The Vajpayee era and the mystique of saffron frenzy (Photo: PTI)
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) tryst with power at the Centre actually began over two decades ago with the rise of Atal Behari Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday, August 16, evening after prolonged illness. His death has led to an overwhelming outpouring of grief cutting across party lines and people from myriad walks of life. This besides being natural and well deserved to a great extent is because the departed former prime minister had been a moderate in a party of hawks. Yet, as political pundits reflect upon his remarkable contribution to public life what needs to be assessed is how far the Vajpayee era had brought a sobering effect on his comrades?
This question is all the more important since the party which was once led by Vajpayee to form government at the Centre is now firmly in command of the country and is fervently looking to get another five-year term under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In fact, Modi was hardly known beyond the BJP, RSS and media circles in Delhi until 2001 when Vajpayee summoned him and asked him to take the stewardship of his home state of Gujarat.
This was somehow meant to bring peace at that point of time among the warring groups of BJP leaders in Gujarat. And within a few months of Modi’s taking over the reins of the province as its Chief Minister, the troubles of the state unit of the BJP got overshadowed by the incident of a deadly fire in a train at Godhra that soon caused one of the worst communal flare ups in other parts of the state. The Gujarat riots in 2002 had visibly rattled even Vajpayee. He exhorted Modi to follow Raj Dharma. Bat sadly ever since Karma virtually became Dharma and foundations for this were laid and nurtured so assiduously for the next over two years under Vajpayee’s watch as prime minister, though may not be with his support, that soon no such benign presence like that of him was needed anymore for Hindutva’s relentless march.
Although Vajpayee remained an MP after this for another term, his active role in politics got over. The Congress regime that followed was engaged by the BJP over the foreign moorings of the older party’s president, or that of Sonia Gandhi. A person’s origins and place of birth was given precedent by the BJP over her beliefs in her new and permanent homestead to keep the Congress on the backfoot despite its having a larger mandate than that of the BJP after the polls in 2004. This is how the BJP learnt the art of making others, or rivals, blink or relent so that it can have its way.
Its sole claim to Indian roots was completely monopolised and virtually hijacked as a matter of virtual copyright well before it blamed Sonia for the lack of it. Not only this, but it is also a fact that Vajpayee became Prime Minister mainly because of his party alone having this distinction though this remained unstated at that point of time. Before 1996 Vajpayee was the leader of Opposition. He got the position after his party peer LK Advani stepped down from it in the wake of the demolition of Babari Masjid at Ayodhya in December 1992. Thus, a change of BJP leadership in the Lok Sabha with Narasimha Rao as Congress Prime Minister came about due to the real or surreal sense of guilt over the demolition of the sixteenth century mosque amid Hindutva frenzy.
Advani had called December 6, 1992, or the day Babari Masjid was demolished, as the most tragic day of his life while Vajpayee dubbed it as “Bhartiyata Ka Pratik-karan” or manifestation of Indianness.
This is like to seek and take refuge in a sacred zone shaped through ages and to avoid admission of guilt straightaway. But the guilt in any case was transferred to mainly Advani alone and amid this, a virtue like moderation was made to look precious. Vajpayee signified it conspicuously vis-à-vis Advani since the former only tried to justify the demolition maybe as a token of courtesy to his party colleagues who were all present at Ayodhya when it came to tether without being able to bring Vajpayee along to the site of the ghastly show.
Such has been the seesaw between BJP hawks and moderates that had catapulted Vajpayee to power though in a staggered way from 1996 to 1999 where he had to walk to allies on the one hand and use his dependence on so many partners to run the Government on the other to silence his critics within his own larger political fraternity, or Sangh Parivar. What followed is history now but Vajpayee could never achieve peace with Advani. So much so that he had to declare elections before schedule in 2004 on the promise of a slogan like ‘India Shining’ to see the BJP through.
Yet, the BJP did outshine others though it took a good 10 long years for it to return to power. But this time there were no questions like moderates and hawks in the party. Modi turned out to be virtually embodying both. A slogan like Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas, or with everyone for the sake of development of all, flaunted by the Hindu Hirdaya Samrat, or Hindu lord of hearts, made the Vajpayees and the Advanis of yesteryears quite redundant. And, thus, Modi not only made it to the top but also the BJP juggernaut merrily goes on unmindful and as if so oblivious of the proverbial collateral damage. This had actually started right from the run up to the late Vajpayee’s journey to power and its more zealous though unsuccessful pursuit by Advani.
And frenzy has all through this been propelling the BJP’s strides to power. Ever since power both at the Centre and in so many states has come to the party courtesy its ability to rake up one or the other contentiously communal issue. Yet, this unfortunate trend is on. So much so that the sectarian wont of the party hardly gets the kind of notice that it was meted with through the past. Now it is said to have become the new norm.
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A manifestation of this also came today, August 17, even as Vajpayee’s body lay in state at Deendayal Upadhyay Marg BJP office in Delhi for public to have a last glimpse of the departed leader. Saffron robed Swami Agnivesh was mauled by the zealots of the same political hue right at the BJP headquarters as he too tried to join the stream of mourners. His crime was said to be his support to those who perished as a result of the fury of lynch mobs made of cow protectors.