The thing about the conservative, right wing mind is that it is not open to new ideas (hence, the word “conservative”), let alone criticism. However, this doesn’t really matter as long as free speech is intact, the conservatives may reject new ideas and that is fair game, it is their right. But what happens when a conservative right wing alliance comes to power with a thumping majority? What could be the significance of such a win? Its significance that comes very obviously and inadvertently to my mind is that perhaps the population, at least during this era is appeased by the conservative ideology. Assuming that such is the case, we can safely conclude that currently the majority of Indian population isn’t open to criticism. What is worrying is that this conservative population does not passively disagree with criticism, it actively lynches you, and when such is the case, it makes me slightly hesitant to write a critical opinion about the Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayi.
The respect that Mr Vajpayee has garnered has almost made him immune to criticism. Thanks to the conservative mind-set that is prevalent and Mr Vajpayee’s death that this immunity is stronger than ever. Nevertheless, while the immunity that he holds may be strong enough to make one hesitant before uttering criticism; it certainly is not strong enough to curb history. We can never forget the Kargil war, the Pokran tests, his suave resignation from his post as prime minister in the wake of a no confidence motion, or his impeccable speeches. But we can also never forget his speech at the eve of the Babri Masjid demolition, the Rath Yatra before that, the violence after that and everything else that is the antithesis of a secular, “Shining” India.
After its creation in 1980 by Vajpayee and fellow RSS members LK Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) contested in the 1984 General elections and won 2 seats. Thereafter, in the 1989 elections the BJP’s numbers increased to 85 seats which it used to form the National Front with the Janata Dal and withdrew its support a year later when LK Advani was arrested in Bihar during his Ram Rath Yatra. As the Ram Rath Yatra movement grew, so did the polarization in the country and so did the BJP’s seats. In the 1991 General Elections the BJP won 120 seats which was another drastic increase in its influence, this was mainly due to the polarized environment in India attributable to the Ram Rath Yatra. It is not hard to notice how the Rath Yatra has played a role in the drastic increase in the number of seats the BJP was winning, as it was not before the demolition of the Babri Masjid (in which some would say his speech at the eve of the demolition had a role to play) and the violence that followed that Mr Vajpayee was called to form a government in the centre in 1996. One has to see the cost of these wins as the 900 lives that were massacred in the Bombay riots, in the aftermath of the demolition. Only a ruthlessly pragmatic politician can have the conscience to pay such a price, and ruthless pragmatism is essential to a good politician, and perhaps nobody knew this better than Vajpayee.
At the eve of the demolition, suave and influential as he was, he called for “levelling the ground” in Ayodhya so that bhajan-kirtan is possible for the karsevaks. Now many BJP supporters and people who revere him make the argument that that was an innocent appeal from the people to remove rocks from the ground so that it is easier for them to sit. I don’t know about them but I take Mr Vajpayee for an intelligent man, and I don’t think an intelligent man would speak so passionately about merely removing rocks as if it is a national issue. Which is why I believe it was no surprise that when Justice Liberhan finally submitted his report on Ayodhya, after spending an extraordinary 17 years labouring over the events of December 6, 1992, he added another word to the already well-established lexicon on Atal Behari Vajpayee: “pseudo-moderate”.
However, to be fair to him, statements by leaders within the party and some statements made by Vajpayee himself suggest that while he did not out rightly oppose the movement he actually was not very happy about it either. According to a statement to Outlook magazine made by KN Govindacharya who happens to be an eminent RSS personality of that era, initially, there were to be not one but four Rath Yatras that were to converge in Ayodhya(from Jammu, from the Kamakhya temple in Assam, from Mumbai and from Kanyakumari). KN Govindacharya was given the task to ask Vajpayee to lead one of these yatras from Jammu to Ayodhya, to this Vajpayee snapped “What nautanki (drama) is this? Main aisi nautanki mein nahin jaata (I do not take part in such a low drama).” “If a temple is built because of violence, it will be a temple but not a Ram temple” were his words in the parliament in the course of a debate. His close friend Lawyer Apa Ghatate made the following statement: “The crowd was shouting ‘Advaniji sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain (carry on the struggle Advaniji, we are with you)’. Atalji seemed a little irritated and said that Advani is not going to Ayodhya to fight Ravana but to do penance. The vanar sena (monkey army) will follow him. Sometimes the vanar sena does not know where Ram is going.”
His role in the Rath Yatra has always been a mystery, and will perhaps remain a mystery now. This article was an attempt to attribute importance, as little as it can to the communal nature of politics that surrounds the BJP. Communal politics is such an integral part of the BJP that even leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee that perhaps did not want to be seen in such light could not escape it, which is why some believe he was just a right man in the wrong party.