Victory calls for foresight. Defeat invokes hindsight. Caught between the two nodes are leaders whose strategy did not necessarily fail, but whose tactics certainly did. The Assembly election results in the three heartland states—the BJP polled better than expected—indicate that the vitamins are still buzzing in Narendra Modi’s personal popularity and Amit Shah’s booth management skills. To seize the future in 2019, they need to take a trip down memory lane.
There is no greater guide to understanding India than the Vajpayee manual. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the perfect Indian politician, a democrat who had cracked the Hindutva code—tolerant when necessary and combative in a crisis. He joked once, “The problem with a toofan is that we should be careful not to be blown away ourselves.” Modi created a storm.
Now is the time to harness its power before it wrecks the mandate that India gave him. The mandate was for development, jobs, stability, arresting the economy’s drift, decisive governance and law and order. Perception is the engine of decision, and Vajpayee was the master of managing both. He knew the rhythm of life in India is slow and steady. Nobody is in a hurry. The majority of Indians avoid extreme action that shakes them out of their cosy nooks. Vajpayee tuned himself and his party to that pulse.
Liberals who hail him as a Nehruvian pacifist are delusional. Vajpayee and Nehru had as much in common as rasgulla and Christmas pudding. ABV was a hawk who managed to look like a dove to his political enemies. Nehru lost wars with Pakistan and China. Vajpayee carried out Smiling Buddha, a series of nuclear tests in May 1998 that marked India as a nuclear power.
He won the Kargil War. After the Parliament attack, he ordered Operation Parakram that mobilised the military on the Pak border, ready to go to war. Yet he remained acceptable to all parties—they found little to criticise him credibly.
Not much time is left for the national elections. Narendra Modi must concentrate on bringing development back on the table, for it won him the massive mandate in 2014. Farmers are angry. So are Dalits. Unemployed youth are restless. The economy needs reassurance. Vigilantism and activism must give way to rule of law.
The air has become toxic with confrontation; against the RBI, the judiciary, media and the law. Dial it down. Put the velvet glove on the iron hand. Let’s have more humour than abuse. More innovation than invective. More affability than arrogance. More spunk than spite. Above all, restore the national spirit to the halcyon days of the NaMo phenomenon.
The torch of Vajpayee’s subtle Hindutva passed to Modi’s brand of nationalism. Please do not go raging into the good night. Rave, rave about the brightness of its flame.