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Love for verses often helped Vajpayee, turned things against opponents

8/17/2018

New Delhi, It's the prowess of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's verses that helped him come out with applause from a Muslim relief camp in Gujarat in 2002.It was his poetic genius and "aapki chini mithi thi (your sugar was sweeter)" jibe in Pakistan that enthralled the crowd in Pakistan when he had taken the historic bus ride to Lahore. But despite statesmanship and poetries, things often left him anguished - as Babri Masjid could not be protected. His 'Raj Dharma' (ethics of governance) remarks made it clear he was not happy about riots in Gujarat but he could not replace Narendra Modi after 2002 mayhem. Atal Bihari Vajpayee also aptly used his 'poetic sense' of both the verse and the timing to turn things to his advantage. The poet-politician had in fact left journalists confused once when he was asked to comment on Sonia Gandhi's "challenge" to him - that his government could not stand before the united opposition led by the Congress. The former Prime Minister - often economical but convincing with his words in his irresistible style had said, "Acchee baat hae (It's good)". Newspersons did not know what and how to interpret of what he has said. On another occasion, he was asked - "Sir will you shake hands with Pervez Musharraf if he offers to" -- Vajpayee had shot back to the scribe, "Okay, let me shake hand with you". Truly, there comes a moment in history of a society and a country when the nation's soul is charred. The death of Atal Bihari Vajpayee is one such moment. Perhaps Vajpayee was one of the few voices of reasons in an era of scepticism - that is Indian politics - when the fragile face of democracy would stand vulnerable. On that score, if optimism is a desirable thing in times of crises, for the rest of political mainstream in India who saw the rise of Hindutva politics and also the self-seekers from outside -- the poet politician Atal Bihari Vajpayee was to them that crucial ray of hope. That he would douse the fire. But was the politician often stronger than the poet - that made his critics dub him as a 'master of deception' led by the fringe and radicals? His poetry and love for verses helped him well to take a stance of bullish defiance - often leaving the other side confused. It was thus not without good reason that his long time 'man for all seasons' Jaswant singh once said it is difficult to understand Vajpayee just by listening to him once. "You must re-read repeatedly of what he has said...," Mr Jaswant Singh had said in 2005 commenting on Vajpayee disapproving RSS interference in the running of the BJP. Vajpayee's poetic style often came to his aid as a statesmanlike diplomatic tool. In 1999 when he had taken the historic bus ride to Lahore and addressing a gathering near Jinnah's minar told the crowd in a supposed 'enemy country' - "aap ke chini khae, mithi thi (We enjoyed sugar supplied to India from Pakistan, and found the sweetener tasty)". In the words of a former Union Minister and JD(U) leader Digvjay Singh, - "such statement are bound to influence any crowd". It was in that context, Nawaz Sharif had said, Vajpayee can even win election in Pakistan. It was again his oratory genius and made with conviction that in 2002 at Shah-e-Alam relief camp in Ahmedabad, the then Vajpayee could walk away with applause from a relief camp that housed battered minority community - including women and children. It was perhaps only Vajpayee who as a leader of a party committed to the pro-Hindutva politics could achieve that. Lambasting the pro-Hindutva rioters, he told the inmates of riot-ravaged Muslim inmates "Mein kaun sa chehre leke videsh jau"...and "mein yeanh lashey gin ney nahi aya hoon" - (With what face will I go abroad when minorities in my country were not safe -- and I have not come here to count bodies)". "Aag se aag nahi boojhti (Fire does not douse fire)," he had said. But it is also true some 'inhouse' critics like K N Govindacharya called him a 'mask'. Was there a merit in such blasphemous remarks against the tallest man in the BJP and Hindutva school of politics? It is true the BJP and the apologists for 'hardline Hindutva' often tried to use his image to 'cloud' the issue of alleged 'communalism' like bringing down the historic Babri Masjid. BJP's rivals including the communists often said - Vajpayee was the right man in the 'wrong party'. But did Vajpayee always pass the acid test of being the resident 'moderate philosopher' ? In 2002 at Goa conclave of BJP, Prime Minister Vajpayee shocked his admires and political rivals alike. He made a stunning volte face from what he had said in Shah-e-Alem relief camp and said, "there are two faces of Islam one that teaches tolerance and truth, and the other is militancy - Jihad - in the name of Islam". He appeared to blame it all for Gujarat catastrophe on Muslims. "yeh aag kisne lagai (Who sparked off this fire)"," he asked at a rally in Panajim and said "Muslims, wherever they are, don't want to live peacefully. They want to spread terror in the name of religion. With regard to Gujarat mayhem, Vajpayee had asked the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi to follow ‘Raj Dharma (Ethics of Governance)’. The general impression was that Modi will be shown the doors, but the Chief Minister was allowed to continue. It is a different matter that several political observers later said the Gujarat riots and Vajpayee’s inability to handle the situation was “one of the principal reasons for Vajpayee losing out general elections in 2004”. In the words of a longtime BJP watcher - 'you do not speak ill of a man, who is no longer with us'. A person with a graceful taste for things apolitical like poetry and cinema, Vajpayee would be also be remembered for his description of P V Narasimha Rao as a 'karma-yogi' in Parliament while taking a dig at Rao's now famous oneliner: "Not to take decision is also a decision".

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