Philosophical statements are delightful devices for inventive journalists to paraphrase commentary.
Mea culpa. Karl Marx’s aphorism about history repeating itself is a bestseller. But not necessarily true. History needs no remix. It often plays the same tune. From two MPs in 1984 of which Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one, the BJP has 273 now, who owe their seats in Lok Sabha to the unstoppable charisma of Narendra Modi. The defining image of August 17, the day of the funeral procession of BJP’s first prime minister was of Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah walking behind the hearse all the five kilometres to Smriti Sthal.
Making peace? Perhaps.
The debates on Modi appropriating Vajpayee’s centrist legacy ahead of the 2019 elections is old hat. Press the pause button on the cynicism and switch on the History Channel of Indian politics. Vajpayee’s funeral procession was not an au revoir to a much beloved Centrist Caesar, but the final steps of transformation—Modi stepping out of Vajpayee’s prime ministerial shadow and Amit Shah becoming Advani to Vajpayee’s Modi.
Never before in modern Indian political history has a pair defined an ideology like Vajpayee-Advani and Modi -Shah. Liberals who mourn Vajpayee’s moderate accommodation miss the point that he headed a coalition, which like all coalitions demanded their pound of flesh. Modi has no such baggage. Advani was always the Almost Prime Minister. Shah has no ambition to be PM instead of Modi, nor does Modi want his protege’s job. Vajpayee’s pacifism was part of the magical illusion of the maestro’s warmth and humanity: he was a hawk with a dove’s face, which could be discarded when the nation’s standing was threatened. On May 11, 1998, the Buddha Smiled again when Vajpayee ordered the detonation of nuclear bombs, catching the world unawares. When Pakistani terrorists attacked Parliament, Atalji ordered 500,000 troops to the LoC and deployed ballistic missiles.
After Pak terrorists killed 18 Indian soldiers in Uri, Modi ordered surgical strikes in PoK on September 29, 2016. When Musharraf occupied Kargil as Vajpayee talked peace with Nawaz Sharif, it didn’t take long for the Indian Army to claim the heights back. The Kargil victory played a role in the 1999 election as the surgical strikes could in 2019. Advani is credited with turning the BJP into a national power with the 1990 Rath Yatra. Amit Shah’s inexhaustible drive has made the BJP the world’s largest political outfit. The Narendra Modi who rode into the political battlefield as a leader in 2014 will be seeking power as statesman in 2019. The king is dead. Long live the king.