In a new biography, Vajpayee: The Ascent Of The Hindu Right 1924-77, author Abhishek Choudhary has explored the early years of India’s late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the lines between progressive and conservative politics in pre- and post-Independence India.
In a conversation with Manisha Pande, the writer says that the “early Vajpayee was not the Nehruvian we know at all”. “He was diametrically opposite…He was far more crucial to the development of early Hindutva than we understand…I also began to see a pattern between his genuine dilemmas and his doublespeak…Every time there were black clouds looming over the RSS, he would protect the RSS.”
Asked if it’s correct to call Vajpayee a moderate, considering his role in shaping hardline Hindutva, Choudhary says his early choices were shaped by the politics of that time, and given his background, “he was most certainly a Hindutva hardliner”. To Vajpayee, there was no conflict between being an MP and a swayamsevak as he “thought that Hindutva was the only genuine model of secularism, in some ways”, he says.
The author also believes that Vajpayee wanted a temple in Ayodhya but “minus the violence”. “He did not want a political party to enter a religious movement…he was reluctant. That is why he never agreed for Rath Yatra…he was approached but he politely declined.”
On the comparison between Narendra Modi and Vajpayee, Choudhary says the BJP and RSS are “very happy” as it’s like the “final result of a century-old ambition”. “They judged Vajpayee harshly when he was in office but they are now soft on him. Now they acknowledge that it was necessary for Vajpayee to act the way he did…because without Vajpayee there would be no Modi.”
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