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August 17, 1999
The Rediff Specials/ Vir Sanghvi
Vajpayee turns quietly assertive
Restraint was also evident from the way India tackled the war internationally. There were no impassioned speeches, no exhortations to the United Nations. India went about its work quietly, pausing only to inform the world in a level voice how Pakistan had betrayed peace in the subcontinent.
This was once again Vajpayee's personality asserting itself in the leadership of India. Brajesh Mishra carried a letter from the Indian prime minister to President Bill Clinton. He met State Department officials in Geneva, including US defence honcho Sandy Berger. Vajpayee's letter was straightforward. He said India was observing restraint and that it was sorry the spirit of the Lahore Declaration had been betrayed. A one-paragraph sentence followed: "We will get rid of them, one way or another," he sentence said.
The Americans seized upon this sentence as evidence that India could consider crossing the LoC if pushed. Then followed the famous July 4 meeting between Nawaz Sharief and Bill Clinton.
There is a great deal of speculation in India as to the role of the United States in the war, much of it stemming from Nawaz Sharief's claim that Kashmir had been internationalized because of the accord between the US and Pakistan that President Clinton would take "a personal interest" in the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The fact is that the "personal interest" Clinton claims to take is in the resumption of the Lahore process, not in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The US has told India that it is anxious that India and Pakistan take the 'dialogue' route to resolve their differences, not the barrel-of-the-gun route.
What made all the difference to the world was the Lahore bus trip. India established its credentials as a country which wants peace, even after becoming a nuclear power, by taking the Lahore initiative. This move, coupled with restraint on the Kargil war, sent the PM's stock in the world sky-high. Informally, several US officials told the PMO that if "we'd been in your place, we would not have been able to show as much restraint".
It is not hard to see why. No other prime minister of India has gone to Pakistan and embraced the Pak PM so readily. Certainly no Indian PM has visited the Minar-e-Pakistan, the site which actually celebrates the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. The emotional appeal of the gestures was lost on no one, and Western nations were able to say with relief that at last the two most troublesome nations in the world had sorted out their problems because the bigger among them had taken the initiative.
Then Pakistan blew it.
The mature and responsible handling of the Kargil problem won India many friends. Coupled with the domestic handling of the situation and cool thinking, the PM was able to convince even the hardcore in his party, the RSS, that his way of tackling issues was the right one.
This is nothing new for Vajpayee. He's had to tackle the RSS many times in the past. In the mid-1980s, when the BJP was under pressure to join the Ayodhya movement, Vajpayee initiated a debate in the Sangh, popularly known as 'Ram Vs Roti'. While Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad argued that it was important to release the Hindu ' manas ' from its shackles by ensuring the places of worship of the Hindus were 'liberated' Vajpayee argued, in the fashion of the liberation theologians, that the BJP must adopt a more progressive line on the issue of religion, embracing its socio-economic aspect.
This created so much heat and light that a senior Sangh member, Govindacharya, even went on record to tell a weekly magazine at the time that Vajpayee's statements were acts of indiscipline and demanded an enquiry against him.
Kind Courtesy: Sunday
TOMORROW: Sangh's Own
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