Modi Sarkar must steer clear of the pitfalls of Atal Sarkar

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The  massive electoral victory that Narendra Modi achieved in the recent  Lok Sabha polls has raised expectations to the sky. A similar  situation occurred in 1998 when the NDA came to power under the  leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Expectations soared and by the  end of 2003, the Vajpayee regime was battling a unique kind of  dissent which came more from within the Sangh Parivar circles than  from outside. It is a sad commentary on the maturity of our  electorate that while it tolerates non-performing, corrupt and  inefficient Congress governments with helpless resignation, it does  not give the same leeway to BJP-led governments.

That  Modi is not Vajpayee is quite clear and he may not commit the same  blunders which Vajpayee did. However, it is instructive for Modi and  his supporters to review the pitfalls of the Vajpayee regime and  avoid a repeat of the kind of infighting and dejection in the days to  come. Under the pressure of constant criticism from the hostile  Indian media, the Vajpayee regime tried to do a balancing act to  appease detractors on the one hand and not to lose their core support  base on the other.

Vajpayee’s  grandstanding on the futile peace talks with Pakistan was a major  cause for brewing discontent amongst BJP sympathisers. Vajpayee kept  blowing hot and cold while terrorist attacks continued unabated. The  massacre of Amarnath yatris in August 2000 at Pahalgam and the  December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament became major flashpoints  for BJP supporters who wanted to see some decisive action against the  terrorists and their masterminds in Pakistan.

The  unfinished task of building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya led to a massive  confrontation with the VHP in December 2002 when the tenth  anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid was observed. The  VHP and Shiv Sena demanded that the Vajpayee government fulfil the  promise of building the Ram Mandir for which people had voted them to  power. It is a sad fact that the BJP mishandled and diluted one of  the biggest mass movements ever to take shape in independent India  instead of taking it to an appropriate conclusion. This perhaps is  what caused the biggest dent in the BJP’s credibility amongst its  voter base.

The  Tehelka sting operation on Bangaru Laxman further damaged the image  of ‘the party with a difference’. It is ironic that when the NDA  is back in power in 2014, Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal is in prison,  facing criminal charges of molesting a female colleague!

On  the educational front, Vajpayee’s HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi  botched up the long pending agenda of decolonizing Indian education.  Misplaced priorities and dependence on a coterie of non-academicians  with little credentials derailed the BJP’s efforts to rewrite  Indian history and challenge the Marxist narratives which influenced  and strangled generations of Indians from reclaiming their  civilizational heritage. The controversies surrounding Prof Makkhan  Lal who was given the task of rewriting the NCERT textbooks and Prof  MGS Narayanan who was made Chairperson of the Indian Council of  Historical Research were exasperating and completely diverted the  government’s focus from dismantling the Left’s stranglehold over  Indian academia. ‘Saffronization’ became the favourite mantra of  the left liberal secular intellectuals who launched a blitzkrieg  against the Vajpayee government’s educational policies.

The  Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Gandhian economic thinkers were at  loggerheads with Arun Shourie’s aggressive drive towards  disinvestment of public sector companies. Rediff columnist Varsha  Bhosle (deceased), summed up the dilemma many supporters of the BJP  were passing through under the Vajpayee regime (albeit in her radical  style), in a column written in September 2000 titled ‘Riding a dead  horse’:

“Which  brings me back to the refrain of “give us an alternative.” If not  Hajpayee and his Bandar BJP, then who? ... the day you break out of  the shackles of being led -- of accepting every ignominy that falls  in your way -- is the day when a leader will arise out of you. YOU  are the option, don't you realise that?! This is a republic, a  gantantra, and we do not require Hajpayee and Party to fight battles  for us. The people have to fight it out themselves. The people have  to awaken to their Dharma...

I  have pledged myself against BJP. For it used voters as a stepping  stone to Delhi and, once there, reneged from all the promises it had  been making since its inception ... Hajpayee's BJP is a dead horse.  The choice is yours: Dismount, or despair.”

In  the 2004 LS polls, the electorate did exactly that. It despaired and  dismounted. Hence, Narendra Modi must tread cautiously and ensure  that a gap does not grow between him and the people who voted him to  power. However, given the fact that Modi is known for his  Shivaji-like ability to surprise and disable his opponents, I am  confident that the Modi sarkar will fare much better than the Atal  sarkar.

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