BY M D NALAPAT
As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has shown sincerity, devotion and commitment to the policies of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, by reinforcing rather than replacing them.
Narendra Modi was handed over the responsibility for the state of Gujarat in 2001 with the blessings of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who stood by him despite an orchestrated effort in the coming years to ensure that the Gujarat CM be made to step down. Before Modi took charge, the situation in the state was precarious for the BJP, largely as a consequence of mismanagement by Keshubhai Patel. As Chief Minister, Modi was a fast learner and well before the close of his first term, had mastered the intricacies and nuances involved in ensuring a continuation of the upward trajectory of Gujarat. This is a state that possesses some of the most gifted individuals found in the country where commerce is concerned. Governance under him was streamlined and public remedies made more accessible, a factor that assisted the BJP to romp to victory repeatedly under his watch, even while the UPA government was energetically seeking to ensure the removal of the Gujarat CM through involving him in criminal cases. Although efforts to enmesh him continued throughout the UPA decade, no evidence was found that implicated Narendra Modi in the terrible events which took place in Gujarat after the 2002 killing at Godhra of karsevaks returning from Ayodhya. Both during the period when he was Prime Minister and after losing to the Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi in 2004, Vajpayee remained a backer of Modi, despite efforts by several of those close to him to create fissures between him and the Gujarat CM. After himself taking over as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi generously ensured that important responsibilities were allocated to some of the very individuals who had in the past urged Vajpayee to cut loose from Modi.
It must be said that Vajpayee showed great tenacity in soldiering on as PM despite severe ailments that by 2003 were causing him great discomfort and pain. Even during his final days this week, it was clear from the hospital bulletins that Vajpayee was fighting on, only giving way at 5.05 p.m. on 16 August, a day after another anniversary of the country’s freedom from colonial servitude. The whole country had been collectively holding its breath when informed by the doctors at AIIMS that the condition of the former Prime Minister was hyper-critical. By a supreme act of will, Vajpayee saw through Independence Day before deciding to finally let go of the staff of life. Prime Minister Modi spent a substantial chunk of time at the hospital during this period, and it is certain that he felt intense emotion that the leader he adored so much and sought to emulate so often was approaching his passage into the afterlife. Some believed by mid- 2003 that the physical strain which any Prime Minister would have to endure made the question of Vajpayee’s retirement a live issue from the point of view of his own well-being. He could have stepped down from office, handed over the reins of government to L.K. Advani, and rested at home in the care of his family, rather than enduring the grind of hard work that is the lot of a Prime Minister in a country as complex as India. Indeed, as PM, Vajpayee did offer to step down, but a unanimous cry of anguish from his party forced him to continue and lead the BJP’s charge during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, despite not being in good health. Among those who must most strongly have urged Vajpayee to continue as PM in 2003 despite the elder man’s expressed wish to resign would have been Narendra Modi, who considered the poet and orator as his mentor. Although by then he had been secluded from public contact, Vajpayee must have been delighted when in 2013 the BJP chose Narendra Modi as its standard bearer for the 2014 polls. A year afterwards, the team Modi unveiled on 26 May 2014 was substantially composed of those who had earlier been chosen by Vajpayee to be in his government after taking office in 1998. And in several matters, such as Kashmir or the search for better relations with Pakistan, Modi has followed the course set by Vajpayee. He went ahead with an alliance with the PDP despite that party’s adherence to soft separatism and closeness to the Pakistan-led Hurriyat Conference. From the time of his swearing in to Modi’s dropping in at Lahore on the family of Nawaz Sharif, it was clear that the new PM was moving on the same course that Vajpayee had, that of going an extra hundred miles if necessary, to see if peace with Pakistan could be secured.
India is a land where the people exalt their leaders, and since 5.05 p.m. on 16 August, there have been such waves of adulation directed towards Vajpayee and his legacy that those unfamiliar with the sociology of this country would be surprised that despite such an exalted status in the public mind, he lost to the Congress Party in the 2004 polls and thereby ensured that the governance of India was directly dominated by Sonia Gandhi for a decade. Of course, since the 1990s, successive governments in India had been significantly influenced by the determined daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, including during 1998-2004. Modi chose a team that is almost identical to what Vajpayee himself would have selected had he been PM in 2014. In that process, he reinforced rather than replaced the policies of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has shown sincerity, devotion and commitment to the personality and policies of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.