Now that the dust has settled and the obituaries written, there is something about Mr Vajpayee’s passing away that needs to be understood. The sympathy from all sides of the political spectrum hinted not just the genius of the man, but also the current political situation that has resurrected Mr Vajpayee back into the mainstream, even at his death. To put this into perspective, had Mr Vajpayee left us for the heavens during the UPA rule, the condolences would have struck a different note. People would have indeed mourned, but news channels and political pundits would have mainly admired Mr Vajpayee for his political journey from a young editor to a Prime Minister. Naturally, his poetry and his scintillating oratory would have been missed, but listening to people talk about Mr Vajpayee today reflects a different focus altogether. It is not just the statesman, the orator or the poet, that is being missed, but the personality and the morality of the man that is being remembered the most. And rightly so because the current leadership lacks the moral righteousness of Mr Vajpayee, and above all, his human touch.
He was probably the last Nehruvian leader of our times, despite him belonging to the Sangh Parivar. Unlike the politicians of today who invoke Nehru’s image just to sound fancy, he had the privilege to see Nehru in person and also disagree and debate with him, that too in the hallowed halls of the parliament. Despite his ideological difference with him, Mr Vajpayee did not shy away from admiring Nehru’s achievements as the first Prime Minister. And this was unique about the man, despite belonging to an organisation that propagated bigotry, he rose above its closed views to appreciate his political foe. Of the many parliamentary speeches of Mr Vajpayee that are doing rounds on social media, there is one where he narrates of how he had reinstated Mr Nehru’s portrait in his office, that was taken down once he was sworn in as a minister in the Janata government. His adoration of Mr Nehru subsequently met a round of applause by the lawmakers sitting on his side. Here was a moment of dignity that we somehow lost in the last few years
He was by no means a liberal, and his personal views about Muslims and Sikhs had a saffron tinge to them. But he always made sure that the Hindutva within him never overpowered his self.
One cannot shy away from comparing Mr Vajpayee’s BJP to the current one under the Modi Shah duo. While Mr Vajpayee had a moderate outlook, the current leadership of the party has embraced Hindutva in its raw form. The result— they have unleashed a monster that they now cannot control. The communal hatred, the low level of political discourse, the trolls on social media have all contributed to an environment of fear and uncertainty amongst the minorities. It is the current state of affairs that reminds liberals of a man that once led the same party, and who knew how to control this monster.
It is the human in Mr Vajpayee which people admired, contrary to Mr Modi today who wants to be seen as a prophet. Mr Modi’s reluctance to sit for an actual interview where he can be questioned, or his lapdog media channels that glorify him as a demigod; only hint that his politics is more about perception than principles.
In the end, Mr Vajpayee is a reminder that it is the moderate brand of politics that can sustain this plural subcontinent in the long run. His political journey consisted of ups and downs; the stuff movies are made of. What defined him in his moments of failure or his years of glory was his morally upright character that rose above ideologies and party lines. Maybe, as my professor during one of his lectures remarked, that Mr Vajpayee was the right man in the wrong party.