait that is, unfortunately, rare in contemporary Indian politics - that made Vajpayee the statesman that he was. Little wonder then that he excelled in keeping his flock together: he was the first non-Congress prime minister to serve a full term. There was, arguably, even a touch of Nehru in the policies of Vajpayee as prime minister. The BJP leader sought a transition of India's faltering social indices on a scale that matched that of Nehru's plans. The scheme to universalize the access to free, elementary education, one of the hallmarks of Vajpayee's reign, is an example. Again, when it came to India's restive provinces, Vajpayee preferred soothing diplomacy to brute force. He sought to untie the Gordian knot that is Kashmir by invoking an inclusive doctrine.

  • Published 17.08.18
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Colossal figures cast long shadows. However, the legacy left behind by Atal Bihari Vajpayee is unlikely to be viewed as a wreath by those who run the Bharatiya Janata Party today. They are, metaphorically speaking, most likely to perceive such an inheritance as a coil - something to be dispensed with. For Vajpayee, the alleged contradictions between his thoughts and deed notwithstanding, represented a continuum in terms of Nehruvian values and vision. Vajpayee was a statesman in the old mould. There is a line of thought that argues that Vajpayee, much to the chagrin of the Jana Sangh and, later, the BJP, was markedly accommodating of Jawaharlal Nehru's principle of objectivity. He did not hesitate to praise political rivals: Vajpayee's fulsome praise of Nehru on the latter's demise will be remembered both for its oratorial flourish as well as genuine admiration. It was this ability to transcend differences, political or otherwise - a trait that is, unfortunately, rare in contemporary Indian politics - that made Vajpayee the statesman that he was. Little wonder then that he excelled in keeping his flock together: he was the first non-Congress prime minister to serve a full term. There was, arguably, even a touch of Nehru in the policies of Vajpayee as prime minister. The BJP leader sought a transition of India's faltering social indices on a scale that matched that of Nehru's plans. The scheme to universalize the access to free, elementary education, one of the hallmarks of Vajpayee's reign, is an example. Again, when it came to India's restive provinces, Vajpayee preferred soothing diplomacy to brute force. He sought to untie the Gordian knot that is Kashmir by invoking an inclusive doctrine.

Inclusivity - India's founding fathers and those who followed them were wedded to this proposition - and the BJP seem to be like the proverbial chalk and cheese. Narendra Modi's critics believe, not without reason, that he must be credited with the dubious distinction of causing New India's rupture with the philosophy that was propounded by Nehru. There is wanton violence against Dalits and Muslims; dissenters and free thought are being stifled; communal amity, the glue that has helped keep India from imploding, is being eroded systematically. In other words, the raj dharma, which Vajpayee had reminded Mr Modi to honour as chief minister, remains ignored by Mr Modi even as prime minister.

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