Vajpayee’s spirit needed now to navigate democracy

Are we perhaps an immature democracy? Is India being reduced to a state where any view contrary to what the government holds to be the truth has to provoke hysterical reactions?

Vajpayee, Nehru's death, Digvijaya Singh, surgical strike, frenzied reaction
BJP’s own stalwarts of an earlier age were very mature. when Nehru died in 1964, perhaps no tribute to India’s first Prime Minister was more generous and more genuine than Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s

It is a sad commentary on India and also the ruling party that a barely-there politician’s remarks about surgical strikes against Pakistan should trigger such venomous reaction.

Digvijaya Singh certainly stepped into an avoidable minefield when he questioned the veracity of India’s military action against Pakistani terrorists. But it is not the first time the Congress veteran has gone against the wind.

After Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, India orchestrated two surgical strikes on Pakistan in response to unending attacks masterminded by Islamist outfits based in that country.

The surgical strikes

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The first, across the Line of Control (LoC) which divides Jammu and Kashmir, took place in 2016 while the second happened in 2019 when India’s warplanes bombed a site in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Also read: Is India on the brink of becoming a totalitarian system?

The 2019 strike caused a bigger sensation since the Indian Air Force (IAF) breached the LoC for the first time after the 1971 war and it was claimed that the bombings killed scores of terrorists.

The echo of the 2019 action was successfully carried into the Lok Sabha election that took place months later and in which Modi led the BJP to an easy win for the second time in a row.

Frenzied reaction

The point is not whether Digvijaya Singh questioned the 2016 or the 2019 strike. Even assuming he questioned both (and that seems logical), we Indians must ponder whether his remarks necessitated such a frenzied reaction.

The almost violent counter from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made it sound as if India’s very existence was at stake because of what the ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister claimed.

How does it matter if an individual question or even challenges something the state asserts happened?

Digivijaya Singh may have been once a star in the Congress but as of now he is a fossil in India’s grand old party. This may sound uncharitable but that is the widely held reality.

Individuals have a right in a democracy to have their own opinions on any issue under the sky as long as they don’t violate the law.

Are we perhaps an immature democracy? Is India being reduced to a state where any view contrary to what the government holds to be the truth has to provoke hysterical reactions?

Should individuals be condemned because they think differently and their politics is of another kind?

A bygone era

BJP’s own stalwarts of an earlier age were very mature. No wonder the Jana Sangh and the later BJP they led were accommodative despite being married to an ideology that has been carried forward to this day.

All his life, Atal Bihari Vajpayee fought Jawaharlal Nehru – in and out of Parliament. But when Nehru died in 1964, perhaps no tribute to India’s first Prime Minister was more generous and more genuine than Vajpayee’s.

“Sir, a dream has been shattered, a song silenced, a flame has vanished in the infinite. It was the dream of a world without fear and without hunger, it was the song of an epic that had the echo of the Gita and the fragrance of a rose. It was the flame of a lamp that burnt all night, fought with every darkness, showed us the way, and one morning attained Nirvana,” Vajpayee poured out in memory of his political foe.

“Bharat Mata is stricken with grief today – she has lost her favourite prince. Humanity is sad today – it has lost its devotee. Peace is restless today – its protector is no more. The downtrodden have lost their refuge. The common man has lost the light in his eyes. The curtain has come down. The leading actor on the stage of the world displayed his final role and taken the bow.”

The tribute was almost comparable to what Nehru said of Mahatma Gandhi after the latter’s assassination.

Vajpayee did not hide his differences with Nehru. “The loss to Parliament is irreparable. Such a resident may never grace Teen Murti again. That vibrant personality, that attitude of taking even the opposition along, that refined gentlemanliness, that greatness we may not again see in the near future. In spite of a difference of opinion we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country and his indomitable courage.”

Opponents, not enemies

Many years later, when CPI(M) veteran EMS Namboodiripad passed away, the more hawkish LK Advani – who otherwise never hid his contempt for communism and its votaries – paid fulsome tribute to the former Kerala chief minister.

Admitting that he differed with the ideology represented by the Marxist, Advani said: “His was a total commitment to the cause he believed in and the ideals he subscribed to… Namboodiripad was one of the great personalities of the freedom movement. Although there was nothing much in common between the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel or Namboodiripad, who all fought for the country’s freedom, there was a lot in common, when it came to their idealism.”

Also read: Digvijaya Singh questions surgical strikes; BJP calls it an ‘insult’ of Army

In saying what they said, neither Vajpayee nor Advani were trying to score political points. They were, all said and done, married successfully to a system in which you treated political foes as opponents and not as enemies. If this culture is embraced, then neither Digvijay Singh nor a BBC film on Gujarat needs to be viewed with venom. A Digvijay cannot mar the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and a BBC production cannot undo Modi. Both issues could have been tackled better, without giving the impression as if our entire existence depends on killing the voice that differs from ours.

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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