Vajpayee's signals to the Opposition

Vajpayee's signals to the Opposition

Vajpayee called Surjeet and Bardhan to for tea at his official meeting

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh (File photo)

The silence and the awkward pause in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech speaks a lot and are well known. He weaves in the message so silently in such pauses that it is eloquent enough for none to miss.

However, not much is known about how he dealt with ideas pushed by hardliners, which he did not believe. Some Opposition leaders have tales to tell about and one is how he used the 'Comrades' to ensure that India does not send troops to Iraq under pressure from the United States in 2003.

The Left leaders recall a meeting with the then CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and his CPI counterpart A B Bardhan had with Vajpayee at the height of the US' attack in Iraq in the 2000s.

While Vajpayee was not keen to send Indian troops to Iraq, there was a section in the government that was cool to such an idea. Then minister Jaswant Singh was one while Advani, an earlier advocate of the idea, changed his stand later.

As the pressure was building, Vajpayee called Surjeet and Bardhan for tea at his official meeting but they were not told the agenda. The chat went on but Vajpayee was circling around and one point, one of the comrades asked him, “So what is the issue?” 

Vajpayee then opened up a bit saying there is pressure from the US to which Surjeet said one of your ministers have already said that the government is ready to send troops. Vajpayee, who was not enthusiastic to the idea, immediately snapped, “Jaswant might have said. I have not.” 

When the Left leaders said they were opposed to any deployment in foreign soil, the then prime minister said, “I can't hear any protest”, and the meeting soon ended with the Left leaders getting an impression that Vajpayee wanted them to raise the rhetoric higher.

The Left did step up the protests and days later, the government decided not to send the troops. Vajpayee got what he wanted with the help of the Opposition.

Bardhan later recalled this incident in a UPA-Left Coordination meeting to suggest that they could help the government wriggle out of the US pressure on Indo-US nuclear deal. The then prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi were present in the meeting.

A leader recalled Bardhan telling them that Singh sat with a stony face while Sonia nodded.


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