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In the spring of 1977, thirty years of Congress rule ended and a new government took power in New Delhi. Politicians who had expected to live out their days in the opposition were unexpectedly thrust into ministerial office. In preparation, sycophantic bureaucrats began to take away or hide any visible signs in the secretariat of the party and the family that had for so long governed India. One member of the new Janata Government was quick to notice this not-so-subtle spring cleaning. He was the external affairs minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. When he first entered his office, Vajpayee looked around the walls and immediately identified a blank spot. ‘This is where Panditji’s portrait used to be’, he told his secretary. ‘I remember it from my earlier visits to the room. Where has it gone? I want it back.’      ‘Panditji’ was of course Jawaharlal Nehru, a politician the new foreign minister had reason to dislike. The organization in which Vajpayee was reared, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), detested Nehru. They suspected his culture, distrusted his politics, and opposed his economics. For the RSS, Nehru was an Anglicized Indian out of touch with the realities of the motherland, a pseudo-secularist soft on the minorities, a weak-kneed administrator who ‘gave up’ half of Kashmir. To cap it all, in matters of economics he took his cues from the godless dystopia, the Soviet Union.      All this Vajpayee had imbibed with his mother’s milk, so to speak. But more recently, the two years before he became foreign minister had been spent in a jail where he had been placed by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. He had, in sum, compelling ideological and personal reasons to reject Nehru and his legacy. And yet he asked for Nehru’s photograph to be reinstated in his office. This was a gesture that would not have come easily to some of his fellow pracharaks—to L.K. Advani, for instance. Vajpayee is a softer man and he must have been embarrassed by this brutal casting into the dustbin of one who was India’s longest serving foreign minister—Nehru held that office for seventeen years, for as long as he was prime minister—as well as its most effective and charistmatic. Despite all that he had learnt in his shakha, once he became foreign minister Vajpayee would have wished to claim this part of his predecessor’s legacy, ...

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