Abki baari Atal Bihari for Bharat Ratna
The BJP’s demand for a Bharat Ratna for Atal Bihari Vajpayee is loaded with political meaning — come as it does at a time the principal Opposition is seeking Dr Manmohan Singh’s resignation over the 2G spectrum scam.
But my point is different. What has Atalji done to be conferred the highest civilian honour? Former BJP chief Rajnath Singh wants him nominated for his value-based politics and contribution to parliamentary democracy. Rajiv Pratap Rudy says he established a tradition of liberal politics.
Among the award’s many recipients, there are some who deserved it richly and some whom many did not consider worthy of the honour. If he gets it, Atalji will be a genuine Bharat Ratna.
Comparisons are odious. So one would desist comparing him with such stalwarts of the freedom movement as Pandit Nehru, B R Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, S Radhakrishnan, B C Roy or Jayaprakash Narayan. He qualifies for the top award as the tallest living politician who earned a name in history as the country’s longest serving non-Congress Prime Minister.
I feel BJP leaders pitching for Atalji could have better prepared the rough draft of his Ratna citation. His best hour in politics wasn’t when he won an election. It came when he lost it badly. But in the process, he preserved the secular character of the vote and the campaign— coming out strongly against the 1984 anti-Sikh riots triggered by Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
The Congress for its part had left the community to its fate. In those tragic times, Atalji encouraged them to come out and vote in a hugely polarized atmosphere that left his party with just two seats in the Lok Sabha.
In fact, Rajiv Gandhi seemed to be taking a leaf out of the BJP’s veteran’s experience when — after an electoral drubbing in Punjab at the height of the Khalistan movement— he said the Congress lost the polls but won Punjab back for India!
Govindacharya had once called Atalji a mukhota— meaning thereby that he was just a pretender. But his inclusive approach made the BJP relevant in coalition politics after the sorry 1996 experience that had him demitting office in thirteen days for want of numbers in the House.
His attempts later to normalize relations with Pakistan despite repeated betrayals earned him the reputation of a peacemaker, a statesman whose fame transcended international borders.
Only a leader of his stature could have dared to visit Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan, a memorial to the Pakistan movement that divided the subcontinent. Besides being an act of statesmanship, it was an act of courage by an inheritor of RSS’s Akhand Bharat philosophy.
His elevation to the Pantheon of Bharat Ratnas will make the award inclusive, temporizing at once the politics of distrust that makes political rivals fight out as enemies. The Congress shouldn’t think about it twice as it was Nehru who had spotted Atalji young in Parliament.