December 13, 2019
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Lone Ranger

Lone Ranger
Increasigly, Atal Behari Vajpayee looks a forlorn, even solitary, figure. He is a captive, much like Gulliver. Whatever his critics might say, whatever his politics, whatever you make of his ultra-sensitivity to slurs on his character, Mr Vajpayee is a fundamentally decent man with fundamentally decent instincts. Confrontation, the purveying of hate, communal provocation, minority-baiting, one can confidently assume, is alien to his style. When he became prime minister he thought he would be leading a rightwing party which occasionally threw morsels at its more extreme elements. Unfortunately, the extreme elements today have him by the leash, and the few moderates in his party are struck speechless.

A psycho-profile of Mr Vajpayee is best left to scholars, but it is safe to argue that the one thing Atalji appears to lack is a statesman’s courage. Admittedly, that kind of courage is a rare commodity in an Indian politician, nevertheless I would have thought that the prime minister has little to lose if he hits out. He is at the fag end of a long and generally distinguished career crowned by the ultimate prize. Happily, he has the opportunity to win one additional prize. He can try and turn the BJP into a legitimate rightwing combine along the lines of the Republicans in the US, or the Christian Democrats of Germany, or the Conservatives of Britain. I say try because in the first instance he will most probably lose the battle, but he—or those who come after him—can hope to win the war.

To become the natural party of governance (an ambition which, one understands, L.K. Advani puts on top of his priority list), to become a bonafide rightwing alternative, the BJP must cross one extremely high hurdle: it has to break, or at the very least, seriously re-examine its relationship with the Sangh parivar. So long as it is attached to the RSS umbilical cord, the BJP will remain a first-class party in Opposition but hopeless in government. Will Mr Vajpayee strike the first blow?

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