It is hard to write a note celebrating the greatness of Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But what would 25th December mean, without going down the memory lane? I will choose to remember him for precisely four reasons:
1. Vajpayee understood India. He did not sell false dreams to a nation which had just started dreaming. He did give our people hope, though. To the cadres of Bharatiya Janata Party- hope that they could challenge the mighty Congress. To the citizens of India- hope that they could realise their individual economic aspirations. To the proud students of its history- hope that they could celebrate the achievements of our civilisational history; and reflect upon its failures, in a manner that they were never allowed to do before. To its Opposition- hope that the political discourse could be maintained, without compromising on electoral success. Good story-tellers sell you dreams; but poets inspire you to dream!
2. There is more to politics than participating in elections. Politics is about dialogue; about initiating conversation. It is about संवाद. Vajpayee taught us that we were evolved enough to deliberate! On history, culture, national security, international relations, economy, and development- he spoke; and he spoke with authority. He was the public intellectual who spoke in the language of the masses. That made a lot of people uncomfortable. He was not giving the masses mere electoral doses; he was preparing them for a collective national conversation, by speaking what he wanted them to hear, before they made up their mind. His best speeches were not given in election rallies; but inside the Parliament, and in conferences, addresses, and "sammelans".
3. At the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, he gave an address which remains one of the most volatile speeches of the agitation. And yet, when he sat in a televised interview as the occupant of the highest constitutional office, he apologised to the nation. Some say it was exactly conduct of this kind (including his "Iftaar" parties), that cost him the not-so-enthusiastic-anymore core "Hindu vote", in the next election. And I think this is exactly where the "Hindu voter" failed him. It was our loss; not his. In the twilight of his career, he expected his countrymen to respect his sincerity. He did what he had to do, as a campaigner; but he also did what was expected of him as the leader of all Indian citizens. At the same time, he did everything that he could do, to translate his ideas into effective government policies, both on the cultural, as well as the economic front. By falling into the trap of optical symbolism, his own voter defeated him. Had he been young, he would have probably won them over, once again. But it wasn't meant to be.
4. Vajpayee was never afraid of losing. In fact, he lost far more than he won. He shamed Sharad Pawar for playing politics for the sole object of gaining power at all costs; and declared that if power was to be acquired in such a fashion, then he would prefer not touching it, even with a kitchen tong (cheemta). "Party with a Difference" was the dream, and he was resolved to sacrifice anything that made it less "different" than what was acceptable to its founders. He did not merely call for a "debate" on contentious issues. He was an active participant; notwithstanding what the personal, or electoral consequences may be.
Most deserving Prime Minister India ever had. 🇮🇳