Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018)

 

 

A Brilliant Leader Who Understood Moderation

My Personal Tribute
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Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in 1924. So was my father Jitendranath. They were both lifelong RSS and BJP’s political preachers — Vajpayee as a top leader, and my father as a totally un-ambitious foot soldier. They knew each other closely for many years. My father, until his death last year, always spoke affectionately about their years together.

He fondly told his life’s story. “We were walking together, and I said to the other swayamsevaks (volunteers) with us: ‘Look, we’re now walking with the future prime minister of India.’ And the humble man would retort, ‘Come on, Jitendra-ji, what are you talking about?’ In Hindi, आरे भाई जीतेन्द्रजी, यह आप क्या बात कर रहें हैं? And we would laugh together.”

That was a day when it was unthinkable that far right RSS, its first political offshoot Jan Sangh (later renamed as BJP), and their men would ever become the thumping-majority ruling party in India. That the mighty Gandhi-Nehru Dynasty would nearly disappear. But Nostradamus (or Varāhamihira) he was not, my father’s prediction came true. In late 90’s, Vajpayee became India’s prime minister. And far right RSS and BJP were accepted as a normalized voice. People forgot about their dark, dangerous, KKK-like past. And it had a lot to do with Vajpayee, and his reasoned voice of moderation.

Leaders like Vajpayee knew that in India, you can’t run the country, and hold it together, unless you are inclusive and respectful to all religions, castes, and genders. Truly, like my father I’ve seen evolving into a mellowed, moderated voice, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became a sane, kind face — whom the Indian people, regardless of their politics, loved.

The present-day RSS, BJP, and their many powerful, well-funded organizations around India and overseas would not learn from Vajpayee’s moderation, or his personal integrity and sacrifice. Today’s right wing in India is rather strikingly similar to Trump’s right wing here in America. They thrive on violence, bigotry, fear-mongering, and hate. This BJP and its leaders cannot imagine, and would not imagine, how men like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jitendranath Banerjee lived their lives — totally free of greed, lies, and corruption.

Yes, they were both lifelong believers of Hindu fundamentalism, if not in Hindu supremacy. They were strong, ardent followers of RSS ideologue Guru Golwalkar, who once championed Hitler. Over my 15+ intimate years with RSS, I have seen them very closely: they were fiercely anti-Islam, anti-Christianity, and anti-socialism. In my book “In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India — An Insider’s Story” (1998), I have detailed and analyzed their social, political, and economic theories.

Islam, Christianity, and socialism — these have always been the Sangh Family’s (RSS’) three worst evils.

Vajpayee and Jitendranath were both militants in their early years: Vajpayee’s speeches were fiery, extremely eloquent, and often incendiary. He allegedly incited communal riots — in Assam and other places.

My father in his early years was also a top-notch speaker, a grassroots organizer who left his brilliant student career, and left home to preach his socio-political doctrine. He suffered greatly because of his non-completion of education, coupled with wrath he earned from the Gandhi Dynasty and their Congress government. My father was a diehard Hindu KKK, before he came to Bengal, knew my mother, and married into a family that was a symbol of love, kindness, inclusion, and secularism. He slowly but surely, steadily changed.

His early years, in his own words, were full of animosity against personalities like Gandhi and Tagore. His later years were love and respect for the great poet. Bengal’s soil, rain, and love converted him into a moderate man…well, sort of.

And I am being totally open and honest here. This has a lot to do with my tribute for Vajpayee today.

My mother, I, and our family never knew what economic stability was. But, as with most of the former RSS activists who lived for their patriotism, my father never complained about his hardship. Money was never a reason for him to live.

Both spent a few years in jail and exile, after RSS volunteer Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, and the organization was banned. Both lived up to their deep faith and ideology, built around their personal integrity, sacrifice, and honesty.

I have forever quit RSS and their extremist, supremacist, bigoted doctrine (my old friends admonish me that I am the worst-possible fool: had I not quit, I would now have become an elected parliament member in India).

My tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee today is about the man, his mission, and his unflinching faith for what he had believed in. In a way, it’s also a personal tribute to my father. Unlike the hard left and elite center, who would automatically reject the conservatives, I have a lot of respect and acceptance for them.

But my acceptance is only for the moderates like Vajpayee and his school. I would never have anything positive about today’s extremely hateful and violent RSS and BJP leaders and followers who are destroying the social fabric of India.

I truly wish there were more conservative leaders like Vajpayee. Today’s India cries out for them.

I deeply mourn the loss of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

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Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York