Should Atal Bihari Vajpayee owe his prime ministership
to L.K. Advani?
As My Country My Life reaches more hands, BJP circles are
ringing with dissonance over the subtler overtones of how
the author sees himself in relation to Vajpayee. The former
Prime Minister gave the book sterling ratings in his abstracted
foreword, but many are viewing Advani’s tone towards
his senior and mentor as often “gratuitous”.
Although he takes no direct credit, Advani has hinted in
his memoirs that he twice played a key role in securing
the hot seat for Vajpayee, both times overcoming reservations
of the RSS top brass. Advani’s account claims that
the Sangh was unhappy when he named Vajpayee as the party’s
prime ministerial candidate at the Mumbai session in 1995.
“Some people in the party and the Sangh had chided
me then for making the announcement,” Advani writes.
“In our estimation, they said, you would be a better
person to lead the government…. I replied, and did
so with all the sincerity and conviction at my command that
I disagreed with their opinion.”
A few years later, half-way through Vajpayee’s last
term as Prime Minister, the RSS again attempted to kick
him up, as it were, by suggesting that he move to Rashtrapati
Bhavan after K.R. Narayanan. The then RSS boss, Rajju Bhaiyya,
personally met Vajpayee and suggested that he become President,
particularly because “in view of his knee problem,
it would be less taxing for him”.
According to Advani, Rajju Bhaiyya came back with the impression
that Vajpayee wasn’t averse to the idea because he
had said “neither yes nor no”. Advani performed
the rescue act. “I then mentioned to Rajju Bhiyya
that the NDA leaders had formally met only three days earlier…
and unanimously resolved to authorise the Prime Minister
to finalise a suitable, nationally acceptable candidate,”
The RSS’s misgivings over Vajpayee are, of course,
well-known — politically, Vajpayee denied the RSS
levels of obeisance Nagpur might have expected, personally
his life and style often flew in the face of Sangh prescriptions.
Party sources affirm that through the 1990s in particular,
Advani was by far the “more favoured one” with
the RSS. But for that reason alone, they assert, Vajpayee
was the “automatic choice” as Prime Minister;
Vajpayee had assets, they say, Advani had distinct drawbacks.
“Advaniji may not be wrong in what he has said about
projecting Vajpayeeji as a greater mass leader,” argued
one senior BJP leader. “But he has chosen to omit
a larger truth about how Vajpayee came to be the Prime Minister.
With his cultivated image as a Hindutva hardliner, Advani
would never have been acceptable to a coalition of parties
those days, I cannot see him putting together the NDA.”
Advani’s book does acknowledge Vajpayee’s ascendancy
— “Some (people) insisted that I had made a
big sacrifice by this (Vajpayee as Prime Minister) announcement.
However I was steadfast. What I have done is not an act
of sacrifice…” — but party circles that
have watched the complex Vajpayee-Advani tandem defy predictions
of break-up over the decades remain a little rankled the
writer has not been “humble or objective enough”
to record his own drawbacks.