Vajpayee Another Nehru?
By Mani Shankar
18 March, 2004
The Indian Express
More bogus even than the pretensions of
the India Shining campaign is the attempt by the BJP and
a section of the media to project Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a second Nehru.
First, why the BJP should want to compare Vajpayee to the Nehru they
excoriated through life and have systematically denigrated after death
is difficult to understand. Second, there is no comparison. Only contrast.
rose from inherited riches to self-imposed deprivation. Vajpayee has
descended from humble origins to high living. Nehru spent the better
part of his adulthood in incarceration fighting imperial rule. Vajpayees
sole contribution to the freedom movement was carefully keeping out
of jail through his notorious September 1, 1942 confession to a colonial
court, at the height of the Quit India movement, Maine tho kuch
nuksan nahi kiya. Nehru was the chosen moral and ideological heir
of the greatest Indian ever, Mahatma Gandhi. Vajpayee traces his descent
(the pun is intended) from communal-racists like Golwalkar and Savarkar.
He entered politics under the patronage of the founder of the Bharatiya
Jana Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, a man who had not hesitated, after
the resignation in 1939 of the Congress provincial ministries when India
was dragged by the Brits into war without consulting the Indians, to
form a cross-communal alliance in Bengal with A.K.M. Fazlul Haq, the
mover of the 1940 Pakistan resolution at Lahore.
It is the political
opportunism he learned at the feet of Mookherjee that has brought Vajpayee
to power and kept him there six long years. Never before has a prime
minister deliberately kept aside his own agenda merely to come to power.
After all, power must have a purpose. Vajpayees claim to notoriety
is that he has none; power is his purpose. What would one make of a
Sonia Gandhi who set aside the Congress agenda in order to forge an
alliance with the BJP to implement not her programme but the BJPs?
Is this not what the BJP have done? Do we not admire Vajpayee only because
he has persuaded his lot to eschew their goals merely for him and his
ministers to taste the fruits of office? And do we admire Nehru because
he stood for nothing?
When riots broke
out in Delhi during the trauma of Partition, did Nehru sit back or go
right there into the crowd hitting out at those who would hit the cowering
Muslim? What did Vajpayee do when a similar situation arose in a state
ruled by his own party colleagues? Did he even visit Gujarat, let alone
sail into the mob flailing his fists as Nehru had done? And when a measure
of order had been restored, contrast the consistency with which Nehru
espoused the secular cause with the inconsistencies, double-standards
and doublespeak that marked Vajpayees words and action on Gujarat.
Yes, Gujarat was on the edge of a state election that the BJP desperately
needed to win. But Nehru, too, was in 1951 on the edge of a general
election the Congress needed desperately to win. It was the first election
ever with full adult franchise in a nation divided by religious hate
where 85 per cent of the electorate belonged to the majority religion
and every adult voter had a searing personal memory of the terrible
tribulations of Partition. Had Nehru been Vajpayee he would have surrendered
to the temptation of sacrificing a minority to appease a majority. He
chose not to. With but a few months to go to the polls, Nehru in May
1951 refused permission to the president of India to visit Somnath for
the inauguration of the restored temple. It was in keeping with his
refusal a year earlier to extract a tooth for a tooth by expelling Indian
Muslims to avenge the expulsion of Pakistani Hindus. Instead, in April
1950, he entered into the Nehru-Liaquat pact which pledged the two countries
bilaterally to protect their respective minorities unilaterally. So
unpopular was the pact with his own Congress legislators that after
his post-pact meeting with the Congress Parliamentary Party, Nehru submitted
his resignation. It was then that Sardar Patel rose to his Olympian
heights. The genuine Lauh Purush took it upon himself to bring the seething
Congress dissidents back into the fold. Together, the duumvirate restored
India to the secular path.
and Advani in Gujarat. While Advani actively encouraged his acolyte,
Narendra Modi, in the outrages perpetrated there, Vajpayee fiddled.
Instead of firmly stepping in to stop the worst state-sponsored pogrom
in the history of independent India (for the exposure of which this
journal has deservedly won an award for best journalism), Vajpayee first
fumbled, then indulged in a generalised sermon on dharma raj
at the Shah Alam camp, only to go back on his word within hours in an
interview given in Singapore, then proclaimed in Goa to a party conclave
that Muslims make bad neighbours, then denied he had said so, then admitted
he had when confronted with the taped evidence of his voice. And this
Master Deceiver of himself, let alone his people, is being projected
as a second Nehru? God forbid!
Nehru embraced socialism
during his 1927 visit to Europe, especially after his encounter in Brussels
with the League against Imperialism. His espousal of state-sponsored
economic development was vindicated by the spectacular Soviet miracle
of the thirties that within a decade transformed the Soviet Union from
a serf-ridden backwater into an economic and military superpower which
withstood Hitler where all of west Europe had succumbed. But Nehrus
admiration for the Soviet economic model was tempered by repugnance
at the immense human suffering it entailed. He, therefore, rejected
the Stalinist model and opted for the democratic alternative of an indigenous
mixed economy in which priority lay with the poor. That was the socialism
he espoused through the freedom movement and into the 17 years of his
The contrast with
flibberty-gibbet Vajpayee could not be starker. When Vajpayee founded
the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, he proclaimed its economic plank
to be Gandhian socialism. He then went on to oppose the
liberalisation of the economy under Rao-Manmohan Singh. Then he embraced
the swadeshi creed of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. And finally
as prime minister, he became the vanguard of a lunatic right-wing Shourieism.
In foreign policy,
Nehru went down the road less travelled. Nonalignment was
the policy of just one country, ours, from 1945 (when Nehru became member
for external relations in the interim cabinet) to the Brioni conference
in 1956. By the time the Nonaligned Summit was held in Delhi in 1983,
two-thirds of the international community had embraced Nehrus
foreign policy. That is the measure of a pioneer. Vajpayee has made
India a foot-soldier of the Bush camp. Is his subsidiary alliance with
the US an achievement? When Nehru died, the Economist had a photograph
of him at the UN on its cover, the page suffused in darkness, only his
hauntingly sensitive face subtly lit up. The legend read, World
without Nehru. Will that be Vajpayees place in the hearts
of the human family when the Reaper finally arrives as he must with
his inescapable sickle?