In­dia Shin­ing Les­son for NaMo-Shah

Fifty months into of­fice, Vajpayee was as pop­u­lar then as Naren­dra Modi is to­day

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Asit Manohar

In­dia is as be­witched by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to­day as it was with Atal Bihari Vajpayee nearly two decades ago. But the funeral cortege of Vajpayee brought home the re­al­ity that In­dia has in­deed moved on from the poet-states­man.

The turnout for the six-km-long pro­ces­sion from the BJP head­quar­ters to the Smriti Sthal was much less than ex­pected. Why did the Delhi BJP unit, UP chief min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath and Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khat­tar not help le­gions of Vajpayee’s ad­mir­ers travel to the na­tional cap­i­tal?

Per­haps, the state of au­ton­omy in the BJP to­day is such that even a Meenakshi Lekhi (New Delhi MP) or a Harsh Vard­han (Chandni Chowk MP) wouldn’t take an ini­tia­tive un­less in­structed by the top brass. Or, may be, the BJP lead­er­ship ex­pected a spon­ta­neous gath­er­ing as wit­nessed at M Karunanidhi’s funeral re­cently or Ra­jiv Gandhi’s and Indira Gandhi’s in the dis­tant past.


When Vajpayee was 50 months into of­fice, he was as pop­u­lar as Modi, if not more. As strong and de­ci­sive lead­ers, one had or­dered Pokhran nu­clear tests and Oper­a­tion Parakram and led the coun­try to the much-cel­e­brated vic­tory in Kargil, while the other launched sur­gi­cal strikes on ter­ror camps across the bor­der. Vajpayee’s speeches used to cap­ti­vate the au­di­ence just as Modi’s do to­day. In­dia was as “shin­ing” then as of­fi­cial ad­ver­tise­ments and BJP lead­ers claim now.

Just like to­day, the big­gest ques­tion in po­lit­i­cal dis­course at that time was “Vajpayee ver­sus who?” But there ends the sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Vajpayee and Modi. Both were groomed by the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS) but both dealt with it dif­fer­ently. The RSS was Vajpayee’s ‘soul’ but his gov­ern­ment never looked like the ex­ec­u­tive arm of the Sangh. The two dif­fered on dis­in­vest­ment pol­icy

and over­tures to Pak­istan, among other is­sues. To­day, there are well-struc­tured dis­cus­sions be­tween RSS lead­ers and top rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the gov­ern­ment. The RSS didn’t like the most pow­er­ful man in Vajpayee’s PMO – his prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser (NSA) Bra­jesh Mishra – but could do noth­ing about it.

The BJP pres­i­dents dur­ing the Vajpayee regime couldn’t even think of giv­ing march­ing or­ders to min­is­ters be­fore cabi­net reshuf­fle nor did they have reg­u­lar brief­ings from the NSA or the PMO staff. In Vajpayee’s gov­ern­ment, there were some pow­er­ful bu­reau­crats but the min­is­ters ran the min­istries; the guid­ing prin­ci­ple was del­e­ga­tion of pow­ers and not their con­cen­tra­tion.

Vajpayee was also a Hindu Hri­day Sam­rat and drew in­spi­ra­tion from Syama Prasad Mook­er­jee and Deen­dayal Upad­hyaya, but hard­core Hin­dutva ac­tivists didn’t deify him the way they do Modi to­day. Vajpayee kept lib­eral In­dia en­gaged, pub­licly dis­ap­prov­ing the Babri de­mo­li­tion in 1992 and chastis­ing Modi, then-Gu­jarat chief min­is­ter, for not fol­low­ing ‘raj dharma’ dur­ing the post Godhra-ri­ots in 2002.

It’s another mat­ter that LK Ad­vani, al­leged to be a key po­lit­i­cal player in the de­mo­li­tion, went on to be­come Vajpayee’s deputy in the gov­ern­ment. As for the per­cep­tion about Vajpayee want­ing Modi’s res­ig­na­tion in the wake of the post-Godhra ri­ots, Ad­vani clar­i­fied later that the Prime Min­is­ter was un­der pres­sure from an ally and there­fore wanted the Gu­jarat CM to at least “of­fer” his res­ig­na­tion, which the lat­ter did.

Vajpayee had seen many elec­toral de­feats in his long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. For Modi, elec­tion vic­to­ries have been a norm and fail­ures an aber­ra­tion. This ex­plains the great un­der­stand­ing and trust be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and the rul­ing party pres­i­dent, an equa­tion rarely seen in the past.


The sin­gle big­gest fac­tor that led to the down­fall of the Vajpayee gov­ern­ment was the loss of old al­lies and the fail­ure of new ones. The ‘In­dia Shin­ing’ cam­paign was largely blamed for the vot­ers’ ire, but there was just a marginal dif­fer­ence in the BJP’s vote share be­tween 1999 and 2004 gen­eral elec­tions. It se­cured 23.75 per­cent votes with 182 seats in 1999 and 22.16 per­cent votes with 138 seats in 2004.

Al­liances played a de­ci­sive role in the slide in the BJP’s for­tune: for in­stance, the AIADMK-BJP al­liance in Tamil Nadu drew a blank in 2004 as against 26 seats for the DMK-BJP-PMK-MDMK al­liance in 1999.

Sim­i­larly, the TDP-BJP tally came down from 36 in 1999 to five in 2004. The BJPTMC com­bine won a sin­gle seat in West Ben­gal in 2004 as against 10 in 1999. The BJP in al­liance with the INLD in Haryana won 10 seats in 1999 but man­aged just a sin­gle seat when it went solo in 2004. In Bi­har, the BJP-JDU tally came down from 41 to 12 af­ter Ram Vi­las Paswan shifted to the Congress-RJD camp (this in­cludes one seat for the BJP in Jhark­hand that was carved out of Bi­har in 2000).

Modi and Amit Shah are ob­vi­ously de­ter­mined to not let his­tory re­peat it­self. So, af­ter the TDP quit the NDA, the BJP is bend­ing over back­wards to keep the flock to­gether and en­gage po­ten­tial post-poll part­ners. That ex­plains the of­fer of the Ra­jya Sabha deputy chair­man’s post to the BJD, the TRS, and the JDU. Bi­har chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar, sore over the JDU’s ex­clu­sion from the NDA gov­ern­ment and the BJP’s re­luc­tance to part with more seats in the next Lok Sabha elec­tions, was quick to ac­cept the of­fer, while the first two de­clined po­litely.

The Shi­ro­mani Akali Dal (SAD) may be sulk­ing for be­ing ig­nored but it’s not in a po­si­tion to drive a hard bar­gain with the saf­fron party. In June, Amit Shah was in Mum­bai to mol­lify another dis­grun­tled ally, Ud­dhav Thack­eray of the Shiv Sena, and his suc­cess was ev­i­dent from the Sena’s sup­port to the NDA can­di­date in the RS deputy chair­man’s elec­tion.

As the Congress seeks to build state­spe­cific al­liances, the BJP has gone slow with its am­bi­tious for­ays into states that are out of its grip. Modi’s re­cent over­ture to Naveen Pat­naik is tes­ti­mony to the saf­fron party’s will­ing­ness to wait longer for its time in some new states so that prospec­tive al­lies can be en­gaged.

Vet­eran BJP leader LK Ad­vani at­trib­uted the party’s loss in 2004 to over­con­fi­dence. Modi and Shah ap­pear con­fi­dent to­day, but that is be­cause they are acutely aware of the chal­lenges and know how to over­come them. The Congress, on the other hand, is over­con­fi­dent to­day – not be­cause it has smart elec­toral strate­gies up its sleeve, but be­cause it be­lieves in the cliché that his­tory re­peats it­self.

Shiv Sena Chief Ud­dhav Thack­eray with BJP Pres­i­dent Amit Shah

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