“BJP Leader Atal Behari Vajpayee tells Ketan N TannaÂ why Kashi and Mathura should not be on BJP’s agenda”
The loneliness of a reasonable man
Taqkdir ne mera kahan sath diya? (When has luck been on my side?),” laughs Atal Behari Vajpayee sardonically. As the sun sets outside his 6, Raisina Road residence, Vajpayee is in a reflective mood. “Narasimha Rao to taqdirwale hain. (Narasimha Rao is very lucky). Issues like scam, Harshad Mehta, Ayodhyaâ€¦nothing has affected him. Kismatwale hain.”
Dressed in spotless white dhotikurta, the 68-year-old Vajpayee ponders about his life. “So what if I am not keeping good health? The moment I feel I have become dependent on someone, the day I feel I cannot function without somebody’s help, I will goâ€¦.” He trails off. Where to? Vajpayee does not answer.
Some moments elapse as Vajpayee states vacantly, looking tired and sad. Though his tongue remains as sharp as ever, the inner conflict reflects on his face. Of late ha was been accused of being soft towards the Congress. A national daily even slyly hinted that his own party men had begun to doubt his loyalty. Allegation and institutions about his alleged pro-Rao stand have assumed the character of a systematic campaign in the BJP and, of course, outside it.
Is he upset about being called, among other things, a Trojan horse of the Congress in the Opposition? Vajpayee sighs: “What can I say about it? They have started calling me a Congress agent. Just today, I was reading an article in a national daily where Balraj Madhok also said virtually the same thing. Do I have to prove that I am not a Congress agent? Because I was the leader of the Indian delegation at the UN Human rights Commission in Geneva, I have been accused of being soft towards Rao. In fact, a section of the media is also interested in creating unnecessary controversies. I do not think my party men are talking about it. But yes, there is a group which has been creating controversiesâ€¦.”
Which group? “Chhodiye (Leave it),” Vajpayee shrugs and lapses into silence.
Suddenly, as if waking up from a trance, Vajpayee says softly: “I criticize people when there is a need for it. I had criticized Nehru very bitterly quite a few times. One day, I blasted him saying he had the qualities of both Chamberlin and Churchill. Even though we belong to different parties, Nehru and I got along very well. Similarly, I praised Indira Gandhi for her role in Bangladesh.”
Vajpayee beams and smiles when he talks about his earlier days in politics, his role as an opposition MP in the days of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. His moderate views have not many supporters in the present political scheme of the BJP. His remorse at the Ayodhya events had aroused anger and derision in the BJP.
His periodic emotional outbursts at times differ from the official BJP and making Vajpayee quite a misfit among the hawkish sections of the party leadership. Nobody is more aware of this than Vajpayee: “I speak my mind. If I feel like expressing my views, I will do so irrespective of whether anybody likes it or not.”
As if to prove his BJP credentials, Vajpayee starts analyzing Rao’s visit:”Rao’s US visit was a disaster. He was the same mumbling Rao that we see in India. At the joint press conference, he goofed up. As it is, only two questions were directed at him. He had an excellent opportunity to answer on Kashmir and human rights. Yet, he gave a monosyllabic ‘no’ as answer for one question and for the other; he tried to be smart and pointed towards his arm saying it was not twisted. Is this a reply which one expects from a mature prime minister?”
By now, you are perplexed. Isn’t he the same Narasimha Rao whose sagacity Vajpayee had praised in the wake of the Geneva Human Rights victory? “That was a different matter,” thunders Rao, “In US, Rao could not even convince Clinton about Pakistani aid to terrorists in Kashmir. For the President of the United States to say that the support has been reduced and that it is being given by private, agencies is a serious thing. Clinton made this statement knowing that terrorist camps are being held in Pakistan with help from Pakistani government.
With Ayodhya no longer an emotional plank, does the BJP find itself without a concrete issue to take on the Congress? Vajpayee contemplates and admits candidly: “Whoever broke the structure did not think properly”. And with a derisive laugh, he says, “Now that the structure is gone, nobody is very bothered. Daancha toot gaya. Ab kya reh gaya? (the structure was demolished. What remains now?)” What about Kashi and Mathura? Even the new RSS chief Rajendra Singh wants it on the agenda. However, Vajpayee asserts, “Our stand is clear. Kashi and Mathura should not be on the agenda.”
The scam and Harshad Mehta issue remain unresolved. Does he think they hold any potential for garnering votes? “Harshad Mehta made one mistake. He should have selected the time of his meeting with Rao properly,” he laughs. “Anyway we needed an issue. Harshad Mehta came along and it suited the BJP. But we had to take a beating when Mehta fumbled on his timing,” Vajpayee admits candidly.
Does he think Bofors is still an issue? The Hindujas had offered to make their Swiss accounts accessible to an investigate committee led by him. Is he open to the offer? “Let the government react to the offer. Let the Hindujas be tested on their words. Even Jaswant Singh, Inderjit Gupta and others have requested the government to accept the offer. I do not think I should get involved,” Vajpayee explains.
Yes, but what of now? What are the issues the BJP will fight on? Vajpayee is indignant: “We have many issues. We will go to the people and raise issues like GATT, electoral reformsâ€¦etc.”
What about Seshan? Vajpayee lowers his voice, leans forward, and says gravely: “The issues raised by Seshan are very important. Indeed, he has given a jolt to our system. The only problem is his way of functioning. He creates situation of confrontation. The judiciary has to intervene time and again. Seshan should not take hasty decisions and behave in an imperial manner. The government just wants an excuse to get rid of him and he is providing such excuses regularly.” However, Vajpayee adds that Seshan should remember that he has many allies in the Opposition who too want a clean election system.
And what about BJP’s future? “We have reached old Delhi. It is a matter of time before we reach New Delhi too,” is his cryptic reply.
What role does he see for himself in the BJP in the future? Vajpayee laughs bitterly: “Kal kisne dekha hai? Aaj jo he aacha hai. Bas yehi pata hai he, ki kal Lucknow jana hai. (Who has seen tomorrow? What ever is today is good. All I know of tomorrow is that I have to go to Lucknow)”.
By KETAN TANNA