A common underpinning to the glorious tributes that flowed from all sections of society to the iconic Atal Bihari Vajpayee was that he abhorred hatred in public life.
As evidenced by his disgust with the vandalism of the Babri Masjid, and the attempt at ethnic-cleansing in Gujarat in 2002. Sadly, not a great deal of his propensity to “reach out” has trickled down to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Even before his mortal remains began their ceremonial journey to Smriti Sthal, the social activist Swami Agnivesh was roughed up by party workers when he went to the BJP headquarters to join the mourners there. That was no accident, it was the second assault on Agnivesh. Had the first been condemned by the BJP leadership there might have been no ugly repetition.
After the rowdy display at Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, party workers initially told TV reporters that there was no such “incident”, then they said that some jostling was inevitable when large emotional crowds collected.
Again, the BJP opted for seemingly-consensual silence, and the police remain inactive despite claims to be examining a video recording. What has followed is even more worrying.
Vajpayee has been hailed for his consistent efforts to foster peace with Pakistan, a minister from that country attended the funeral. The BJP has gone to town over cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu’s conduct at the swearing-in of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister ~ another member of the tribe who switched from cricket to politics.
Sidhu was flayed by national and local BJP leaders for sitting alongside the head of POK and also hugging the Pak Army Chief, General Qamar Bajwa. And for good measure, the Punjab chief minister also slammed his minister.
Sidhu has explained that he did not make the seating arrangements, and he embraced Bajwa for talking of re-opening the road to a Sikh shrine in Pakistan.
Have the heavens fallen after either action by the man still cutting his teeth in the polluted political environment? The argument that the Pakistan army chief should be shunned because his men were killing Indian soldiers is “thin” ~ did Vajpayee not invite General Pervez Musharraf to Agra after hundreds of Indian soldiers were killed in Kargil? Do the DGMOs not interact regularly on their hot-line?
Are Indian and Pakistani soldiers not slotted to participate in a multilateral exercise? Did Mr Narendra Modi not invite Nawaz Sharif to New Delhi for his oath-taking ceremony, and then make an unplanned visit to Sharif’s birthday bash? Those moves by Mr Modi would have been welcomed by Vajpayee ~ not the animosity now “officially” propagated.
For a friendship that straddled the Radcliffe Line was a “core” desire of the BJP’s first Prime Minister, a desire now condemned to the dust-bin. And with that, a betrayal of the legacy he had wished would add glitter to his memory. A memory negated by the singular focus on divisive vote-management.