A Tribute to the Poetic-Peacemaker

Former Indian Prime Minister, the recipient of Bharat Ratna, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee is no more. The situation begets an obituary. But what can one write about someone with a personality that was as multifarious as Vajpayee Ji’s? Should the obituary be about the journalist Atal, the poet Atal, or the politician Atal? Considering the love and respect that was bestowed upon him not just by his political comrades but also his staunch political opponents, perhaps it will be wise to begin this humble tribute to this political stalwart with a quote by Machiavelli, “It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles”.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, like some of his contemporaries such as Pranab Mukherjee, LK Advani etc., has a very special place in Indian history. These politicians, in myriad ways, represent a continuity, a link, in the Indian polity. They are the ligature between the Nehruvian era and the present one. All these and other politicians born in the pre-Independence era have lived their lives side by side with the Indian nation-state. They are witness to and at many times even contributors to all the highs and lows that this country has seen. As in any family the traditions and customs are passed on from one generation to another, in the Indian nation too, the political values, traditions and customs have been disseminated through these men and women. Hence, it will not be an exaggeration to say that today (16th August,2018) marks the end of an era in Indian politics.

His Legacy

What is it that separated Atal Bihari Vajpayee from all other Indian politicians? We belong to a generation which has time and again been told that politics is a dirty game. Even a cursory glance over the current political scenario will suffice to make one believe in the proposition that politics is indeed dirty today. Yet, as impossible as it may seem,  there is no politician in this country or abroad that has ever bad-mouthed Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This is not to say that he had no political or ideological differences or rivals. Rather, he led a party which for a long time remained an untouchable in Indian politics. The organisation that he took an oath of allegiance to (RSS) still remains a highly controversial and tainted cultural outfit. So, what could be the reason behind him commanding unparalleled respect? It was, perhaps, his unshaking belief in the idea of “Kamar se niche vaarna hi karna”, that could loosely be translated to mean, “No cheap or personal attack on political/ideological opponents”. His political career was an embodiment of the idea that “Mat-bhed ho sakta hai, lekin man-bhed nahi”, that is, “We could have conflicting ideas/opinions but that will not mean we will despise each other”.

Despite  all the baggage that accompanied him due to his association with the RSS, Jana Sangh and later BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was able to carve out a “relatively moderate” image for himself. It was his face alone that could garner the confidence and support of 23 other political parties into a grand alliance, called the NDA, in 1998. His greatest legacy therefore is his success in playing the peacemaker role in times of great political instability in this country. His real genius lay in his mediation skills that helped him manage the sectarian trend with the progressive, the old with the new.

It was also for this very reason that he often faced criticism from both sides; while the liberals criticised him for not being liberal enough, the Sanghis criticised him for not being Sanghi enough. What none of these critics understood was the pulls and pressures that a statesman had to work around within a fractured polity and an evolving democracy. What else is a democracy about, if not compromise and negotiation? If only doing as one’s party commands is governance than why did our founding fathers give us this beautiful system of the parliamentary form of democracy? ABV understood that the essence of democracy lied in skillful negotiation between contrary opinions. He understood that dogmatism had no place in governance. He also understood that reaching consensus on everything may not be possible but continuously striving in that direction is what transforms a nascent democracy into a mature one.

An Ideal Tribute

So what would be an ideal tribute that we can offer to this great son of mother India? The political culture today is at its nadir. Political vocabulary has degraded to a level that is unprecedented. Even the innovations that have been made possible by the technological advancement such as the advent of social media, are being put to negative use in the form of troll armies.Therefore, the ideal tribute to Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee will definitely be to follow his middle path, avoiding extreme views and dogmatism and moving towards building a collaborative polity, not a fractured one. It will demand a lot more than a mere lip service to put the nation before everything else.

Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh

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