It is difficult to explain how a person who was in opposition for 47 years and the Prime Minister of the nation for only 6 years could be the most popular, most respected Indian today. A person who had no enemies – ajaatshatru. A person who became the face of the alternative pole of Indian politics inspite of being treated as a pariah for decades. And why was Jan Sangh and later Bharatiya Janata Party treated like a pariah? Because it represented a contrarian socio-political view rooted in Indian heritage against the artificially built Nehruvian consensus of India and its politics. A view that believed that India was never a nation and it was born on 15th August 1947 that was being moulded into a secular, modern nation by Nehru ji. Atal ji presented a world view of RSS that believed in ancient deep roots of this nation called Bharat that had an uninterrupted history of 10000 years with its own distinct scientific, spiritual temper. His poem ‘Hindu Tan Man, Hindu Jivan’ encapsulated the essence of Hindu philosophy that accepted persecuted people of the world, that never used sword to expand its influence, that believed in ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam’ and ‘ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti’. This was the quintessential swayamsevak who proclaimed this mantra in UN when he became the foreign minister.
Atal ji translated RSS and Jan Sangh ideology on groundwhen the first task he did on becoming the Prime Minister was to go for nuclear explosion, deviating sharply from earlier timid approach. Before BJP came to power, PIOs were treated as a liability who had left Indian shores and towards whom Indian government had no responsibility. Love showered on PIOs / NRIs resulted in India beating the US sanctions post nuclear explosion.
Not only this, his firmness and warmth resulted in Indo-US partnership for the first time since the woolly headed days of ‘Non Aligned Movement’ which showed pronounced tilt towards USSR and put off US. This policy saw first US Presidential visit after 22 years. His firm approach with honestly brought US India together after decades of suspicion. A leader who dared to take risks; ready to own up mistakes and move on. Peace efforts with Pakistan are example of this boldness.
As a committed swayamsevak and prachaarak he had a grand vision for his nation - a vision of a prosperous, equitable India. He went ahead to create unheard of infrastructure push for which he was ridiculed, but that is still paying dividends to the nation. He brought in telecom revolution, bringing mobile telephony to every Indian by bold policy initiatives, privatised public sector with transparency with first ministry for disinvestment. He was philosopher poet who seemed, sometimes, a reluctant politician who won people with warmth and open, honest and transparent nature
His poem ‘ Hriday chahiye, hriday chahiye – jo badhaon se ruk na sake, jo daman bhav se jhuk na sake, jo Swayam sulag kar jwala ban kar moh nisha ka timir bhagata, jyoti jagata .. (need a heart that will not stop due to hurdles, that will not bow before oppression, that will burn like a flame to remove darkness of false longings, light lamps) illustrate a fiery optimist.
There used to be a Lutyen network’s joke that Atal ji was a right man in a wrong party. Actually, he was the right man in the right party. Which other political party would have allowed such man from a humble origin and an honest, transparent brilliant leader to rise from its ranks and lead the nation? Which party had the requisite cadre and organisation to create an alternative narrative? There is an effort at a false dichotomy of a ‘liberal’ Hindu Vajpayee vs a ‘narrow’ minded BJP/RSS leadership. All of them represent the same thought and narrative, it is the individual style that differs. It is to the credit of these organisations that they can create an ecosystem of true democracy where each individual can do his/her best for the nation. Which party can create a team of self-sacrificing top leaders where a leader at his zenith – Advani ji, can handover over a sure win to his friend Atal ji? It is the RSS training that makes it possible.
Atal ji was once in an era kind of personality who could build a consensus between highly diverse opinions, and play on with a 24 party coalition like a symphony. His was a fulfilling life that will inspire common Indians for times to come. History will judge Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the tallest leader of post Independent India.