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Given all the whitewashing by a media largely accustomed to carrying scripted pieces by the powers-that-be, the BJP/RSS sponsored PR blitzes & the hagiographies pouring forth about A.B. Vajpayee soon after his passing away, after spending well over a decade in a totally faded out, vegetative state almost, it may be necessary to take a dispassionate, hard-headed look at his tenure as the Prime Minister, India. This piece is an attempt to do so.
He was the genial, supposedly accommodating, consensus building ‘mukhauta’ or mask for the hardliners. While he was bogged down with the realities of a coalition government where he needed to seemingly make compromises & forge consensus just for the sake of survival of his ministry, various hardliners like Togadia, Uma Bharati, Modi were given a largely free reign to carry out the unpalatable Hindutva experiments, some of which are described in the attached article linked just below.
His regime was characterized by quite a few missteps & disastrous decisions. Foremost among these was the decision to release several hardline terrorists incarcerated in various Indian jails and getting Jaswant Singh to fly them out to Afghanistan & exchange them for a planeload of passengers held hostage by the Taliban. These released terrorists were in the forefront of major terrorist activities against India in the coming years and went on to head organizations like the JeM & LeT. Some of them were involved also in the planning for 911.
While Advani, the party chief was all set to become the PM after the BJP’s electoral victory, Vajpayee had to be made the PM by the BJP/RSS because a hardliner like Advani was not acceptable to most coalition partners of the NDA whose support was critical to the survival of Vajpayee’s government. Advani never quite let him forget the favour & given his unshakeable hold over the party then, Vajpayee had to defer to him on several matters as he knew full well that the party was largely with Advani & not with him on these issues. He was quite adept at going with the flow and not upsetting the RSS bosses unduly. Many of his detractors say that he had the spine of a jellyfish.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in his various utterances and postures post the Gujarat riots. Much is made of his ‘Rajdharma’ remark in public with the C.M. Modi sitting beside him and smiling away. In a constitutional democracy of a secular nature, the person responsible for the administration is meant to follow the constitution he has sworn allegiance to and not some ‘Rajdharma’ typically defined for kings & monarchs centuries earlier. Thus Vajpayee’s comment can be taken as an inane & vacuous one meant to appease the listeners at large. Later, during the party meeting, he kept quiet when, after the scripted & orchestrated drama, it became clear that the majority of partymen were quite against Modi resigning and that they had the full backing of the party top brass, led by Advani. Soon after, during the party conclave in Goa, Vajpayee made an outrageously communal & inflammatory speech, possibly to show the party rank-and-file as well as the RSS bosses that he was totally in sync with their thinking. Check out the full text of the speech below:
Vajpayee had his set of media favourites whom he cultivated and often confided in. While his media management and manipulation was nowhere near as overt and as strident as Modi’s, some of his favourite journos included Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Mehta & Karan Thapar among several others. Thus, Vinod Mehta’s biography of Vajpayee may be taken as a mellow, largely positive evaluation of A.B. Vajpayee as a politician, as the P.M. of India and, above all, as a human being. Click on the link below to read select excerpts:
Given below is a more objective obituary of Vajpayee by another veteran journo, Sankarshan Thakur.
It is widely known that Vajpayee, at least during the last years of his Prime Ministership, had left governance almost totally to his old buddy and the erstwhile bureaucrat he had appointed as his Principal Secretary and National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra. Mishra acted as a gateway to Vajpayee and what he decided on any issue was often the final word on the topic. So much was Vajpayee’s dependence on Mishra that he is said to have rarely read files forwarded to him and would sign on the dotted line after Brajesh Mishra gave him a summary and told him what his recommendation in the matter was.
Much is said about Vajpayee’s oratory, particularly in Hindi. During his heydays, Vajpayee’s gift of the gab and his debating and oratorical skills as a parliamentarian were indeed much admired and commended on. Unfortunately, during the later years of his Prime Ministership, his style had become a rather grotesque caricature of what it used to be during his heydays and was the subject of much merriment and stand-up comedy. Most likely due to the onset of dementia, he came across as someone who was finding it difficult to gather his thoughts and talking points and string them together, coherently and convincingly. He would utter a sentence or two during his speeches, pause for far too long while he kept blinking & looking around as if trying to recollect what he was planning to say next and then, after a pause that stretched on for far too long, utter another couple of sentences. The likely onset of dementia was possibly one of the prime reasons for leaving governance matters almost totally to his Principal Secretary during the last years of his Premiership.
Vajpayee was always a genial, courteous and civil man who could get along amicably with his colleagues and his political opponents without too many problems. His ability to do so contributed to his presiding successfully over a multi-party coalition for a full-term of five years. When faced with a difficult or a potentially explosive situation, he could defuse it and often disarm his opponents with a quip and with humorous one-liners. His term as the P.M. of India had very little to distinguish it by way of notable achievements and major milestones contributing to the development of India and can largely be considered as an unremarkable one.
— Raja Mitra
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- A Realistic Assessment of A.B. Vajpayee’s Tenure as Prime Minister, India
- The Politics, Populism and Downsides of Surgical Strikes Against Cash Transactions
- The Turbocharged Masala Chai
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- Stray thoughts and facts about Android, iOS and the Apple vs. Google Smartphone Faceoff
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