April 10, 2021
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Who Should Get A Bharat Ratna?

Who Should Get A Bharat Ratna?
Who Should Get A Bharat Ratna?

While the award of a Bharat Ratna to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was expected, and while a consensus by and large agreed with the choice, serious questions deserve to be—and were— asked about the choice of a posthumous Bharat Ratna to Madan Mohan Malviya (see the tweets from historian Ramachandra Guha and journalist Shekhar Gupta below, for example).

Last year, while Vinod Mehta wrote Why Vajpayee Should Get The Bharat Ratna, it should be remembered that the same Vajpayee had asked for a national debate on conversions when Graham Staines was murdered. Even on Ayodhya, while many continue to think that he disapproved of the whole janambhumi movement, the reality is quite different, as becomes clear when we listen to his speeches a day before the demolition of the Babri masjid:

The BJP's iconography usually presents L.K. Advani as the hardliner and A.B. Vajpayee as the liberal consensus- builder. He is packaged as the poet-politician, a man often out of sync with the inner core of his party, a man who never connected with the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, who tried to clip the wings of Narendra Modi, who actually made a bid for Muslim votes.

Mere hagiography written to build up the man? For, the paradox that is Vajpayee is infinitely more complex. Outlook has accessed an intelligence video recording, now transferred to VCD, of a speech made by Vajpayee on December 5, 1992, the day before the Babri demolition, at Jhandewalan Park in Aminabad, Lucknow. A younger Vajpayee's body language is distinctly buoyant, his mood upbeat and strident, his tone sarcastic. There is no sign of disapproval of the huge gathering of kar sevaks he was addressing.

Click here to see the videos: Hour Of Janus

Likewise, on Gujarat, while many remember his advice to Narendra Modi to follow raj-dharma, it is forgotten, as Siddharth Varadrajan reminds us in his book on Gujarat riots, what he said soon thereafter, at BJP's National Executive meeting in Goa on April 12, 2002 where Narendra Modi was originally supposed to step-down as Chief Minister.

For full text of that speech, click here: Who Started The Fire? (and do read the the post-script)

Some of the reactions on Twitter:

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