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At Vajpayee’s memorial service, parties bury differences to hail former Prime Minister

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on August 20, 2018 Published on August 20, 2018

Party builder “He built us from scratch,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at an all-party condolence meeting in New Delhi on Monday   -  PTI

Analysis

With three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir hailing peace in the Valley, with Pakistan as his lasting legacy, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat describing “humility, generosity and ability to create consensus” as the hallmark of an ideal swayamsevak, an all-party memorial meeting for Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday struck a distinct sombre note of harmony at a time when public discourse is bitter and political binaries are sharply polarised.

In an election year, the invocation of Vajpayee, who passed away on August 16, as the “peace-maker, the consensus-builder” on national television created sudden atmospherics of political bonhomie and a collective cry for peace and lasting friendships with neighbouring countries.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted Vajpayee as the creator of a successful bipolar polity in India, building the first viable and mainstream political alternative to the Congress, speaker after speaker from other parties extolled the former PM as a leader who truly believed in the spirit of pluralism, peace and diversity.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh invoked former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the mentor of the young man in whom he saw a future PM even though he was diametrically opposed to the RSS ideology.

Modi began by crediting Vajpayee as the leader who led the first successful non-Congress coalition and rescued the BJP from being a political “untouchable” to a mainstream and viable political party. Vajpayee changed the international narrative on Kashmir and brought the focus back on terrorism, he added.

“He built the party at a time when there was no alternative to the political mainstream, when for a long time we were political untouchables. We were insulted, mocked at...He built us from scratch. He was a leader in the Opposition, he celebrated parliamentary democracy while he remained steadfast to his own ideological principles,” said Modi while also highlighting how Vajpayee fought global sanctions in the wake of nuclear tests in Pokhran in May 1998 and successfully carved out three new States — Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand.

Following the PM, three former CMs of J&K — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — focused on how Vajpayee truly believed in peace, love and dialogue with Pakistan as the solution to the Kashmir problem.

“We remember Atalji not because he was PM but because he won hearts. He did it not by force or power but by love. He had a big heart. He made no distinctions on religion or state, he recognised each of us as human beings and citizens of this great country. He knew that we all have to work together to take the country to greater heights… He said the country belongs to you and to me and hearts should unite. His soul is present here now, he will watch you, and his soul guides you to take us to a place where each one of us will live together and we will live in harmony with our neighbours,” said Farooq Abdullah as he chanted Jai Hind and Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

Azad and Mehbooba followed the same narrative, underlining that peace in Kashmir will follow the Vajpayee doctrine of “Insaniyat-Jamhuriyat-Kashmiriyat (Humanity, Democracy and the Spirit of Kashmir)”. Azad underlined Vajpayee’s spirit of camaraderie and bonhomie unlike the atmosphere of hostility that prevails now in Parliament.

“Parties were not distant or hostile when Vajpayee was the Leader of Opposition and I was Parliamentary Affairs Minister in a minority Congress government. We sat together, we resolved issues together and we ate and laughed together. We were politically in different camps but we did not behave like enemies. That is what I would call the legacy of Vajpayee,” he said.

Ideal for BJP

According to the RSS chief Bhagwat, Vajpayee is the ideal for the BJP to follow.

“Atalji is an ideal for us to follow. Like he said in his poetry, one should not reach a height where a sparrow is scared of creating a nest. Everyone had trust in him — common people, the Opposition and within the party — because he was sensitive to the society. Despite the stress and the circumstances, the poet and the human in him were always alive, his smile never faded, his generosity never diminished, he faced the world but never lacked humility, he was soft when it was needed. He has presented an idea of the swayamsevak (RSS activist) as a consensus builder,” he said.

In the same spirit, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said it was Nehru who first recognised Vajpayee’s potential.

“… Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru recognised Atalji’s potential when he was a young man as a future PM. In the history of Independent India, no young leader would have this kind of fortune to be recognised in Parliament as future PM. For the next several decades, the whole country saw the PM in him. His innate quality was the consensus-builder in him,” he said.

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Published on August 20, 2018
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