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This is why Atal still clicks
October 07, 2003
We love Atal because he is a simple man. He is too human to be complex. Being so very human, he is also a divided man. Govindacharya should not have rubbished Atal's human-ness as a mukhauta or mask.
He may have had a point, but he made it a point to make it too pointed. Mukhauta is a metaphor of being a split personality. That is what all of us are.
Everyone wears a mukhauta. In most cases, this goes unnoticed because these mukhautas sit over insignificant faces.
Atal is handicapped on account of this celebrity status. As prime minister, he is also the face of the nation. So we should not distort him more than he already is. He seems complex because he is a hybrid of two simple human beings.
First, there is the poet, sentimental and sensitive, when he is awake and free as a human being. Then there is the politician, keen to be in the saddle but lacking in the killer instinct.
An illusion of complexity results when Atal alternates between these two roles: the PM and the poet. Especially, when he tries to be a poet when he should be a PM.
Atal pays dearly for this apparent complexity. He pays with his name. To be Atal is to remain steadfast. It mandates Vajpayee to be consistent: to say the same thing today as well as tomorrow, and not flip-flop routinely.
The luxury that anyone who is Atal cannot afford is being a chameleon. You can't, for instance, claim to be an RSS swayamsevak in Staten Island, USA and then, back in India, insist it means only that he is a swayamsevak of the nation; unless, of course, the intention is to equate the RSS with India.
Why do we believe that Atal is a simple person, despite the veneer of complexity that overlays him? It is a mark of simplicity that truth forces its way through the maze of one's words.
A simple person ends up speaking the truth, in spite of himself. Here are two illustrations from Atal's speech in Chennai, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of The Hindu.
"As a cornered citizen of India," said the PM of India, and then corrected himself, "...sorry, 'concerned' citizen of India..."
We, who met Atal, in the wake of the Gujarat genocide, feel that he could not have put the truth of his predicament more accurately than this.
Atal, as some of his sympathisers aver, is "the right man in the wrong party".
In this respect too Atal is poignantly simple. We can reckon that the right man may land himself in the wrong party, accidentally. But we are perplexed as to how the right man can stay on in the wrong party for so long.
Perhaps we are not as simple as Atal is. We have no right to assume that Atal is aware of this incongruity between his person and his party. Atal may be too child-like to be tortured by these circumstantial thorns and thistles.
Let us return to Atal's Hindu anniversary speech. "I agree with those people who say..." Atal went on to say, and then corrected himself, "sorry, I disagree with those people who say that democracy in India has failed".
A statement like this brings to our memory an avalanche of instances where Atal said something one day and corrected himself the next day, if not the next moment. We wonder if there is any significant statement that he has made from which he has not retracted within a few days.
Now it is up to you, as to what you make of this. The prime minister's detractors -- and their tribe is increasing -- see this as a proof of Atal's weakness or duplicity. They are entitled to their opinions. But to us this reveals his humility.
It is not easy, especially if you are a prime minister, to swallow much of what you say in public, repeatedly and predictably.
A greater humiliation than this cannot be imagined. Do you think that Atal is unaware of this? If, in spite of this, Atal remains consistent in this respect, this proves -- at least to us -- his exemplary humility and besieged loyalty to truth.
Surely, you cannot argue that remaining atal on what is unfair and unjust is a greater virtue than going back on it. This might well be Atal's unique way of paying tribute to the power of truth and justice. And it is unfair to despise him for it.
The alternative to Atal, in this respect, is Narendra Modi who is cruelly consistent in the pursuit of the Hindutva agenda, despite holding office in sworn allegiance to a secular and democratic Constitution.
There is a third count on which we love Atal. And that is his capacity for abject self-denial. For him, the RSS ideology and the interests of his party come first and foremost. The genocide in Gujarat presented Atal with the opportunity of a lifetime to stand towering above the debris of Indian democracy.
Some of us even urged him to rise up and take the occasion by its forelock. That could have won for Atal a hallowed niche in the history of our nation. It was not that Atal was averse to this prospect. But his commitment to the Hindutva ideology and his loyalty to the party were too deep to let him indulge himself in this respect.
He sacrificed his personal interests and buried himself in the tomb of wilful silence. Of course, in due course he confessed how 'ashamed' he was on account of Modi's Gujarat, but also warned soon thereafter, "Gujarat will be repeated if Godhra is repeated".
Finally, Atal is the greatest political wizard we know today. He has managed to hold together a motley crowd of power-seekers, utterly devoid of any ideological cohesion, and kept this collaboration of convenience intact for so long even when this alliance has proved to be detrimental to the interests of the coalition partners.
It is a feat that Advani and Modi can only dream of. To us, Atal is a poignant validation of our national dictum: Satyameva jayate; nanarthm. (Truth alone will prevail, not Untruth) The faltering tribute to truth from Atal's tongue -- even if it is in the form slips-of-tongue -- (or, should we say, slip-of-the tongues?) -- is more welcome to us than the strident lies marketed by the Hindutva camp.
We have a worry, nonetheless. Will the Atal-model of averring truth anaesthetise the people of India to the sinister culture of untruth propagated by the storm troopers of the ideology that he loves even at the cost of his personal integrity?