Friday, December 30, 2005

Mr. Vajpayee's Legacy

Yesterday, we quipped "good riddance" upon learning of Mr. Vajpayee's retirement from elective politics. In our judgment, his legacy is cowardice -- in Kandahar, after Dec 13, 2001 and, worst of all, during the Gujarat pogrom.

Many -- especially our co-travelers on India's political right -- will consider him more charitably. This is a mistake and it's important that this flawed and fawning impression not emerge as history's verdict on his legacy.

Our critique of Mr. Vajpayee is bitter-sweet. Many years ago, when we are a child growing up in Delhi, he was our Member of Parliament. He even handed us a prize of some sort at a community event -- that was an exhilarating and indelible moment for a child, being our first, personal, brush with political power. Later, he was MP from Lucknow -- a city we have our roots in. Many of our extended family are part of the sangh parivar -- hence, strong supporters of Mr. Vajpayee.

Notwithstanding all this, the fact remains that Mr. Vajpayee tried to make virtue of his sphinx-like utterings -- and of the long silences that interrupted his vocalization. This was a very clever tactic that did get him the keys to Delhi's kingdom -- but, in the end, could not stabilize the tremble in his knees.

Indian Express' lead editorial shares our negative assessment. The newspaper, in effect, says that Mr. Vajpayee could have been a contender but, alas, was anything but. Just consider how he chose to end his long -- way too long -- political career.

By naming Pramod Mahajan as the man best suited to play the role of Lakshman -- ie, the next leader of the party -- Vajpayee has not only complicated matters for the prospective president, he has also devalued the party's decision-making process and exposed the sharp differences which have marked it. That the party chose not to comment on the remarks of its most important functionary is proof enough of the sourness of the apple it has been given.

This lack of finesse in a man who has successfully led an unwieldy coalition of 25-odd parties may surprise some. Yet, in many ways, the obfuscation is entirely characteristic of the former prime minister, who has been known to change his stance completely on issues of crucial importance -- even within the space of a few short weeks. Indeed, the big blot on his record as prime minister -- his inability to take a principled stand when confronted with the 2001 (sic) Gujarat riots -- arose from this flaw. Instead of holding Narendra Modi to the principle of raj dharma, he chose to almost condone the Gujarat mayhem publicly just a few days later. The mark of a great political leader is to prove statesmanly in difficult times. By that reckoning, Vajpayee didn't quite make the mark.


indianpatriot said...

Difference of opinion is a good sign of healthy debates. Judging a person's 55 year political career with one incident of Kandhahar and crucifying him for it will be like crucifying George Bush junior for 9/11 and crucifying Vajpayee for Gujarat riots( which were horrible no doubt but these were not the first riots in India. In fact 1969 Gujarat riots when Indira Gandhi was prime minister was equally worse or Bagalpur riots in 1989 when Rajeev Gandhi was prime minister also 1984 riots against sikhs).
I believe there was a cottage industry formed to villify Narendra Mody including odd coalition of American Evangelists of Pat Robertson Variety (Teesta Setlavad belongs to this category), usual marxist sympathisers and their cohorts in media like Barka Dutt and Pranoy Roy. Following facts published should give lie to claim that Modi did not act.
1)Actual people killed during riots (1000 to 1500 but during police firing on rioters 400 to 500). I believe any Indian dying in riots is a shame but the police did their best to control riots. Modi and Vajapayee need not be crucified for a response which could have been much faster.
2) The popularity of a politician of the most industrialized in India in repeated surveys and in elections is prooved. Modi is the most efficient Chief minister of India prooved in polls, opinion polls and development indicators.

Kandahar was a shameful response against terrorists. Usual suspects of media in India started arguing that Mahmood Azhar should be released since he did not commit any crime. There were dharnas organized to force release of passengers. I agree it was a mistake (A smaller mistake compared to invading Secular Iraq commited by Bush while sleeping with Wahabi Soudi Arabia and Jihadi Talebanized Pakistan)

indianpatriot said...

Here is a link published by India Today columnist on the occassion of India Today's 30 anniversary. I agree with the sentiments that of all the prime ministers of India he stands with Narasimaha Rao and Lal Bahadur Shastri and higher than Indira(Bank Nationalization, Mitokin archives, emergency on the negative side but Bangladesh victory on the positive side).

Primary Red said...


As you'll note, this blog can hardly be called a sympathiser of either Pat Roberston or Marxists. We didn't form our opinion on Gujarat listening to the people you dismiss. Hopefully, we've earned sufficient credibility that you'll accept this assertion of ours.

You are right. Previous riots before Gujarat too have to go on the records of the then Prime Ministers. Being an eyewitness to the 1984 Delhi riots, this blogger is not very forgiving of those in charge then.

But, no one, absolutely no one went to the floor of the parliament to try and rationalize murder as Atal ji did. His Ambassador to Washington, Lalit Mansingh, went on CNN to argue empathy with the rioters because they had been provoked -- the look on the face of the stunned CNN anchor had to be seen to be believed.

So, the PM messed up in Gujarat -- but more than messed up, showed us his ambivalence to murder of his own people. What kind of leader does that? Mr. Modi might be the greatest administrator in history (he isn't, but lets stipulate that for the argument) -- he still deserved to have been removed from office for utter incompetence, likely worse, during the riots. Mr. Vajpayee defended him in parliament.

As for your bringing up Mr. Bush, at least he didn't sit back after 9/11 -- but struck hard where he thought appropriate. What did Mr. Vajpayee do?

Best regards.

The Greatest Hokie Ever !! said...

[Primary Red] According to me, Vajpayee would always be known by what he could have accomplished. He had the backing of the people, a goodwill for the PM not seen in a long time, the ability to push through a lot of items which could have held us in good stead. yet, he choose paths and means which meant we meandered from one road block to another. What a waste !!

doubtinggaurav said...


How many coalition governments in India prior to 1998 worked to full term ?

I do not have very high opinion of Mr Vajpayee myself, but that was because he was not right enough for me. By trying to be another Nehru wanaabe (one of the most vain glorious and incompetent leader in my opinion.), he failed miseraby.

Regarding Gujarat riots, may I ask why are no tears shed for Hindus, ever ? I noted with irony when nobody bothered with Mau riots despite the fact that "Dalits" were killed, after all doesn't secular media raises such a hue and cry for caste wars.
Well "Some animals are more equal than others" after all.

If credibiity is concerned, it is safer to say that a politicians with 60 years of pubic life has more credibility than you (or me for that matter) or that Sonia stooge Mr Shekar Gupta.

Frankly speaking sooner India get rid of this sham caled secularism the better.

Regarding Narendra Modi , why no cry of "let law take it's own course", after all what is right for shankaracharya shoud hold for Narendra Modi himself, correct ?

Regards and Happy New Year

cynical nerd said...


+ first non-Congress to complete a full term
+ Golden Quad highway project, bringing emphasis on building quality infra
+ the bomb, exposing AQ Khan's nuclear Walmart and Chinese Pu bomb proliferation to Pak.
+ starting strategic partnership with US (Talbott-Singh talks)

--- shameful Kandahar episode
-- restarting Agra talks

- failure to modernize the BJP with younger leaders as a dynamic, right-wing party

- mismanaging the communal riots

- failure to further push economic reforms (administrative, labor laws, taxation)

Anonymous said...

I you have an opinion that is truly your own of Vajpayee -- of anything under the sun for that matter -- please do give. I shall be interested in reading it. But the opinion of trashy Indian Express doesn't count for an opinion, especially here is why:

The Indian Express is a bootlicker of the current government. Name one instance, just one, on which this bootlicker held the Prime Minister accountable for something that hasn't been done right, or worse yet, was done deliberately mischievously, such as the felling of governments in Goa, Jharkhand and Bihar. Sorry to have to break the news to you gentlemen: this is not the fearless Express that Arun Shourie edited, braving attacks from Rajiv Gandhi's government. This is an express that is sticking its tongue out a mile long that is exploring every crevice that the current ruling dispensation has to offer.

It is not just that this newspaper is biased and propangadistic, but it is also biased and propagandistic in a particularly insidious way: while it goes of its way to underplay any news that projects the center government in a negative way, it routinely screams its lungs off at every minor discretoin -- sometimes imagined -- of the congress's rivals. Remember Satyendar Dubey murder that the paper ran a crusade on and laid at the door of Vajpayee's PMO? The scumbags of Express do not have the moral nerve to admit that Congress' own CBI says that Dubey's murder was a case of robbery. In other words, The Indian Express is not only a falsehood-peddling newspaper, it is also a rabble-rousing newspaper.

Given its bias, given its propensity for falsehood, Express's opinion on most matters should not count. (Except on: How to Run a Crusade Against Your Poliitcal Rivals While Masquerading as Holding up a Principle). More so on Vajpayee, because, after all, Vajpayee is a BJP politician, and Express is virtually a Congress party newspaper.

Chandra Dulam said...

That's pretty unfair portrait of Mr. Vajpayee. There is nothing about enabling India join the nuclear club, nothing about economic development and divestment and reducing the burden of government on Indian people, nothing about not being corrupt, nothing about not having his sons and daughters (adopted) projecting as the next prime minister(s) of India. You choose two very difficult issues to destroy a legacy. I guess he should have let the 100+ people be killed by LeT murderers. And he should have dismissed a popular CM and follow the path of beloved Indira. The fact is Mr. Modi was reelected again by a big majority. May be the CNN host face didn't brighten up to make your opinion.

May be it’s time to drop the "-Right" from the name.

Primary Red said...

Oh please.

BJP is hardly the representative of "right" in India. In fact, their poisonous legacy has hurt the development of a more meaningful right-leaning polity in our country.

Best regards.

Apollo said...

vajpayee was projected as a kind of secular right leader and i expected him to take up india's cause vigorously. but i can think of only one instance where he did so that is exercising the nuclear option after that it was downhill all the way


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