India is an ancient nation and not a nation in the making. We are not to build a new nation but to make this ancient nation virile to face the challenge of modern times.”
–– Atal Behari Vajpayee, Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha Session, Indore – September 7-8, 1968
Atal Ji is No More! The entire nation is mourning, irrespective of caste, class or political divide. That shows the character and charisma of the departed soul. Though inevitable, the exit of a Bharat Ratna, the former Prime Minister, a poetic and patriarch politician, a skilful organiser and administrator, an imaginative statesman, a visionary thinker, an exceptional orator and above all a gracious human being who dedicated his entire life for the nation-building process, has put the millions of people in tears. Of course, people are be saddened, and his departure from the mortal existence has created an unfathomable vacuum at the national level. While coming to terms with this reality, we cannot and should not forget that Atal Ji lived life with full passion and through his poetry, he conveyed time and again that death is a reality and therefore, we should not be afraid of it. As a true admirer of his spectacular and still down to earth life, we have to celebrate his immortality for various reasons.
He is one leader who built a movement on the edifice of cultural nationalism, with seniors like Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya, Sundar Singh Bhandari, Kushabhau Thakare etc. who are no more and colleagues like Lal Krishna Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi who always considered him as a friend, philosopher and guide. After the Independence, building a new party, brick by brick, with the civilisational thought and challenge the popular paradigm of either ‘nation in the making’ represented by the Nehruvian Congress or ‘not a nation but conglomeration of nations’ represented by the communists, was not an easy task. Atal Ji tirelessly worked to establish this thought for more than five decades.
As now this thought has been mainstreamed in many ways, Atal Ji will continue to inspire the generations to come. Until this Civilisational State called Bharat is alive, the name of Atal Ji will remain as the one who led the entire movement for national reconstruction on the cultural ethos. Way back in 1974, in a special training programme of the select Karyakartas of the Jan Sangh, he articulated the programme for the complete transformation. Though the thought he represented was often termed as the ‘rightist’, going away from the idea of status-quo his spic rebuttal was, “The question is not of ‘right’ and ‘left’; the issue really is Democracy versus Totalitarianism. The choice is not between ‘progressivism’ and ‘reaction’; the people have to choose between forces uncompromisingly pledged in their loyalty to the nation with extra-territorial loyalties. Differences are bound to remain in the country, but the Indian nation cannot afford to be divided in its basic commitment to Nationalism and Democracy.”
The unique leadership quality that has shaped the course of ‘New Bharat’ is another reason Atal Ji will be alive. Whether in opposition or the ruling position, his conviction to the core ideology and national interest did not ever tremble. His conviction for the acquisition of power as a precondition for peace in the anarchic international system was unequivocal and consistent. The Pokhran Test and emergence of Bharat as a power to reckon with, information and communication revolution and infrastructural transformation through initiatives like the Golden Quadrilateral Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, are just a few examples of his contribution as the Prime Minister.
Most of the times neglected but perhaps the best example of his statecraft was the way he could build consensus for the carving out of the three new States, namely Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. While doing so, Atal Ji happily gave credit to his ‘fellow traveller’ and the then Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani. In his own style, he remarked while speaking at the National Executive of the Party held at Nagpur in 2000 was, “Shri L.K. Advani succeeded in carving out three new States with the consensus and cooperation of all. Labour pains are inevitable at the time of birth. However, this was a birth where no pains were being experienced. Rather there was a feeling of pleasure at the efficiency with which this task was performed with the cooperation of all, including the Opposition who too deserve our congratulation. We sincerely want to conduct the affairs of the country in this manner, through consensus. Politics has its limits.” Understanding that party politics has its limitations, and when it comes to the issues of national importance the culture of dialogue, accommodation and acceptance is a must was central to his politics.
Though he was often referred to as the ‘right man in the wrong party’, he was never ashamed of his core convictions and inspiration he had taken from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). His sense of humour and timing were the best weapons through which he could connect with the different generations simultaneously. When asked whether Nagpur controls your Government through remote control, his prompt reply was, “why remote control, it is the direct control. I, Atal Behari Vajpayee represents the Sangh, and I am in direct control of the Government.”
While mourning for his departure, his dedication, determination and direction for the nation-building process should be kept alive amongst us. Atal Ji who started his journey as a Sangh Swayamsevak rose to the highest accolade of being Bharat Ratna, but this travel was through the Sangh Sanskars, nationalist journalism and poetic sensitivity. While carving out his own niche among the political opposition and the larger constituency of voters through his scathing and still, conciliatory speeches, when it came to the core values, he was not afraid to say, “Sangh is my soul”. This soul immortal and therefore, Atal Ji will continue to inspire us to continue the mission of ‘making this ancient nation virile to face the challenge of modern times’. Sincere prayers for the sadgati of the departed Soul!