By Sunil Kumar

A successful politician is someone who means all things to all people”. This enigmatic phrase seems to sum up this insightful biography of Vajpayee; by Kingshuk Nag

 Atal Bihari Vajpayee

For a TV generation; Modi’s achievement has been in making Jana Sangh icons such as Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay more well known. Vajpayee

For someone who is psychologically invested in the future of his nation; despite a somewhat pretentious world repeatedly stressing on the ill-effects of so-called “jingoism”; and media commentators cooking up daily excuses to undermine national identity; the history of the Indian republic is a roller-coaster ride much like the long narrative of an ancient civilization. Public memory is short; something that is top-of-mind today seems like a shadow only a decade later.

Atal”ji”; a Bharat Ratna is currently incapacitated both physically and mentally. His long innings in public life; poetic nature, witty repartee and thoughtful oratory were appreciated across the Indian political spectrum. Unlike our present prime minister; who draws extreme adulation or revulsion; Vajpayee was a generally liked “middle-0f-the road” politician.

Nag informs that Jawaharlal Nehru was subjected to Vajpayee’s critiques; but was very fond of this fiery orator from Gwalior; who came to Delhi in 1950; a mere three years after independence. Unlike the general lack of civility in public discourse and the instant reactions of social media; Vajpayee was of a more genteel mindset; a wily old man; but appealing nevertheless.

The internal dynamics of the RSS and the Jana Sangh; the formation of the BJP; and Vajpayee’s electoral fortunes make for engaging reading. The writer reveals that M.S Golwalkar; the first sarsanghachalak was instrumental in promoting “cultural nationalism”; was a semi-mystical recluse; not very interested in the trappings of power. Core governance with development is an agenda most people aspire for; the author seems to suggest that Vajpayee provided this in ample measure during his tenure as the first BJP Prime Minister.

 

Many people; including this writer are sick of politicians making a mockery of democracy; indulging in personal turf wars; and ego struggles. Vajpayee’s statements here are illustrative; “The greatest curse, not merely of Indian politics but of national life as a whole, is the general incapacity to work together. Let’s learn to unite, instead of dividing to create harmony where disharmony exists and to keep our self-interest and ego in leash”. Atal also alluded to how centre-state relations in the country had become akin to a saas-bahu relationship.

Although the book stops short of a hagiography; Atal’s power dynamic; his relations with people such as Balraj Madhok, L.K Advani, Jaswant Singh; K.S Sudarshan, Govindacharya and his personal life are described in some detail. A mild-mannered leader ranks higher in public perception than a so-called “dictatorial” leader; but everything is subjected to the relativity of time; and overall results.

Vajpayee was also instrumental in building a momentum for economic liberalization; and laid the groundwork for “India Shining”; an economic base which helped his arch-rivals when they managed to crawl back into power in 2004.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s politics stem from a conciliatory; all-encompassing Indian world view; pluralism which can sometimes not feel right in a world that is a sordidly brutal power struggle. As a nation; positive icons are needed in times of great upheaval. A.B Vajpayee; A.P.J Kalam seem to inspire faith in an age of over-the-top histrionics and the increasingly dark spectre of votebank politics. Motivation can indeed bring about change; and this sincere citizen earnestly hopes that there is a new dawn.

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