The politics and poetry of a liberal BJP man

In this December 09, 2003, file photo former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is seen with the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and BJP senior leader LK Advani at a lunch in New Delhi. PTI

As a crimson sun receded in the background and flames leapt up blurring the skyline with smoke, the uncanny politician with a poetic sensibility that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was, lost his bodily existence but acquired a larger-than-life image.

"Maut ki umar kya hai? Do pal bhi nahi, Zindagi silsila, aaj kal ki nahi. Mai ji bhar jiya, mai man se maru, lautkar aunga, kooch se kyu daru? ((What is the lifespan of death? Not even a few moments. The sequence of life is not just of today and tomorrow. I have lived to the full. I should die willingly. I will come back. Why should I fear departure?)," wrote Vajpayee in his favourite poem 'A Confrontation with Death'.

He had penned this poem in a hospital bed in New York in November 1988.

Looking back, the words sound prophetic. That he lives on in the memory of people was evident when thousands thronged his last journey and lakhs were glued to their television screens on Friday.

Comparison were made on which was bigger — the number of people that thronged the procession on Friday or that at Indira Gandhi's death procession in 1984.

There is a key difference, though. Indira, and even Rajiv later, were still leaders when they died. Further, they were assassinated. That Vajpayee drew the numbers even well over a decade after he stepped away from politics, battling a crippling disease for years, is what puts things in a different perspective.

For years, the only reasons he stepped out of his Krishna Menon Marg residence were health-related.

When, in a rare gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the procession, speculation arose as to whether the BJP intended to play up Vajpayee's persona — a liberal, humane, sophisticated touch that drew praise even from the Sangh Parivar.

With comparisons being drawn between Modi's NDA and Atal's NDA, there's a growing belief that to come to power in 2019 again, Modi must take a Vajpayee-like approach — not just get new allies; retain old ones.

In this light, his poem 'Height' (Unchaai) sounds like something for our times: "Sachhai yah hai ki kewal unchaai hi kaafi nahin hoti... jaroori hai unchai ke saat vistaar bhi ho, jisse manushya thoonth sa khada na rahe, auron se ghule mile, kisi to saath le, kisi ke sang chale (The truth is that height alone is never enough, it must be accompanied by expanse. So that a human being does not stand like a withered tree, one mixes with others, takes somebody along, walks along with somebody).

 Vajpayee is no more but the resonance that he has had still remains. NDA ally Shiv Sena Uddhav Thackeray, who had frequently taken on the current ruling dispensation, on Thursday described Vajpayee as a "strong binding force of the National Democratic Alliance" and recalled that the latter always went hand-in-hand with all big or small coalition parties.

He went on to say "Pride, arrogance or rigidity of power was miles away from him" and also declared "Nobody can take his place."

Another NDA ally TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, who walked out of NDA recently,  sid Vajpayee-era remains as a great chapter in the history of Indian politics. Naidu had remained a steadfast ally of Vajpayee even though supported the NDA government from only outside.

In March 2000, Vajpayee as Prime Minister had said, "India has to run through consensus" Even PM Modi, while inaugurating BJP's new party office in the national capital in February this year recalled “Under Atal ji’s leadership and in the form of the NDA, the BJP successfully carried out an experiment of taking allies together, channelizing their strengths in the politics of coalition, balancing regional aspirations and sparking a new ray of hope in the country.”

M K Stalin leader of DMK, which had pulled out of Vajpayee led NDA government in 2003, also flew to the national capital to attend the last rites of the former Prime Minister on Friday. That was the range of Vajpayee.

In his famous poem, "Hindu Tan Man Mera Parichay", Vajpayee talks about the issue which is integral to RSS and BJP, but Vajpayee element is not to be missed even in this. 

"Gopal- Ram Ke Namon par kab Maine Atyachar Kiya?
Kab Duniya ko Hindu Karne Ghar Ghar Narsanhar Kiya?
Koi Batlaaye Kabul me Jaakar Kitni Masjid Todi?
Bhoobhaag nahin, shat shat manav ke hriday jeetne ka Nishchay
Hindu Tan- Man, Hindu Jeevan, Rag-Rag Hindu Mera Parichay (When did I commit atrocities in the name of Gopal or Ram, when did I carry out mass murders to convert the world into Hindu, let anybody tell how many mosques I broke in Kabul, My target is not to win some portion of land but win hearts of hundreds of human beings. Hindu body, Hindu Mind, Hindu Life, Every part of me Hindu is my identity.)

The legacy of Vajpayee, the tallest icon of the saffron family, is still fresh in the memory of the current generation and is too precious for the party to let go.

Modi on Thursday said he had lost a "father-like figure" and that this death was the "end of an era". And it was Modi who gave us one of the most enduring image on Friday: a prime minister walks beside the death procession of his predecessor ignoring security concerns — for miles together.

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The politics and poetry of a liberal BJP man

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