Atal, the 'gentle colossus' leaves a void hard to fill up in Indian politics

Shekhar Dutta

Erudite and non-agenarian CPI leader Hiren Mookherjee (1907-2004) had authored a book 'The gentle colossus' on the life and times of India's first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who had all through been a political as well as ideological adversary. Coming from a lifelong political rival and critic the book made a mark and turning point in India's parliamentary politics as a tribute to a 'gentle'  stalwart who had overshadowed post-independence politics in india like a true colossus.

The death of Atal Bihari Vajpayee yesterday in the twilight years of his life may plausibly compared to the melting of yet another colossus. Essentially a poet and a nationalist to the core, Atal Bihari had always been a 'outider' in the humdrum of Indian politics but his personality transcended his party and avowed ideology. His acceptability across the political spectrum  always stood his party in good steam all through its stormy and controversy-ridden journey. The fact that garrulous Mamata Banerjee and gentleman politicians like Nitish Kumar, Nabin Patnaik and perennial coalition hopper Ram Vilas Paswan peacefully co-existed in the NDA government under Vajpayee's towering leadership provide ample testimony to the man's charm and magnetic personality. But the colossus in Vajpayee always remained accommodative to the core: despite reservations on a host of inner-party issues including BJP's participation in the 'Ram Janmabhoomi' movement he finally fell in the party line, never attempting to precipitate an issue.

But death and disease always provoke conflicting reactions, possibly in line with the grain of human nature. After Mahatma Gandhi's assassination world leaders reacted with shock and disbelief: Geroge Bernard Shaw had perceptively commented 'Gandhi's death shows us how dangerous it is to be good'. Nehru and Gandhiji's longtime followers and colleagues had remarked, 'the light has gone out of India's body politic' while Mohammed Ali Jinnah had cryptically said 'there can be no controversy before  death, Gandhi was one of the greatest man produced by the Hindu community'. But in Stalinist Soviet Russia no leader had turned up in the Indian embassy to sign on the condolence book as required by protocol, let alone issue a statement. Posthumous hostility reigned supreme then.

Atal Bihari's death has also provoked mixed reactions marked as much by nostalgic effusion as by mischievous and motivated allusions to excerpts of the late prime minister's speeches out of context. One particular TV channel, already notorious for acting as agents of foreign elements and anti-nationals, deemed it fit to project an old interview with Arun Shourie, famous editor of yesteryears, BJP's minister and two-time Rajya Sabha MP (1998-2010) and now a bitter critic of the party. In the interview Shourie was seen highlighting the points of difference between Advani and Vajpayee to the extent of personal bitterness. Another so-called national channel anchored by a bald BJP-baiter showed how Atal Bihari had delivered a so-called 'rabble rousing speech' at Lucknow in the run up to the demolition of the disputed structure at Ayodhya. Yet another citadel of secular fundamentalism obliquely painted in a poor light Vajpayee's references to the cold blooded roasting alive of 59 Hindu women and children at Godhra station  by demented Muslim fanatics hours ahead of the statewide Gujrat riots, as if the ghastly incident had never happened. The deracinated champions of infamous 'license raj' in the name of media freedom  seemed to have safely sealed in oblivion the manifold and dynamic human side of Atal Bihari's towering personality that was always prepared to consider and even concede the opposition viewpoint. God save India from such venous media. Long live India, long live Atal Bihari- notwithstanding the mischievous media subverters of the country!

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