A Tall Behari Vajpayee
Justice M.S. Liberhan is getting a great deal of stick for taking such a long time and spending so much public money for telling the country what it already knew. Besides the inclusion of A.B. Vajpayee in the Gang of 68, no revelation has come as breaking news. Waste of time? No. The judge has done us a monumental service by finally closing the ugly saga of rumour, gossip, confession and hearsay regarding the demolition. Despite the cynicism, commissions of inquiry have a sanctity, an authenticity, similar to that of a judicial conviction. With one difference: there is no court of appeal. The guilty can dispute the verdict till the cows come home, the guilty can evade punishment, but they cannot wash off the stain. Since this commission existed under regimes of various political colours, no political party or individual politician can disown its findings.
One possible reason why the verdict causes discomfiture for the middle class is the mention of Atalji. He is such a genial, amiable, inoffensive man who managed successfully to straddle the right, the centre-right and the centre of our polity. Fali Nariman, who otherwise has little time for the bjp, told me, “I like the old boy.” How complicit he was in the conspiracy is questionable, but to suggest he was a complete innocent is both naive and foolish.
Vajpayee doubtless was a master of realpolitik. No one in India could match him in the statecraft Henry Kissinger passionately espoused. Just after Bush invaded Iraq, the Vajpayee government was under tremendous American pressure to send troops to Iraq. Atalji, an unfailingly polite person, was having difficulty taking George W’s telephone calls. So, he summoned the late H.K.S. Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan, who had launched a nationwide agitation against Indian military involvement, to 7, Race Course Road. How was the agitation going, he asked them. They told him the response had been good. Mr Vajpayee turned towards Surjeet and suggested that the volume of the protest be increased. “I can’t hear anything.” The two comrades understood. They were instructed to step up the agitation so that Bush could be told about the domestic opposition Vajpayee was facing.
Indian politicos have a lot to learn from Vajpayee. Never mind that he helped pull down the mosque.
One of the fallouts of 24x7 news television is the murder of nuance. Debates increasingly have a fanatical flavour. The first casualty in any TV discussion, one can be sure, is balance, an appreciation that Truth does not arrive in black-and-white vessels but in shades of grey. Participants are encouraged to take extreme positions. Whatever the issue, your stand must fall into one or the other category: are you for it or against it? A hedging of positions is taken as evasion, or worse, cowardice. Only wimps say, “on the other hand....”
In my last Diary I had discussed the Dalai Lama both as a spiritual and political figure. I was respectful and candid. In the process, I called him a “wily old fox” and also a “living god”. I am currently at the receiving end of angry and abusive reactions saying I had insulted His Holiness by calling him a “wily old fox”. No quarter was given to the other points I made regarding the implications of the presence of HH on Indian soil and our complicated relationship with China. I’m not complaining. Journalists often lament that they have been misunderstood. That’s okay. However, I wonder if 10 years ago readers would have latched on so quickly to the wrong conclusion.
Last week, Lucknow University, from where I graduated, honoured me with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the hands of the UP Governor, Shri B.L. Joshi. Lucknow has played a defining role in my life and in my conversion to pseudo-secularism. Alas, at both La Martiniere College and Lucknow University I cannot honestly say I acquired much of an education. Thus, I was doubly pleased by the award since there is a nice irony in being acknowledged and complimented by an institution to which one brought no credit.
Just before the function began, one of the organisers told me that they had ransacked the records of the university but could find no details of my having studied there. Indeed, they were not even sure I had passed out with a bona fide degree. I suspect the truth is that my grades at the university were so abysmal that some kind soul had burned all the papers. Be that as it may, everyone was most generous and pretended they were honouring an outstanding student!
Wild Vest and Loos Talk
Two pieces of trivia: The coup de grace to John Major, soundly defeated by Tony Blair in 1997, was delivered when his mistress revealed in a tabloid that Major had the “disgusting” habit of tucking his vest into his underpants.
Michael Caine was recently asked to reveal the secret of his happy 35-year-old marriage. “Separate bathrooms,” he replied.
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