With Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee now revealing himself to be just as passionate about Hindu majoritarianism and as partisan in his political perceptions as are the rest of his comrades in the Sangh parivar, the romantic belief that imbued his government with statesmanly qualities stands exposed as mere wishful thinking. Sections of the middle-classes and several members of the intellectual and political elite appeared to have subscribed rather uncritically to the notion that being a product of a hardline right-wing political environment, Vajpayee is best-placed to provide a leadership that holds the key to solutions to vexatious and intractable problems. Incredibly, despite the fact that there is very little evidence of Vajpayee's ever having seriously deviated from the philosophy of Hindu nationalism in his actual practice of politics, it has been argued that at heart, the poet-prime minister is a "moderate pragmatist", more in the mould of a good old right-wing Congressman than a khaki shorts-clad fanatic.
So much has been invested in this perception of Atal Behari Vajpayee that the world has come to rest all its hopes of peace on the subcontinent on his tired shoulders. The praise heaped on the PM when he visited America last September by President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore evoked stirring images of a statesman committed to the building of a pluralist governing ethos for a civil society peopled by diverse communities. Al Gore was lyrical in his tribute to Vajpayee: "As Prime Minister, you have challenged your people to act on their imagination, to create a shared vision for a united democratic, prosperous and peaceful India and then to make that vision a reality." Such words have a bitter resonance in the context of the reality that as a civil society India has never been more sorely tested nor have its reserves of nation-building been so strongly called upon as it is today. Yet, it is ironic that more than any other leader in India's recent history, it is Vajpayee who has been described as a healer and much faith has been placed in his capacity for reconciliation. So successful is the selling of the myth of the peacemaker that despite the fact, as any Foreign Office mandarin should acknowledge, that the much-celebrated Lahore Agreement is only an expanded and more detailed reflection of the earlier agreement that emerged during the tenure of Inder Gujral and wherein were the real conceptual breakthroughs as regards the Kashmir dispute, it is the Lahore pact which has received worldwide approbation. It might be true that the Lahore Agreement captured the world's imagination because it followed the prime minister's personally riding a bus to Lahore. But the fact remains that in substance the Lahore pact traversed little distance that had not been trodden before in diplomatic negotiations between India and Pakistan in the '90s.