Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: The Untold Vajpayee - Politician and Paradox

The 10th Prime Minister of India Credit HERE
Before I begin to say anything about Ullekh N P’s book, The Untold Vajpayee, Politician and Paradox, I have few things to say. These are:

(a)   The India – Pakistan politics is similar to Men’s Cloakroom Politics, that being, mine is bigger than yours. And this then is the cause of war, and moments of so called peace and bilateral talks, which are finally only preparation for the next war.
(b)   If at the rock bottom of one’s religious belief system, one hates a certain religion, it can never be wiped out, because it forms the ground on which the entire socio-political religious beliefs stand upon. So whether it is Ayodhya or Godra or the riots that broke out after that, it all springs from an uncanny  subconscious impulse that causes damage to the other.
(c)    This then sets to motion, an equal and opposite force of reaction which can only be silenced temporarily by a scapegoat. Kashmir, the valley of the gods is one such.
(d)   NOTE:  The above is my opinion, and nobody needs to agree or disagree with them.
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In an extraordinary display of finely and exhaustively done research from Newspapers, Television, books, websites and academic literature, Ullekh N P, the author of The Untold Vajpayee: Politician and Paradox, draws upon all these to tell a story of a man, who exactly 21 years ago, became Prime Minister of India, on 15th May, 1996. He had arrived in his Ambassador with his son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, and a peon, and his driver, to Rashtrapati Bhawan, on being called by the then President, Shanker Dayal Sharma. After his meeting with the President, he returned with an envelope in hand. That was 14th May; next day, he became the 10th Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, India. He was already 70 years of age, a little wobbly on his knees but his sharp with and poetry, and his soft nature, made him the most respected to take on that role as a BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party, which he founded in 1980). This was his 3rd time in to becoming a Prime Minister, first for 1 day, second for 13 days and then between 1996 to 2004.

The author tells us that Atal Bihari Vajpeye was born on 25th December, 1924 to a school teacher in Gwalior and studied there. He was a good student and studied Political Science. He was attracted first to Arya Samaj but left it to become afull time worker in RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In 1980 he founded the Bharatiya Janta Party along with L K Advani.

Known to be an eternal bachelor, Vajpayee lived with his college sweetheart, Rajkumari, who was married to someone else in Delhi. Her daughter Namita and son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya were very close to him, often too close even.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known for his soft skills and his avoidance of ‘confrontational politics’ which Ullekh N P tells us, he disliked. Also, Vajpayee could maintain silence for long durations and respond to a situation at the appropriate time. Yet, with his gentle demeanor, and his characteristic half smile, he could do things who many had avoided.

“Scholars such as Andrew B. Kennedy of Australian national University have outlined the stages when India was on the brink of testing nuclear weapons in the late 1990s and held back because of economic considerations. When the BJP came to power in May 1996, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made preliminary decision to proceed with testing, only to suspend it pending the results of aconfidence vote, which his government then lost. Deve Gowda then came to power at the head of the United Front coalition and he contemplated testing in early June but ultimately opted against it as well. Like Rao, Gowda seems to have been concerned about the economic fallout. Inder Gujral subsequently succeeded Gowda as the United Front prime minister in April 1997. Gujral later recalled that he, too, weighed the question of testing but was deterred by the thought of the ‘punishment’. (On Kindle Loc: 2473)

But, within a few days of his becoming Prime Minister in 1996, one afternoon, he went ahead with Pokhran II. As if it was some figment of his mind! Needless to say, the act was hugely berated both in India and internationally.

“The year 1999 saw attacks on Christians in tribal areas of various states. It began with Gujarat, and then emboldened by the fact that a Hindutwa party was in power at the Centre, suspected Hindu militants burnt to death an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stains, and his two sons, ten-years old Philip and six-years old Timothy, while they were sleeping in their trailer. The gruesome murder of the fifty-eight-year-old Stains – who had been working among the poorest of the pooe districts in Odisha and among leprosy patients – and his sons made international headlines.” (On Kindle Loc: 2546-47).

While Vajpayee was shocked by the incident, reports began to emerge, showing that hardliners among BJP workers were behind these killings. He was unable to act on an eye-for-an-eye mode both in Gujarat and in Odisha.

Ullekh N P brings out in the book a face of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who with age had mellowed maybe too much, given the fact that he also suffered numerous physical conditions that made him quite ill to continue his Office, thus losing it to Congress in 2004 elections when Dr Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister.

Yet, one cannot remember Vajpayee only for his soft skills; he managed war and peace and an irate difficult CM in Jayalalitha with equanimity and patience.

The book did not give me the racy literature I love about journalists writing books, which are almost like murder mysteries. But for one time, when the yet again, show of power of my opening lines about Men’s Cloakroom Politics of mine is bigger than yours, when the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi was high-jacked, with 178 passengers on board right after the Kargil War where Pakistan had to surrender defeated by India. The four men who high-jacked the plane forced the pilot to take the plane to Islamabad instead, but were told that there was not sufficient fuel to do that so the plane had to force land in Amritsar.

Ullekh quote from Kanchan Gupta’s writing:

“Desperate calls were made to the officials at Raja Sansi Airport in Amritsar to somehow stall the refueling and prevent the plane from take-off. The Officials just failed to respond with alacrity. …. Exasperated Jaswant Singh grabbed the phone and pleaded with the official, ‘Just drive a heavy vehicle, a fuel truck or a road roller, or whatever you have, on to the runway and park it there….Get your bloody fingers out now. For heaven’s sake, do anything, don’t let the f…g aircraft leave Amritsar.’”(On Kindle Loc: 2791-92)

Our own Prime Minister was airborne at the moment of this high-jack and not for the last time, Deputy Prime Minister, Jaswant Singh had sprung to action once again, giving the reader the impression, that Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have not run the country, without his able right hand man, Jaswant Singh.

Nor could he have managed his private life, without his beloved adopted daughter Namita and his college sweetheart Rajkumari.

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