In the passing away of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Atalji to countless millions admirers and party workers), a colossus has departed, leaving behind an irreplaceable void in the public and ideational life of India. A hero of generations of Indian youth—who have been inspired and imbued with the spirit of nationalism—has left us, leaving behind pearls of memories and sparks of inspirations. In fact, to our generation, Vajpayee was the colossus and hero combined, a leader who articulated our intense desire to see the BJP come to power and to firmly establish an alternate political narrative in India.
One clearly remembers the day in the summer of 1996, when the BJP came to power, albeit a hyphenated spell that lasted 13 days. The sight of Vajpayee taking oath for the first time as Prime Minister, the sight of a BJP Cabinet at the Centre was a clear indication that the trajectory of India’s polity had taken a decisive and irreversible turn. It would no longer be a mono-political canvas, the BJP under Vajpayee and Advani had clearly established itself as the alternate pole, a pole, which, sooner or later, would become the rallying point, the fulcrum of Indian politics.
The turn of the tide for good in 2014—though Vajpayee was not in a position to register the huge and epochal victory of the party that he had founded in 1980—was a victory dedicated to his relentless struggle to make first, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and then the BJP the dominant pole of Indian politics. In fact, by selecting Narendra Modi to head to Gujarat, Vajpayee had catapulted his party on a journey that would see a first culmination in a decisive and historic electoral mandate in 2014.
Indeed Vajpayee and his party had travelled a long way from those days, in which, as he himself once described it, “The benign presence of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was no longer there. Neither was there a distinguished leadership, nor was there a wide mass base. Candidates were hard to find to fight the elections. There was none who was willing to spend his own money to face forfeiture of security deposit…”
Having founded the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, Vajpayee led it, nurtured it, watered it and nourished it like an incomparable and unmatched guide, teacher and preceptor who eventually saw it expand and grow into the principal and dominant pole of Indian politics and of India’s public life. His triune Mantra of Sangathan (Organisation), Sangharsh (Struggle), Samrachana (Constructive Work) inspired countless workers to struggle and sacrifice, through decades, and to build the party as a formidable platform and instrument of societal transformation and of governance, a platform, a vehicle, and a movement that has altered the course and canvas of Indian politics forever.
Vajpayee was also one of our last links to Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, acting for a while as Dr Mookerjee’s secretary; he was witness to and participant in a very crucial and formative phase of the movement to create an alternate narrative in Indian politics of which Dr Mookerjee was the initiator. Dr Mookerjee directed him to return from the border of Jammu and Kashmir and to let the entire country know that he had entered Kashmir without a permit.
While we mourn Vajpayee’s loss, it also is an occasion for us to resolve to carry aloft and perpetuate the immortal flame of his legacy; a legacy and a life lived, every minute, every moment, in a ceaseless and unconditional service of Bharat. As Vajpayee mingles and unites with India’s civilisational flow and quest, his legacy and unparalleled contribution to our national life shall live on as a rich chapter, the supreme consolation being that those whom he had nurtured are today spearheading the dream of a new India.
Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation