Phase Five (1997-2007) is a period of major accomplishments in Advani’s political career. The BJP’s spectacular rise, since 1989, culminated in the formation, in March 1998, of the first truly non-Congress coalition government at the Centre under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership. After a renewed mandate in 1999, the government of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) served the nation with great dedication and distinction for six years. Writes Advani: ‘My own role as Atalji’s deputy in this government, with the specific charge of the Home Ministry, was highly gratifying to me. I feel proud of the NDA government’s various achievements, especially in the fields of national security and national development. Some of them, such as the bold decision to make India a nuclear power and our sincere efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan in spite of the latter’s betrayal, will have a permanent place in our country’s history. History will record that India became a stronger nation, and a more self-confident nation, under Atalji’s visionary leadership.’
This phase also provides a candid and self-critical assessment of the unanticipated defeat of the NDA in the May 2004 parliamentary elections. ‘I have not the slightest doubt,’ Advani says, ‘that, as in the past, the BJP will bounce back again.’ The highlights of this part of the book are the Vajpayee government’s determined fight against Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism fueled by religious extremism, India’s triumph in the Kargil War, the Vajpayee-Advani duo’s honest efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan, the hopes and frustrations at the Agra Summit between Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf, and Advani’s historic journey to Pakistan in June 2005. About the controversy generated by this visit, he says, ‘I have no regrets.’
Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.
It was 24 December 1999. I was in my North Block office on that rather cold Friday afternoon. As it always happens at this time, the country was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new year. But there was a keener edge to this expectancy now. In a week it would be not just the new year, but also a new century and a new millennium. The following day was Christmas and also Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s seventy-fifth birthday. The turbulent year was at its fag end. Atalji’s bus yatra to Lahore, our government’s fall by a solitary vote, a war in Kargil due to Pakistan’s betrayal, mid-term elections and a renewed mandate—this was more than enough to make the year eventful, and all of us in the government looked forward to a period of quietude.
THE HIJACKING OF INDIAN AIRLINES FLIGHT IC 814
The news that actually terrified the nation, and added further turbulence to the outgoing year, was the one I received as I was leafing through some official papers on Christmas Eve. Slightly before 5 pm, Shyamal Dutta, Director, IB, phoned me to say, ‘Sir, an Indian Airlines plane coming from Nepal has been hijacked.’ I was stunned by what I heard. ‘How many passengers are there on the flight?’ I asked. ‘More than 160,’ he said. The Delhi-bound IC 814, which had taken off from Kathmandu, was hijacked by five armed men who ordered the pilot to fly to Lahore. When the airport authorities in Lahore refused landing permission, the aircraft landed in Amritsar where the hijackers demanded that it be refuelled.
In the wake of the sudden developments, the Prime Minister called an emergency meeting at his residence. It was decided that our first priority would be to immobilise the plane at Amritsar and make it impossible for it to take off to any other destination outside the country. The Crisis Management Group (CMG), chaired by Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, was immediately activated to dispatch the message to the police authorities in Punjab. The CMG decided to send a fuel bowser to the aircraft, carrying commandos who would deflate its tyres. Unfortunately, minutes before it could reach the plane, the hijackers ordered the captain to take off. Its next stop, with just enough fuel for the trip, was Lahore, where Pakistani authorities not only refuelled the aircraft but also refused our request to prevent it from taking off. The hijackers then commandeered IC 814 to a military airbase near Dubai. There, they dumped the body of one of the passengers they had killed, Rupin Katyal, and released twenty-eight others. They asked the pilot to fly the aircraft, with 161 hostages on board, to Kandahar* in southern Afghanistan, which was then under Taliban rule.
* Kandahar was the capital of an ancient Hindu kingdom. Its princess Gandhari was married to Dhritarashtra, uncle of the Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharata. Under Kanishka, the legendary Kushana emperor, Buddhism flourished in Afghanistan. Bamiyan Buddha, the tallest single-rock carving of Lord Buddha in the world, were created in the Kushana period. They were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban government, which also allowed the ranscacking of the famous Kabul museum, which housed priceless exhibits showing Afghanistan’s deep civilisational links with India. Until some decades ago, Kandahar had a significant Hindu and Sikh population.
I spent the entire night at the CMG’s office at Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan, where Brajesh Mishra, the National Security Advisor, and other officials were also present, closely monitoring the developments and revising the strategy to secure the release of the hostages in the fast-changing scenario…. We soon learnt that the hijackers had been demanding the release of thirty-six terrorists from Indian jails, besides a ransom of US $200 million. But their main demand was for the release of Mohammad Masood Azhar, leader of one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations in Jammu & Kashmir, who had been arrested in 1994. The CCS decided to send a team of three officials—Ajit Doval, a senior officer in the IB known for handling tough operations, Vivek Katju, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, and C.D. Sahay from the RAW—to Kandahar to negotiate with the hijackers as well as the Taliban authorities.
I was initially not in favour of exchanging the terrorists with the hostages. However, the situation that our government was faced with was truly extraordinary. The fact that the hijackers had taken the plane to Kandahar had rendered the situation much more complex and difficult. Usually, in such a situation, the captors are at least as much under pressure as the government of the country whose plane has been held captive, to conclude the negotiations quickly and strike a bargain. In this case, however, the hijackers were under no pressure at all and were prepared to prolong the period of captivity since they had three advantages. Firstly, they were in a hospitable territory—Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, with which India had no diplomatic relations, and they showed no signs of putting any pressure on them to end the hijack or leave the country. Secondly, we had credible information that every move of the hostagetakers was being masterminded by the ISI in Pakistan. Since the Taliban was a creation of the ISI, Pakistan had control over not only the plane, but also the airport. The Indian government had the option of sending its airborne commandos and troops to Kandahar in an attempt to rescue the hostages, but we received information that the Taliban authorities, under instruction from Islamabad, had ringed the airport area with tanks. Our commandos could have disarmed the hijackers inside the plane. However, outside the plane, an armed conflict with Taliban forces would have endangered the very lives that needed rescue.
There was another risk. Even the rescue planes would have had to fly over Pakistan’s airspace, the permission for which would have certainly been denied. We also had credible information, which was corroborated by the subsequent findings on the hijacked aircraft, that the hijackers were carrying grenades and explosives and were ready to blow up the plane. One of them had been heard saying that this ammunition was going to be used as a ‘millennium present for the government of India’, a spectacular terrorist act on New Year’s Day.
Thirdly, and the most unfortunate part of the entire episode, pressure was being mounted on the Indian government to ‘somehow’ save the lives of the hostages. As the crisis entered its third day, hysterical demonstrations by the relatives of some of the hostages were staged in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, and I regret to say that these were at least partly instigated by the BJP’s political adversaries. Some television channels chose to hype up these protests with round-the-clock publicity, creating an impression that the government was doing ‘nothing’ when the lives of so many Indians were at stake. All this made me wonder: ‘It used to be said that the Indian State is a soft state, but has Indian society also become a soft society?’ However, it was somewhat reassuring to see that these televised protests led the relatives of Kargil martyrs to urge the families of the hostages to be patient.
With mounting pressure from relatives on one hand, and the possibility of hijackers taking recourse to some desperate action on the other, the government most reluctantly took the option of minimising the losses. Three jailed terrorists, including Masood Azhar, were released on 31 December and handed over to the Taliban authorities in Kandahar. Our negotiating team in Kandahar bargained hard and was able to bring down the demand of release of thirty-six persons in jail to just three. All the passengers and crew members of IC 814 were released and returned to Delhi the same night. Thus ended a crisis, which presented to the world, a new face of warfare; a small group of ready-to-die terrorists challenging a country with a large standing army.
Throughout the hijack episode, my colleague Jaswant Singh, and his colleagues in the MEA, worked tirelessly to bring the crisis to a satisfactory end. As for the hijackers, escorted by their ISI mentors, they headed back to the country that had sponsored their heinous act. Indeed, a few days after his release, this is what Masood Azhar had to say to a cheering crowd in a mosque in Karachi: ‘I have come here because it is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.’
The security forces pursuing the trail of Pakistan’s Operation Hijack have made a significant breakthrough. Working in tandem with central intelligence agencies, the Mumbai Police have nabbed four ISI operatives, who comprised the support cell for the five hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane. All these four are activists of the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), a fundamentalist tanzeem based in Rawalpindi (Pakistan), which in 1997 was declared by USA as a terrorist organisation. After this declaration, the tanzeem has rechristened itself as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Interrogation of these four operatives has confirmed that the hijack was an ISI operation executed with the assistance of Harkat-ul-Ansar, and further, that all the five hijackers are Pakistanis.
As if to endorse the information I had given in Parliament, Pakistani media reported on the same day that the released terrorists had surfaced in Karachi. Thus, it was obvious that the hijack crisis was part of Pakistan’s continuing proxy war against India. Credible evidence has subsequently surfaced to suggest that the terrorists and their patrons linked to the hijack of IC 814 were also associated with the conspiracy that resulted in 9/11.
8.7/11 VINDICATED ATALJI’S PROPHETIC WORDS
India had been a victim of Pak-sponsored terrorism since the beginning of the 1980s. But it is only the determined and concerted efforts of the NDA government that made western democracies accept that Pakistan was, indeed, the sponsor of cross-border terrorism against India. As a matter of fact, our diplomatic offensive succeeded in another related objective: in making them realise that Pakistan’s abetment of terrorism was a threat not only to India but to the entire world. In the past, our friends in the West used to pretend, in spite of knowing the facts on the ground, that terrorism in India was due to local factors which the governments in New Delhi had failed to address. Some of them would even blame India for human rights violations in its fight against terrorism. It goes to the credit of the Vajpayee government that it not only put across the case against Pakistan with facts, figures and arguments, but did not hesitate to warn the US and other countries that their equivocation would prove costly to them.
No leader of the world spoke more prophetic words than Prime Minister Vajpayee in his address to the joint session of the US Congress in Washington DC on 14 September 2000. ‘No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood. Indeed, in our neighbourhood—in this, the twenty-first century—religious war has not just been fashioned into, it has been proclaimed to be, an instrument of state policy. Distance and geography provide no nation immunity against international terrorism. You know, and I know: such evil cannot succeed. But even in failing it could inflict untold suffering.’ (emphasis added.)
Almost exactly a year later, on 11 September 2001, the United States— indeed, the entire world—realised the truth of these words.
11.7/13: TERRORIST ATTACK ON THE INDIAN PARLIAMENT
In less than a month after 9/11, on 1 October 2001, Pakistan-based terrorists carried out a suicide attack on the Jammu & Kashmir state legislative assembly in Srinagar. A car bomb exploded near the assembly killing thirty-eight people. The bombing was followed by an armed assault into the assembly premises by three armed terrorists. An even more sinister attack took place on 13 December 2001 in New Delhi. The target this time was the Indian Parliament.
At the time of the attack, Parliament was undergoing its winter session. However, both Houses had been adjourned following the Opposition’s protest demanding Defence Minister George Fernandes’ resignation over the ‘coffin scandal’*. I was sitting in my chamber in the Parliament building, when at around 11.40 am, I heard some loud sound, ominously similar to bullet-shots. I rushed out of my office to see what was happening, but within a few yards into the circular corridor I was stopped by security forces who said, ‘Sahab, aage mat jaayiye. Aatankvaadiyon ne hamla kiya hai.’ (Sir, don’t go further. There has been a terrorist attack.’)
* The Congress party made a vile allegation against the Vajpayee government in general and George Fernandes in particular, in what was billed as the ‘coffin gate scam’. It raised a demand for the Defence Minister’s resignation on the charge that he had indulged in corruption in the procurement of imported aluminum caskets for the Army. Congress MPs disrupted Parliament’s proceedings for several days by shouting slogans such as ‘Kafan Chor, Gaddi Chhod’ (Coffin robber, resign) and ‘Sena khoon bahati hai, sarkar dalali khati hai.’ (Soldiers shed blood, government takes commission in the purchase of coffi ns meant for the martyrs of the Kargil War). Sonia Gandhi made this accusation even in her campaign speeches in the Lok Sabha elections in 2004. Fernandes, when he was Minister, had shown this to be a false, malicious and defamatory charge, using pertinent documentary information. Revealingly, in the nearly four years that the UPA government has been in office, it has not bothered to order a probe and establish the truth about its own allegation against Fernandes.
With lightning reflexes, security personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), ITBP and Delhi police took up positions and started returning fire. Simultaneously, the watch and ward staff closed all the doors of the Parliament House and ensured that no MP or anybody else remained in the corridor. I immediately phoned the Prime Minister, who had chosen to work at his home office at 7 Race Course Road after hearing that Parliament had been adjourned, and apprised him of the development. A pitched battle continued between the terrorists and security forces outside which lasted for about thirty minutes. Then there was complete silence. Besides Vice President Krishan Kant, Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi and Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Najma Heptullah, there were over 200 MPs inside the Parliament at the time. Several MPs, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, had left the premises after the House was adjourned. There were also a large number of journalists and TV cameramen inside the complex, and their presence helped the whole world witness the attack on the Indian Parliament.
It was later revealed that five terrorists entered the Parliament complex in a white Ambassador car with a Home Ministry label and a forged Parliament entry pass from the main entrance on Parliament Street. All of them were killed. One of them shouted before collapsing: ‘Hamara mission poora hua, Pakistan zindabad.’ (Our mission has been accomplished. Long live Pakistan.) Nine brave security personnel sacrificed their lives in preventing the terrorists from entering the main Parliament building.
The Prime Minister addressed the nation at 3 pm. ‘Now the battle against terrorism has reached a decisive moment. This is going to be a fight to the finish,’ he declared. It was followed by a meeting of the CCS and, later, the full Cabinet. Addressing a press conference after the meeting, I read out the resolution adopted by the Cabinet. ‘It has been an attack not just on a building but on what is the very heart of our system of governance, on what is the symbol and the keystone of the largest democracy in the world. By the attack, the terrorists have yet again flung a challenge at the country. The nation accepts the challenge. We will liquidate the terrorists and their sponsors wherever they are, whoever they are—as our valiant security forces have done in this particular instance.’
Pakistan’s first reaction after the attack on Parliament was shocking, to say the least. General Musharraf ’s spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, claimed that the attack ‘is a drama staged by Indian intelligence agencies to defame the freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir. Lashkar and other Jihadi organisations are not involved in the attack’. I had to place facts before the world, which I did five days later, on 18 December, in a comprehensive statement that I made in Parliament. I said, ‘The terrorist assault on the very bastion of our democracy was clearly aimed at wiping out the country’s top political leadership. It is a tribute to our security personnel that they rose to the occasion and succeeded in averting what could have been a national catastrophe. In doing so, they made the supreme sacrifice for which the country would always remain indebted to them.’ Based on the investigation until then, I was informed that the terrorist assault was executed jointly by two Pak-based terrorist outfits, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which received patronage from Pakistan’s ISI. Subsequent revelations fully corroborated these early findings. Indeed, all the five terrorists who formed the suicide squad were Pakistani nationals. The breakthrough in the investigation was achieved with the arrest of Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, a lecturer in a Delhi college, whose interrogation led to the identification of two other accomplices, Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Hussain Guru. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru, wife of Shaukat Hussain, disclosed that her husband and Afzal had, on the afternoon of 13 December left for Srinagar. This information was immediately conveyed to the Jammu & Kashmir Police who apprehended both of them. They were later brought to Delhi. Interrogation revealed that Afzal was the main coordinator of the attack, who was assigned this task by a Pakistani national, Gazi Baba of JeM. Afzal had earlier been trained in a camp run by the ISI at Muzaffarabad in Pak-occupied Kashmir. The hideouts for the five terrorists were arranged by Shaukat Hussain Guru, two in Mukherjee Nagar and one in the Timarpur area in North Delhi. During the subsequent raids, the police recovered a lot of incriminating material from two of these hideouts.
Pointing out that the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 to Kandahar, the terrorist intrusion into the Red Fort, and attack on the Jammu & Kashmir legislative assembly complex in Srinagar were all masterminded and executed by ISI-supported militant outfits, I said, ‘Last week’s attack on Parliament is undoubtedly the most audacious, and also the most alarming, act of terrorism in the nearly two-decades long history of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India. Naturally, it is time for all of us in this august House, and all of us in the country, to ponder why the terrorists and their backers tried to raise the stakes so high, particularly at a time when Pakistan is claiming to be a part of the international coalition against terrorism. The only answer that satisfactorily addresses this query is that Pakistan—itself a product of the indefensible ‘Two Nation’ theory, itself a theocratic state with an extremely tenuous tradition of democracy—is unable to reconcile itself with the reality of a secular, democratic, self-confident and steadily progressing India, whose standing in the international community is getting inexorably higher with the passage of time.’
Mohammed Afzal was convicted of conspiracy in the attack on Parliament and awarded the death sentence by the trial court in 2002. The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court later upheld it. The apex court, which said there was clinching evidence against Afzal of his nexus with the terrorists killed in the attack, rejected his review petition. Of the three others accused in the case, the trial court had awarded death for Afzal, Shaukat Hussain and Geelani, and fi ve-year imprisonment to Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru, wife of Shaukat Hussain. The Supreme Court reduced Shaukat Hussain’s death sentence to ten-year imprisonment and acquitted Geelani and Afsan Guru.
The death sentence against Afzal was scheduled to be carried out on 20 October 2006. However, it has been stayed because the Home Ministry in the UPA government has refused to convey to the President of India, its opposition to the clemency sought by Afzal. It is shocking indeed, that the Congress and several other political parties have communalised this issue and, for purely vote-bank considerations, chosen to support a concerted campaign by some NGOs for granting pardon to Afzal. My party and I have stoutly opposed this demand. I said, ‘The Supreme Court said it was an act of war, because the target was the Indian Parliament. Therefore, this crime should not be viewed at par with a terrorist attack at some other place.’ What can be a more shaming indictment of the Congress party’s politics of minority appeasement than the fact that the relatives of the valiant security personnel who became martyrs in the 13 December terrorist attack returned the President’s gallantry medals in protest against the UPA government’s refusal to give a go-ahead for Afzal’s execution.
The attack on the Indian Parliament was actually the apogee of a long series of murderous activities by Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups in 2002 and 2003.
ISLAMIC EXTREMISM AND ITS IDEOLOGICAL SUPPORT TO TERROR
Why was India targeted—and is still being targeted—by this vicious and religiously inspired campaign of terrorism? What are the ideological roots of terrorism in India? Unless these questions are squarely put and honestly answered, we can neither understand the phenomenon of terrorism nor succeed in combating it. I agree with all right-minded people that no religion should be denigrated, and no religious community should be typecast, by pasting the label of terrorism on them. All religions at their core, preach peace and brotherhood, and urge its adherents to follow the path of righteousness. No faith condones the killing of innocent persons and, therefore, terrorists have no religion. Nevertheless, it is also an irrefutable fact that one of the most virulent forms of terrorism in our times seeks the cover of Islam. It calls its murderous campaign ‘jihad’, thereby trying to justify itself in the eyes of pious God-fearing Muslims. Terrorists, inspired by the distorted and self-serving interpretation of jihad, actually pursue a definite objective: to establish worldwide domination of political Islam, which is also called ‘Islamism’. Naturally, India’s multi-faith society, the constitutional principle of secularism that has anchored the Indian state, and the cultural-spiritual ethos of Hinduism that have defined the character of both the Indian society and state, are anathema to Islamism.
Hence, the ideological basis of terrorism in India has been unmistakably anti-national in its intent and pan-Islamic in its appeal. It is the manifestation of a deeper malaise of the spread of extremism in most parts of the Muslim world, funded as it is by fundamentalist groups based mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. As in Pakistan and other Islamic countries, these groups are targeting madarasas for indoctrination of young impressionable minds. There has been large-scale mushrooming of madarasas, particularly, but not exclusively, in India’s border areas in the past two decades. Quite a few of them have been extensively misused for subversive and terrorist activities. They preach intolerance and bigotry. Saudi-funded organisations owing allegiance to ideologies like that of Ahle Hadis are known to propagate Wahabism (see footnote on page 22), an extreme form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, which does not even tolerate the Sufi and native influences on Islam in India. For example, the kind of syncretic Islam that I have seen in my childhood in Sindh, would be maligned as anti-Islamic by the Wahabis and sought to be violently weeded out.
Before 1998, I had a general idea about the activities of various radical Muslim organisations in India that were guided by an extremist agenda. But even I was shocked by what I learnt about them, and their links with extremist groups internationally, during my six years in the Home Ministry. For example, the footprints of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) could be seen in the terrorist activities and communal riots in many parts of India. Intelligence agencies brought to me, year after year, incontrovertible information about SIMI’s links with pan- Islamic extremist groups abroad. Safdar Nagouri, its General Secretary asserted that ‘Osama bin Laden is not a terrorist and neither is Jammu and Kashmir an integral part of India.’ Its official publication Islamic Movement in July 2001 insisted: ‘The ideologies of democracy, secularism and nationalism have replaced the objects of worship of the past. It is our duty to demolish these ideologies and establish the Caliphate as enjoined upon us by Allah.’
Fazlur Rehman Khalil, General Secretary of HuM, exhorted his cadres in September 2000: ‘We are fighting not only for Kashmir but to hoist our flag in New Delhi. Our war will continue till restoration of the Muslim rule in India.’ Organisations like LeT have never hidden their conviction that the ‘jihad’ in Jammu & Kashmir is ‘not a battle over territory, but a part of an irreducible conflict between Islam and kafirs’. Supported by Pakistan’s ISI and inspired by Osama bin Laden, it proclaims its ultimate aim to be ‘creation of a Caliphate to rule over all the world’s Muslims’, and asserts that a ‘jihad-without-end must continue until Islam, as a way of life, dominates the whole world and until Allah’s law is enforced everywhere in the world’. It views Indian rule in Jammu & Kashmir as necessarily evil and oppressive. According to LeT’s founder Hafeez Mohammad Saeed, ‘The Hindu is a mean enemy and the proper way to deal with him is the one adopted by our forefathers, who crushed them by force.’
Pakistan’s support to these organisations was central to the growth, sustenance and survival of terrorist outfits operating in India... Simply put, the challenge that was hurled at the Indian Republic was dire. Mass-killing of innocent citizens and security personnel, infiltration across the borders, driving away Hindus and Sikhs from Kashmir and parts of Jammu as an integral element in the secessionist movement, systematic propagation of anti-India sentiments in the garb of foreign funded religious preaching, fomenting communal tension and violence, hijacking, arms smuggling, infusion of counterfeit currency…and the attack on Parliament. Which self-respecting nation would tolerate all this meekly? Which democratic government, worth its salt, could keep quiet?
A FOUR-PRONGED STRATEGY: PEACE, DEMOCRACY, DEVELOPMENT, DIALOGUE
By the time the Vajpayee government assumed office in March 1998, several new dimensions had been added to the problem in Jammu & Kashmir—the scourge of Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism, the systematic campaign to drive away Kashmiri Pandits and Hindu families from their natural homeland, several rigged elections, inter-regional grievances among the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, a sharp fall in the number of tourists, domestic or foreign and, of course, stalling of the socio-economic development of the state resulting in widespread unemployment.
Terrorism, partly fed by home-grown militancy wedded to the cause of Kashmir’s secession from India, was at its worst when the NDA government assumed office. I knew that surmounting this challenge and bringing peace, normalcy and democratic revival in Jammu & Kashmir would be the main terrain on which history would judge our performance. It was a matter of considerable satisfaction for us that the National Conference, which was in power in Srinagar at the time, had decided to join the NDA. Its leader and then Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, was the son of Sheikh Abdullah, a legendary leader of the Kashmiri people and founder of the National Conference. The Abdullah family’s association with the BJP carried a political significance of its own. After all, it was Sheikh Abdullah who had ordered the arrest of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the Jana Sangh, in 1953 when the latter had entered the state in defiance of the notorious ‘permit system’. Dr Mookerjee’s martyrdom in Srinagar was for the cause of Jammu & Kashmir’s full integration into the Indian Union. The Jana Sangh was a fledgling party in 1953 but by 1998, the BJP, its successor, was a ruling party in New Delhi. Hence, by choosing to ally with the BJP, the Abdullah family had acknowledged the new political reality of India.
In my very first official meeting with him, I said to him: ‘Farooq Sahab, let us put history behind us. Destiny has brought you to power in Srinagar and us in New Delhi at the same time. Let us work together to bring about a positive change in the climate in Jammu & Kashmir.’ I must say that I established a fairly good working relationship with him. Farooq Abdullah’s son, Omar Abdullah, was made a Deputy Minister of Commerce in the NDA government. A young, articulate and well-educated leader, he performed very well during his tenure.
Within a month of my assuming charge of the Home Ministry, a terrible tragedy required Dr Abdullah and me to travel together to Prankote and Dakikote, two hilly villages in the Udhampur district in Jammu, where terrorists had beheaded twenty-six Hindus, including women and children. It was a bloodcurdling sight. Two months later, once again we travelled together to Premnagar village in the Doda district of Jammu, where twenty-five Hindus, participating in a marriage ceremony, had been massacred.
Obviously, the terrorists’ aim was to spread terror and force the migration of the minority community from the area. In the condolence meeting in Premnagar, I appealed to the panic-stricken people not to leave their native villages, but my conscience was troubled by merely asking them to stay put, while conveying no credible commitment from the government to ensure their safety and security. Therefore, I told them, ‘I have no business to remain the country’s Home Minister if I cannot protect you.’
In my meetings with the state Chief Minister, Governor Girish Chandra Saxena and other officials, I said: ‘The Central Government will spare no effort or resources to meet the requirements of the state. But we must do all we can to stop these killings. Here we should learn a useful lesson from our success in quelling terrorism in Punjab. Our experience in Punjab taught us that militancy can be defeated primarily with the determined effort of the state police and administration, combined with support from the local population.’ In consultation with them, our government evolved a four-pronged strategy to bring peace and normality in Jammu & Kashmir: (a) relentless and ruthless fight against cross-border terrorism; (b) free and fair elections to the state’s legislative assembly; (c) acceleration of socio-economic development through good governance measures; and (d) earnest dialogue with representatives of all social and political groups committed to the path of peace.
A major turning point in the political climate in Jammu & Kashmir came when Prime Minister Vajpayee, on a visit to the state in August 2000, declared that the Government of India was willing to talk to any group representing the people of the state. Later in November, he announced a unilateral ceasefire in combat activities on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This had a big emotional impact on Kashmiri people, convincing them about our sincerity and considerably dispelling their apprehensions, created by Pakistani propaganda, about our ‘Hindu nationalist party’. Earlier, Atalji’s bus yatra to Lahore and Islamabad’s betrayal in Kargil had also had the same effect. We were slowly but surely winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris.
FREEST ELECTIONS IN THE HISTORY OF J&K
Our biggest test was going to be conducting the assembly elections in J&K in 2002. As mentioned earlier, the state had a long track record of rigged elections during Congress governments at the Centre. This had given rise to a deep-rooted perception among Kashmiris that, irrespective of what the people desired, New Delhi would only install persons of its own choice in power in Srinagar. Pakistan had been adroitly exploiting this grievance to its own advantage. The NDA promised that the elections in J&K would be absolutely free and fair and the people of the state would have the government of their choice. In our judgement, establishment of genuine democracy in Jammu & Kashmir was pivotal not only to the restoration of normalcy in the state but also, indirectly, to India’s peace process with Pakistan. For it would knock away an important plank in Pakistan’s propaganda that the people of Kashmir had no faith in India and its democracy.
Our assurances, nevertheless, met with much skepticism, especially in the Kashmir Valley because the people felt that the NDA would naturally like to have its own constituent, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, back in power in the state. Popular opinion, however, was not in favour of a second term for Abdullah’s government. The various Pak-supported militant and secessionist outfi ts were alarmed at the prospect of free and fair elections in the state. Before the polls, nearly 250 people, including political activists, probable candidates and pro-democracy intellectuals who were opposed to the militants’ call for boycott of the vote, were killed in terrorist attacks. Prominent among them was Abdul Gani Lone, a leader of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference. The terrorists, and their patrons in Pakistan, were determined to silence all opposition with bullets.
However, in this battle of ballot versus bullet, the former came out on top ultimately. The elections, held in September-October 2002, witnessed a large and enthusiastic voter turnout of about forty-four per cent. What made it different from elections in the past was that nearly all political parties, independent candidates, international observers, NGOs, human rights activists, and the media, both Indian and foreign, acknowledged that it was the freest election in the history of Jammu & Kashmir. After more than two decades in power, the ruling National Conference was voted out. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Mufti Mohammed Syed, emerged as the largest party in the newly elected assembly. It allied with the Congress to form a coalition government in the state.
Around the same time that democracy triumphed in Jammu & Kashmir, it witnessed its mockery in Pakistan. The general elections held in October 2002 were widely believed, both within Pakistan and by the international community, as ‘flawed’ and ‘rigged’. Same goes for the referendum held in April of that year, in which Gen. Pervez Musharraf had himself elected as ‘President’ with ninety-eight per cent voters casting their ballot in his favour.
One of the best tributes to the Vajpayee government’s democratic success in Jammu & Kashmir came from Shekhar Gupta, Editor of the Indian Express and a perceptive commentator on national affairs.
‘The one common thing between our government’s promise of a free and fair election in J&K and Musharraf ’s first milestone in his own ‘roadmap to democracy’ was that both chose the instrument of democracy to get out of an impossible-looking situation. Both had a crisis of credibility as well as legitimacy. We were finding it difficult to convince the world, in general, and the people of Kashmir, in particular, that our democracy had given them the best deal possible. Musharraf knew his rule would be morally untenable without an election, no matter how total and how cynically blind his international support. This is where similarities end. It is one thing for a functioning, instinctive and committed democracy to choose the instrument of an election to restore the legitimacy of its national interest even in a situation as complex as Kashmir. It is quite another for a military usurper to use elections to quiet his own people and save his foreign backers embarrassment but with no intention at all to submit to the majesty of his own people’s will.
‘As India savours one of its proudest moments, therefore, we need to wholeheartedly congratulate our government, the vision of its senior-most leaders, the bravery and commitment of our armed forces, the dogged determination of the Election Commission and its staff. We must also congratulate the people of Jammu & Kashmir who defied both terrorist bullet and cynicism born of so many unkept promises and rigged elections of the past.’
As I look back, I would rate the restoration of democratic rule and, to a significant but not full extent, normalcy in Jammu & Kashmir as one of the biggest achievements of the NDA government. There is tranquility along the LoC; guns have fallen silent on both the Indian and Pakistani sides. Villagers living in the vicinity of the border have been experiencing an atmosphere of peace which had eluded them for nearly two decades. Tourists are back in Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other parts of Kashmir. The annual pilgrimage at Amarnath attracts tens of thousands of devotees from all over the country. Infiltration of Pak-trained militants from across the border has decreased, though not fully stopped. Most importantly, the indigenous roots of militancy in the Kashmir Valley have considerably withered. People’s longing for peace has isolated militants like never before. All this portends well for the future of Jammu & Kashmir.
A WISH AND A PRAYER
I hope and pray that Jammu & Kashmir becomes, once again, an abode of peace, joy and harmonious living. This is the land made holy by India’s rishis in the ancient era, and by Sufi saints in the medieval period. This is where Shaivism, Buddhism and Islam created a unique mystical confluence. In ancient times, Kashmir was known as Sharada Peeth, the seat of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. There is a shrine dedicated to Adi Shankaracharya on a hill that overlooks the scenic Dal Lake in Srinagar. I find so many similarities between my own native province Sindh and Jammu & Kashmir—partly because the mighty river Sindhu originates across the Ladakh region of the state.
Kashmir’s greatest poetess, Lal Ded or Lalleshwari, was a messenger of Hindu-Muslim unity. Sheikh Noorudin, the great Sufi mystic, is revered as Nand Rishi by the Hindus of Kashmir. This tradition of harmonious pluralism, which people cherish as Kashmiriyat, needs to be preserved. Kashmir’s greatest poet in the twentieth century, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor (1887-1952) writes:
Bathe in the Sind water, meditate at
Manasbal* and see God on Harmukh†…
As Kashmiris you share the same land, ethos;
Don’t alienate one another for naught.
Muslims are milk and Hindus sugar;
Mix milk and sugar in sweet accord.
With Hindus at the helm, Muslims to row;
Thus will our boat fl oat smoothly
Shed ignorance and reckon who are
Friends and foes of our motherland.
Don’t invite strangers to mediate in
Internal fueds; resolve them yourself.
Mahjoor has given a lesson in unity;
Remember it and teach it to each other. This for me says it all!
* Manasbal Lake, thirty kilometres from Srinagar, is considered the ‘supreme gem among all Kashmir lakes’. There is an eighth century Hindu temple near it.
† Harmukh is a high mountain from whose glaciers flows the Sindhu river.
I conclude this account of my six years in the Home Ministry by turning to an event—rather, two inter-related events—that has figured most prominently in the sustained campaign, conducted both nationally and internationally, to malign my party, its ideology and the Vajpayee government’s six years in office. I am referring to the communal violence in Gujarat, both in its Godhra and post-Godhra phases, in February-March 2002. I have repeatedly stated that both events were ‘indefensible’ and ‘a blot on my government’. I was all the more distressed by them because they blemished the Vajpayee government’s widely appreciated record, until then, of having drastically brought down the number of incidents of communal violence in the country.
After the unfortunate happenings in Gujarat, the Congress and its pseudo-secular supporters took the lead in a sustained campaign against my party by propagating, essentially, three lies, which are still in circulation. The first lie is that the post-Godhra violence was a pre-meditated statesponsored genocide of Muslims. The second is that the BJP-led government at the Centre did nothing while Gujarat was burning. Thirdly, that the carnage in Godhra, due to the gutting of two compartments of Sabarmati Express, was accidental—or, worse still, self-inflicted. I deem it to be my duty to nail all the three lies.
Speaking in a debate in the Lok Sabha on 30 April 2002, the Congress President described the Gujarat violence as ‘genocide’ and said, ‘…but ultimately truth will prevail’. The truth, as contained in official information, and revealed by her own government, was as follows. The religion-wise break-up of those killed was: Muslims 790 and Hindus 254. In addition, 223 people were reported missing. I accept that the unofficial death toll might have been higher. But can a tragic episode of this kind, in which the number of Hindus killed was by no means insignificant, be termed ‘genocide’ of Muslims? During the debate itself, Prime Minister Vajpayee had cautioned her against such casual usage of a highly loaded term. But since Sonia Gandhi had used it, it gained wide currency and was employed by forces inimical to our country to malign not only our government but also Gujarat and India.
It is also worth emphasising that over 200 rioters were killed in dozens of incidents of police firing in Ahmedabad, Baroda and other places in Gujarat. Nearly 10,000 rounds of bullets were fired by the police. In the initial days, the police made preventive arrests of nearly 18,000 Hindus, as against 3,800 Muslims. Does this speak of a state-managed pogrom of Muslims, with the state’s security apparatus remaining inactive?
DID THE CENTRE TURN A BLIND EYE?
Regarding the charge that the Centre turned a blind eye while violence was raging in Gujarat, I let the following facts speak for themselves. Within hours of the massacre in Godhra on 27 February, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) was deployed both in Godhra and Ahmedabad and a red alert was issued immediately. The very next day, the state government requested the Centre to send the Army. It also requested for armed police reinforcements from neighbouring states. The same night, Prime Minister Vajpayee dispatched Defence Minister George Fernandes to Ahmedabad, where the latter discussed with Chief Minister Narendra Modi details about the deployment of the Army. By the early morning hours of 1 March, plane-loads of Army personnel arrived, and, before noon, their deployment at sensitive points started. The Army staged flag marches in all the violence-hit areas of Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Baroda without any delay. When riots did not abate, the state government gave orders for shoot-at-sight throughout Gujarat.
Within three days of the violence erupting outside Godhra, I visited the state and this is what the media reported.
Advani Reviews Gujarat Situation; Asks Govt to be Tough Union Home Minister L.K. Advani on Sunday said, ‘We will not allow any kind of communal tension.’ He added that the mob attack at Godhra and subsequent violence has blotted his party’s four-year record of having provided a ‘communal tension-free’ government. He asserted that the government would give top-most priority to restore communal harmony…. The home minister held meetings with Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior civil, police and military officials and visited the Civil Hospital and affected areas of Bapunagar, Naroda and Meghaninagar. He said that the government had three primary responsibilities regarding the Godhra mayhem and subsequent spread of violence in the state. ‘First, we have to arrest the guilty, second, to prevent recurrence of any kind of violence and third, to ensure peace and security to every citizen and community.’ Advani also visited the area where former Congress Member of Parliament Ehsan Jaffrey and 19 members of his family were charred to death. He expressed condolences to the members of the bereaved family.
In New Delhi, the previous evening, I had attended a meeting of prominent Opposition leaders, convened by the Prime Minister to discuss the situation in Gujarat. Concerned over the possibility of violence spreading to other parts of the country, both Atalji and I felt that the meeting should be used to demonstrate the nation’s resolve, rising above party lines, to maintain communal peace and harmony. Accordingly, after the Prime Minister’s assurance that the Centre would deal with the situation in Gujarat firmly, we requested Opposition leaders to join us in issuing an appeal to countrymen to preserve peace and promote brotherhood and unity at all costs. Among those who signed the appeal, besides Atalji and myself, were former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, Sonia Gandhi, BJP President Jana Krishnamurthy, CPI(M) General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav. Contrary to our opponents’ propaganda, the whole of Gujarat was not engulfed by riots. The combined efforts of the Centre and the state government helped in combating violence to a limited part of the state. No less important is the fact that the Centre took effective steps to ensure that it did not spill over to other states.
On 4 April 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Gujarat. At the Shah Alam relief camp in Ahmedabad, where nearly 8,000 riot-affected Muslims had been given shelter, he said, ‘You are not alone at this time of crisis, we all are with you. The entire country is with you…. Apne hi desh mein refugee ho jana, yeh dil ko cheerane wali baat hai. (Becoming refugees in one’s own country is heart wrenching.) While what happened in Godhra was condemnable, what followed in other parts of the state must also be deplored.’ He lamented that India’s standing in the comity of nations had been badly affected by the violence in Gujarat. ‘With what face, I do not know, I will go abroad after what all has happened here. Yeh paagalpan band hona chahiye. (This madness must stop.)’
Later in April, in the parliamentary debate, I said, ‘I am a sad man as I participate in this debate. Our government’s clean and proud record of riot-free governance for the past four years has been sullied. When I look at what has happened in Gujarat in its totality, I cannot but say that both Godhra and post-Godhra violence is condemnable and shameful. All the post-Godhra incidents that have been mentioned by honourable members in the House—be it Naroda Patiya and Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, Best Bakery in Baroda, Sardarpura in Mehsana, or others—are reprehensible. Godhra may explain what happened after that, but Godhra cannot justify either Naroda Patiya or Mehsana or any other killing. I will go so far as to say that in a law-governed society, even revenge of a wrongdoer can have no justification. But revenge against an innocent person? How can it be justified? Whether the victim is a Hindu or a Muslim, there can be no place for revenge in a civilised society. It can only be deemed as barbaric.’ I continued, ‘I admit that there must have been some lapses somewhere, in administration, in the functioning of the police, etc. But to charge that the post-Godhra incidents were managed by the government itself, that it was a deliberate carnage, state-engineered mayhem and state-engineered genocide…this, I am afraid, is like providing weapons to the enemies of India to assault our nation.’ Thereafter, congratulating Omar Abdullah, a minister in our government and leader of the National Conference (which was then a constituent of the NDA), for his excellent and impassioned speech that he had made earlier in the debate, I strongly endorsed an appeal that he had made: ‘We should not only be scoring points but we should give a direction to the country.’
Of the many interventions to save innocent lives that I made during that distressing period of communal bloodletting in Gujarat, I shall recall two here. One day I received a call from Najma Heptulla, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. ‘Akbar, my husband, wants to talk to you urgently about an SOS from some Muslim merchants in Ahmedabad,’ she said. Akbar told me that the traders of Bohra Bazaar had approached him to urgently contact someone in the government to save them from an imminent attack from armed men in a nearby Hindu basti. I immediately rang up Chief Minister Modi and asked him to take necessary steps to provide protection to the needy. Modi called me back the next day to say that no untoward incident took place and potential miscreants were arrested. After the return of normalcy, a delegation of traders from Bohra Bazaar, along with Akbar, met me in Delhi to express their appreciation and gratitude for the timely steps taken by the Central and state governments.
In another such incident, I received a call one day from Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran parliamentarian of the CPI (M), who later became the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. ‘Advaniji, I want to speak to you about an urgent matter,’ he said in a tone that immediately conveyed to me his concern and urgency. ‘My colleagues in the CPI(M) unit of Bhavnagar phoned me just now to say that a prominent madarasa in that town has been surrounded by a Hindu mob, which is planning to set it on fire. There are a large number of young students and maulvis inside the madarasa. Please do something to stop this.’ I immediately spoke to both Modi in Ahmedabad and my own party leaders in Bhavnagar, instructing them to do everything necessary to prevent the attack and defuse the situation. I felt relieved to learn, later, that nothing untoward had happened. In one of my subsequent visits to Bhavnagar, the local CPI(M) activists and maulvis called on me and expressed their thanks. ‘We only did our duty,’ I told them. Some months later, Chatterjee himself called me one day and said, ‘Advaniji, I am calling from Ahmedabad. My party colleagues from Bhavnagar are here and they are telling me, “We want to thank you profusely. But for your timely intervention, many people in the madarasa would have been burnt to death.” I told them, “Why are you thanking me? You should thank Advaniji for this”.’
I am recalling all this not out of pride, but humility. Whatever I did was out of a sense of duty. I carry the pain that comes with the realisation that, in spite of our government’s commitment to the ideal of a riotfree India, hundreds of innocent lives were lost in the fire of communal hatred. It does not matter whether they were Hindus or Muslims. They were all Indians.
Nevertheless, I would like fair-minded people to contrast all that I have narrated above with the anti-Sikh carnage in Delhi and other places in North India in the days following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. During the first three days of mayhem, there was not a single policeman to be seen on Delhi roads. There was not even a single instance of lathi charge. Not only that, even the motorcade of President Zail Singh was stoned when he visited the hospital, where the slain Prime Minister’s body was kept. In spite of specific, urgent and personal requests made to the then Home Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, on the very first day, the Army was deployed only on the evening of 3 November. On the occasion of his mother’s birth anniversary, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said: ‘Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.’* It took Sonia Gandhi fourteen years to express regrets for the tragic happenings in 1984.
I would also like people with an impartial and unprejudiced approach to contrast the conduct of the Central and state governments in 2002 with that of the Congress governments in New Delhi and Gandhinagar in the numerous previous instances of communal violence in Gujarat. The state has a long history of communal riots. Communal frenzy in the past always took a far longer time to return to normalcy. The 1969 riots in Ahmedabad continued much longer than in 2002, and claimed many more lives. The city remained under curfew for nearly two months. Communal disturbances in many parts of the state in 1985 continued for more than five months, with Godhra reeling under curfew for almost a year.
* Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka, When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath, Lotus, 2007. The book mentions my role in the appointment of the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission in May 2000 to inquire once again into the 1984 carnage. The Commission submitted its report in February 2005, but the Action Taken Report (ATR) prepared by the UPA government drew a howl of protest from all quarters, since it was rightly dubbed as a ‘No Action Taken Report’. The book again mentions my role, along with that of the leaders of other non-Congress parties, in forcing the government to review its ATR, ask at least one Central minister implicated in the riots to resign, and get Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to tender an apology to the Sikh community.
NARENDRA MODI: A VICTIM OF VILIFICATION CAMPAIGN
I have often been criticised for stoutly rejecting the demand for Modi’s resignation. This demand was raised within days of the communal violence breaking out in Gujarat, and continued for months and years thereafter. Some of our own allies in the NDA wanted Modi to resign. There was also strong and sustained pressure from certain quarters on Prime Minister Vajpayee, urging him to ask Modi to step down. I resisted this move, including at some very critical junctures.
My reasoning was this, and I expressed it elaborately in the Rajya Sabha on 6 May 2002: ‘We should look for a real solution to the situation in the state, and removing Chief Minister Modi is not a solution. There has been a sustained campaign against him, which is not correct. It is also not correct or proper to allege, as Leader of the Opposition Dr. Manmohan Singh has done, that there is gross communalisation of Gujarat police. I plead with everyone not to make such sweeping charges against the police force. There are some shortcomings and I am aware of them, but let us not forget that, in Modi’s government, the police force saved a large number of Muslims during the riots.’
I also resisted proposals for Modi’s resignation made inside party forums. I am happy that my confidence in him has been fully vindicated by subsequent developments. His Chief Ministership, between 2002–07, was characterised by the fact that there was not a single communal riot in Gujarat, not a single incident of terrorism, and not a single hour of curfew imposed anywhere in the state in those five years. Gujarat made spectacular progress in many areas of social and economic progress during this period, attracting huge amounts of domestic and foreign investment, and emerging as one of the most developed states in the country. But what has given me special satisfaction is that Modi has brought down political and bureaucratic corruption in a way that even his critics have applauded. Needless to add, people of all castes and communities in Gujarat have benefitted from this commitment to security, development and clean administration.
A proof of all this was the renewed mandate, with a resounding majority, that the BJP won in the assembly elections in Gujarat held in December 2007. The Congress and its pseudo-secular supporters had sought to convert these elections into some kind of a national referendum on ‘communalism vs secularism’. Needless to say, they failed miserably in their plans. What is worse, they seem to be unwilling to do honest introspection and draw the just conclusions from their defeat. Modi’s re-election has highlighted several lessons which are relevant not only for Gujarat but for the whole country. He has disproved the conventional wisdom that focus on good governance does not make good politics. He has dispelled the notion that elections cannot be won on a development plank. The BJP in Gujarat has also invalidated the belief that elections can be won only by appealing to people’s caste and community sentiments. Furthermore, unlike in CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal, the BJP in Gujarat has demonstrated that a renewed mandate can be won without all recourse to electoral malpractices.
I consider the outcome of the Gujarat polls significant for another reason. It showed how a leader with integrity, courage and competence could count on people’s support to beat back a personalised campaign of vilification. I cannot think of any other leader in Indian politics in the past sixty years who was as viciously, consistently and persistently maligned, both nationally and internationally, as Modi had been since 2002. Sonia Gandhi even went to the extent of calling him ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death). I am happy that the people of Gujarat have given a fitting reply to the practitioners of this kind of toxic politics.
State assembly elections are quite frequent in our country, but rarely does the people’s verdict in a particular state become a ‘turning point’ in national politics. I have no doubt that my party’s spectacular victory in Gujarat would indeed become a turning point because it signals the BJP’s resurgence as the frontrunner in the next parliamentary elections.
If I have to single out one person who has been an integral part of my political life almost from its inception till now, one who has remained my close ally in the party for well over fi fty years, and whose leadership I have always unhesitatingly accepted, it would be Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Many political observers have noted that it is not only rare but, indeed, unparalleled in independent India’s political history for two political personalities to have worked together in the same organisation for so long and with such a strong spirit of partnership. In the Prologue to this book, I have referred to a photograph of Atalji, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and myself, taken in Rajasthan in 1952. It was reproduced by Dainik Jagaran, a prominent Hindi daily, along with a similar-looking photograph of the three of us in 2003, with a common caption: ‘Working Together, For Over A Half-Century’. I regard this long comradeship with Atalji a proud and invaluable treasure of my political life.
FIRST IMPRESSION, LAST IMPRESSION
I first met Atalji in late 1952. As a young activist of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, he was passing through Kota in Rajasthan, where I was a pracharak of the RSS. He was accompanying Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee on a train journey to popularise the newly formed party. Atalji was Dr Mookerjee’s Political Secretary those days. Looking back, the image I recall most vividly is that of a young and intense-looking political activist, nearly as lean as myself, although I looked leaner because I was taller. I could easily tell that he was imbued with youthful idealism and carried around him the aura of a poet who had drifted into politics. Something was smouldering within him, and the fi re in his belly produced an unmistakable glow on his face. He was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old then. At the end of this fi rst tour, I said to myself that here was an extraordinary young man, and I must get to know him.
Atalji became the Founder-Editor of Panchajanya, a nationalist weekly in 1948, and as its regular reader, I was already familiar with his name. Indeed, I had been much infl uenced by his powerful editorials and some of his poems that the journal published from time to time. The journal was also my introduction to the thoughts of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, who had launched it in Lucknow under the auspices of Rashtradharma Prakashan, a publisher of nationalist literature. I later learnt that, along with Atalji, he used to perform multiple roles in the weekly: a regular contributor who wrote under many pseudonyms, proofreader, compositor, binder and manager. For someone like me, who had recently learnt Hindi, Panchajanya was a useful introduction to the innate beauty and purity of the language, as also to its immense capacity to convey patriotic inspiration.
Sometime later, Atalji came alone on a political tour of Rajasthan and I accompanied him throughout his journey. It was during this trip that I got to know him better, my second impression about him reinforcing the fi rst. His remarkable personality, his outstanding oratory whereby he could hold tens of thousands of people literally spellbound, his inimitable command over Hindi, and his ability to effectively articulate even serious political issues with wit and humour—all these traits made a deep impact on me. At the end of this second tour, I felt that he was a man of destiny, a leader who deserved to lead India some day.
FELLOW-TRAVELLERS ON THE LONG POLITICAL JOURNEY
That was a time when, after Dr Mookerjee, the person who mattered the most in the Jana Sangh was Deendayalji. He too thought highly of Atalji and gave him greater responsibility in the party and Parliament after Dr Mookerjee’s tragic demise in May 1953. Within a short time, Atalji established himself as the most charismatic leader of the party. Although the Jana Sangh was only a young sapling before a giant tree called the Congress, people thronged to listen to Atalji’s speeches, even in places where the party had no roots. Besides his oratory, they were also impressed by the alternative perspective he provided on national issues that distinguished our party from the Congress and the Communists. He thus showed, at a very young age, all signs of emerging as a mass leader with a nationwide appeal. After Atalji was elected to Parliament in 1957, Deendayalji made another move—one concerning me. Deendayalji asked me to relocate from Rajasthan to Delhi and assist Atalji in his parliamentary work. Ever since then, Atalji and I have worked together in every phase of the evolution of the Jana Sangh and, later, the BJP. Soon after entering the Lok Sabha, he became the voice of the party in Parliament, commanding a reputation far in excess of its numerical presence. A decade later, after the tragic death of Deendayalji in February 1968, he also had to carry the responsibility of party Presidentship. It was an extremely diffi cult period in the party’s history, but Atalji soon emerged as a capable leader, steering the Jana Sangh out of the deep morass. That was when the slogan Andhere mein ek chingaari Atal Bihari Atal Bihari (Atal Bihari is the ray of hope in this pervasive darkness) became widely popular with the workers and supporters of our party.
Five years later, in 1973, he entrusted the party’s organisational responsibility to me. The camaraderie that I enjoyed with Atalji, Nanaji Deshmukh, Kushabhau Thakre, Sundar Singh Bhandari and others while building the party together, remains a deeply cherished part of my political journey. By the time Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in June 1975, the Jana Sangh had already earned the reputation of the strongest and most organised Opposition party. No wonder, it also earned the trust and confi dence of Jayaprakash Narayan, and became the most spirited contingent of the phalanx of pro-democracy fi ghters that he mobilised on a common platform. Once again, Atalji and I fought together, went to prison together and, after the Emergency was lifted, worked together towards the formation of the Janata Party. Indeed, after JP’s health started to deteriorate (he passed away on 8 October 1979), no two persons worked harder and with greater conviction than Atalji and I for the cohesion of the Janata Party and the stability of its government.
Paradoxically, the price we paid for our effort to preserve the Janata Party’s unity was that we were expelled from the party on the specious ‘dual-member issue’. Once again, along with other colleagues, I worked with Atalji in founding the BJP in 1980. True, the party’s debut performance in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections was dismal—we won only two seats. Even Atalji was defeated in Gwalior. However, this was entirely due to the extraordinary situation created by the assassination of Indira Gandhi. It wasn’t really a Lok Sabha poll; it was rather a ‘Shok Sabha’ (condolence meeting) poll, where the sympathies were bound to be with the bereaved. The BJP’s subsequent trajectory of meteoric growth was due to the Ayodhya movement. It was the time when Atalji chose to remain relatively inactive. However, I have never had any doubt—that the party’s journey from the failure to form a stable government at the Centre in 1996 (when Atalji was Prime Minister for only thirteen days) to the success to do so again in 1998, was mainly due to his personal popularity that transcended the party’s support base. Once again, we both worked closely together to forge the NDA, breaking the shackles of political ‘untouchability’ that the Congress and the Communists had tried to create. For a long time after I launched the Ram Rath Yatra in 1990, to mobilise support for the Ayodhya movement, a peculiar asymmetry arose in the media’s projection of Atalji and me. Whereas Atalji was seen as a liberal, I was labelled as a ‘Hindu hardliner’. It hurt me initially, as I knew that the reality was entirely contrary to the image that I had come to acquire. Conveying this feeling to friends in the media was an uphill task and it was then that some colleagues in my party, who were well aware of my sensitivity to my portrayal, advised me not to battle the image problem. They said, ‘Advaniji, in fact, it helps the BJP to have one leader who is projected as a liberal and another leader projected as a hardliner’.
In the wake of being falsely charged in the ‘hawala case’, I had announced that I would not re-enter the Lok Sabha until I was exonerated by the judiciary. Therefore, I had not offered myself as a candidate in the 1996 parliamentary elections. It was Atalji who contested from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, in addition to contesting from his own traditional constituency of Lucknow. I was deeply touched by his public display of trust and solidarity towards me. Expectedly, he won with a huge margin from both constituencies, and although he later resigned from Gandhinagar to keep his membership in Lucknow, his gesture energised the party and gave to the people, at large, an unmistakable message about unity at the top in the BJP. It was the same message that had gone out from the party’s Maha Adhiveshan in Mumbai in 1995, when I, as party President, announced his name as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in the parliamentary elections in the following year.
Why did I make that announcement? There was much idle speculation on this point at the time, and some of it, sadly, continues even today. Some people in the party and the Sangh had chided me then for making the announcement. ‘In our estimation,’ they said, ‘you would be a better person to lead the government if the party wins the people’s mandate’. I replied, and did so with all the sincerity and conviction at my command, that I disagreed with their opinion. ‘In the perspective of the people, I am more of an ideologue than a mass leader. It is true that the Ayodhya movement has changed my profi le in Indian politics. But Atalji is our leader. He has a far higher stature and much greater acceptability among the masses. He has an appeal that transcends the BJP’s traditional ideological support base. He would be acceptable not only to the allies of the BJP, but, far more importantly, to the people of India.’ Some of them insisted that I had made a big sacrifi ce by this announcement. However, I was steadfast. ‘What I have done is not an act of sacrifi ce. It is the outcome of a rational assessment of what is right and what is in the best interest of the party and the nation.’
Along with all our other colleagues, the two of us worked together to bring the BJP to power in 1998. I served as his deputy in the government. This relationship was formalised when I was appointed Deputy Prime Minister on 29 June 2002. I said to the media that day: ‘It is a matter of honour for me and I wish to thank the Prime Minister and all our partners in the NDA.’ I added, however, that this did not signify any change in my job profile. ‘The Prime Minister used to consult me even earlier and I have been doing similar kind of work before. Yes, in the eyes of the public and my cabinet colleagues, my responsibilities have increased.’ I also hastened to scotch rumours, which were being spread by some hostile elements in media and political circles, that my formal elevation as Deputy Prime Minister would lead to the creation of a parallel power centre.
THE 2002 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
In early 2002, discussions had begun within the BJP and the NDA about who should be our candidate in the election for the new President of India as Dr K.R. Narayanan’s term was coming to an end in July. Our internal deliberations were guided by two overriding criteria. Firstly, the new President should be a person of high stature, and suitable in all respects to occupy the august offi ce. Secondly, we wanted the person to be preferably outside the ranks of the BJP because of our keen desire to convey a message to the nation that our party believed in inclusivity.
Surprisingly, our choice promptly zeroed in on a candidate who had nothing whatsoever to do with our party. Rather, he was closely associated with two former Prime Ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, of the Congress. It was Dr P.C. Alexander, who was then serving as the Governor of Maharashtra. It was I who fi rst proposed Dr Alexander’s name to Atalji and to other key leaders in the NDA. I had been highly impressed by his performance as Governor, and so was Atalji, who readily agreed with my suggestion. His name found ready and enthusiastic acceptance from among other leaders of the constituent parties of the NDA. However, due to opposition from the Congress for the candidature of Dr P.C. Alexander, the NDA chose another eminently worthy candidate, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, to succeed Dr Narayanan.
I would like to mention here a significant development that took place at the time. One day I received a call from Prof Rajju Bhaiyya, who was then Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, saying that he wanted to discuss something important with me. I invited him over the following morning and, over breakfast, he narrated to me the details of a meeting he had had with Atalji the previous evening. ‘I had gone to the Prime Minister’s residence to discuss the issue of the Presidential election. I suggested to him, ‘Aap hi kyon nahin Rashtrapati bante?’ (Why don’t you become the President?) I gave my reasons for making this suggestion—principally that, in view of his knee trouble*, it would be less taxing for him to shoulder the responsibility of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Besides, the people would consider him to be the ideal choice in view of his stature and experience.’
* Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee underwent two knee-replacement operations in 2000 and 2001 at Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai.
I asked him what Atalji’s response had been. Rajju Bhaiyya said that Atalji had been hesitant. ‘He said neither yes nor no. I therefore think that he has not rejected my suggestion.’ I then mentioned to Rajju Bhaiyya that the NDA leaders had formally met only three days earlier to discuss the issue of the Presidential election and unanimously resolved to authorise the Prime Minister to fi nalise a suitable, nationally acceptable candidate. In the end, everybody unanimously accepted Atalji’s decision in the matter.
A RELATIONSHIP MOORED IN MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT
Experience has taught me that long-lasting and fulfilling relationships in politics are possible only on the basis of mutual trust, respect and commitment to certain shared lofty goals. Politics driven by power play is, by its very nature, competitive and conflict-ridden. But politics driven by a common ideology and nurtured by common ideals and samskaras is a different matter altogether. When a higher purpose brings a set of people together, they learn to overlook and sideline small matters and personality-related issues. Many people have asked me, ‘How did your partnership with Atalji endure for over fifty years? Did you never have any differences or problems with him?’
I can well understand the puzzlement in this question. But I can also say, in all honesty that, contrary to what some people have been speculating since decades now, the relationship between Atalji and me was never competitive, much less combative. I do not imply that we never had any difference of opinion. Yes, we have sometimes had divergent views. Our personalities are different and, naturally, our judgements on individuals, events and issues have differed on many occasions. This is natural in any organisation that values internal democracy. However, what lent depth to our relationship were three factors. We both were strongly moored in the ideology, ideals and ethos of the Jana Sangh and the BJP, which commanded all its members to put Nation first, Party next, and Self last. We never allowed differences to undermine mutual trust and respect. But there was also a third and very important factor: I always implicitly and unquestioningly accepted Atalji to be my senior and my leader.
From the very early stages of our association, I always used to submit to whatever Atalji decided with regard to organisational and political matters. I would put forth my views but once I sensed what Atalji wanted, I would invariably go along with his viewpoint or preference. My responses were so predictable that sometimes my colleagues in the party, or leaders in the RSS, would express their displeasure over what they perceived as my inability or unwillingness to disagree with Atalji’s decisions. This, however, made no difference to my conviction that Atalji’s must be the last word in all party-related—and, later, in government-related—matters. Dual or collective leadership is a poor substitute to unity in command. I used to tell my colleagues, ‘No family can stay together without a mukhiya (head), whose authority is unquestionably accepted by all its members. After Deendayalji, Atalji is the mukhiya of our family.’ Here I must also add that Atalji had an accommodative approach towards me. If he knew what my thinking was on a certain issue, and if he did not have serious disagreements over it, he would readily say, ‘Jo Advaniji kehte hain, voh theek hai.’ (What Advani says is right.) Thereafter, the matter under discussion would be immediately clinched.
Throughout the six years of the NDA government, speculation about the non-existent ‘Atal-Advani conflict’ was a favourite pastime for few in the media and political circles. Atalji refuted this speculation on numerous occasions, both within Parliament and outside. In an interview given to India Today, he was asked: ‘How are your relations with Home Minister L.K. Advani? Is the BJP pulling in different directions?’ His reply was forthright: ‘I talk to Advaniji each day. We consult each other daily. Yet you people speculate. Like a record stuck in a groove. One more time, let me say there is no problem. When there is, I’ll let you know.’
Let me cite two examples when significant differences arose between Atalji and me. He had some reservations about the BJP getting directly associated with the Ayodhya movement. But being a thorough democrat by conviction and temperament, and always willing to respect the consensus among colleagues, Atalji accepted the collective decision of the party. The second instance pertains to the time when communal violence broke out in Gujarat after the mass killing of kar sevaks in Godhra in February 2002. The Gujarat government and, in particular, Chief Minister Narendra Modi attracted severe condemnation on account of the aftermath of the barbaric incident. The demand for Modi’s resignation raised by the opposition parties had reached a crescendo. Some people within the BJP and the ruling NDA coalition also had begun to think that Modi should be asked to quit. However, my view on this matter was totally different. I was convinced, after talking to a large number of people belonging to various sections of society in Gujarat, that Modi was being unfairly targeted. He was, in my opinion, more sinned against than sinning.
I therefore felt that it would be unfair to make Modi, who had become the state’s Chief Minister less than a year ago, a scapegoat for what was decidedly a complex communal situation. Doing so, I reckoned, could worsen the social fabric in Gujarat in the long term. I knew that Atalji was as profoundly pained as I was due to the happenings in Gujarat. Since the formation of our government in March 1998, we had taken pride in having succeeded in drastically reducing incidents of communal violence in the country. Our performance, prior to 2002, had stood in stark contrast to our opponents’ vile allegations that, once the BJP came to power at the Centre, Muslims and Christians would be at the receiving end of Hindu communal frenzy all over the country. Indeed, Atalji’s government had started earning the goodwill of not only Muslims in India, but also of Muslim countries around the world. All of a sudden, after the outbreak of communal violence in Gujarat, the image of our party and government at the Centre had been hurt due to the vitriolic propaganda by our ideological adversaries.
This was weighing on Atalji’s mind. He felt that something needed to be done, some affirmative action needed to be taken. Meanwhile, pressure was mounting on him to ask Modi to resign. Although Atalji had not expressed his view explicitly on this matter, I knew that he favoured Modi’s resignation. And he knew that I disfavoured it.
Shortly thereafter, in the second week of April 2002, the BJP’s National Executive was to meet in Goa. The attention of the media and political circles was focused on how the party was going to discuss Gujarat and what it would decide on Modi’s fate. Atalji asked me to accompany him on his journey from New Delhi to Goa. Sitting along with us in the special aircraft, in the Prime Minister’s separate enclosure, were Jaswant Singh, Minister of External Affairs, and Arun Shourie, Minister of Communications and Information Technology. Early on during the two-hour journey, the discussion veered round to Gujarat. There was a long spell of silence as Atalji went into a contemplative mood, which was broken by Singh asking him, ‘What do you think, Atalji?’
Atalji replied, ‘Kam se kam isteefe ka offer to karte.’ (Modi should have at least offered to resign.)
I then said, ‘If Narendra’s quitting is going to improve the situation in Gujarat, I am willing to tell him to offer his resignation. But I do not think that it would help. Also, I am not sure whether the party’s National Council or Executive would accept the offer.’
As soon as we arrived in Goa, I called Modi and said that he should offer to resign. He readily agreed. When the deliberations of the national executive began, many members spoke and put across their points of view. After listening to all of them, Modi spoke and recounted in great detail the whole sequence of events, both Godhra-related and post-Godhra. He also gave the background of communal tension in Gujarat and explained how, in the previous decades, it used to erupt in frequent riots, crippling Ahmedabad and other cities for weeks and sometimes months together. He concluded his speech by saying, ‘Nevertheless, as head of the government I take responsibility for what has happened in my state. I am ready to tender my resignation.’
The moment Modi said that, the meeting hall reverberated with a thunderous response from the hundred-odd members of the party’s top decision-making body and special invitees: ‘Isteefa mat do, isteefa mat do.’ (Don’t resign, don’t resign.) I then separately ascertained the views of senior leaders of the party on this matter. Each one of them, without exception, said, ‘No, he must not resign.’ Some, like late Pramod Mahajan, were more emphatic: ‘Savaal hi nahin uthata.’ (The question of his quitting simply doesn’t arise.)
Thus ended the debate inside the party on an issue that had generated deeply divided opinions in Indian society and polity. While the party’s decision in Goa did displease many people in the country, it is equally true that it was in line with the wishes of a much larger section of our society. In Gujarat itself, the decision met with the approval of an overwhelming majority of the people.
Politics often entails making difficult choices. The difficulty lies in the very complexity of the issues and situations that one is called upon to deal with. A tough choice is sometimes an unpalatable one. But I believe that, when one is convinced about the merits of one’s decision, one must not hesitate to stand by it. History has indeed vindicated the party’s decision not to ask Modi to resign.
PHIR SUBAH HOGI
‘Memory,’ said Oscar Wilde, ‘is the diary that we all carry about with us.’ When I revisit this ‘diary’ for all the notings on Atalji, I find that the points of convergence far outnumber the points of divergence, and what we accomplished together gives me far greater satisfaction than where we failed. And even when we did not succeed, we did not let disappointment dishearten us. Life, I believe, is all about cherishing those moments in one’s memory when hope triumphed over despair, light dispelled darkness, and a new day of opportunity dawned after each night of adversity. Atalji was the provider of hope and direction at many a diffi cult turn in our party’s long journey, and I am happy to have been his saha-yatri (fellow-traveller) all through this journey.
All those who have closely interacted with Atalji know that he is a statesman with rare humility and sensitivity, which are qualities imparted by his poetic soul. His political personality cannot be adequately understood without an appreciation of his poetry. Like all his admirers, I too have been inspired by his poems—especially by his own rendering of them at party conferences and other public events. There is, for example, a poem he wrote during the Emergency, which Dinanath Mishra published in the underground journal Janavani. It not only captured the mood of the time, but has continued to motivate democracy-lovers ever since.
Satya ka sangharsh satta se, nyaya ladta hai nirankushata se
Andhere ne di chunauti hai, kiran antim ast hoti hai
Daanv par sab kuch lagaa hai, ruk nahin sakte
Toot sakte hain, magar jhuk nahin sakte
(Truth is battling against power, justice against tyranny / Darkness has thrown a challenge, the last ray of light is vanishing / We have put everything at stake, Stop we now cannot / We might break, but we shall not bend.)
There is another poem that Atalji wrote when he was in the tenth standard, which holds a mirror to his strong nationalist convictions even at a very young age. Till date I have not come across a more powerful poetic expression of patriotism and Hindu pride than in the following lines:
Hokar swatantra main ne kab chaaha hai kar loon jag ko gulaam?
Main ne to sada sikhaya hai karana apne man ko gulaam.
Gopal-Ram ke naamon par kab main ne atyaachar kiye?
Kab duniya ko Hindu karne ghar-ghar mein nara-samhaar kiye?
Koyi batalaaye Kabul mein jaakar kitni masjid maine todi?
Bhoo-bhag nahin, shat-shat maanav ke hriday jeetane ka nishchay
Hindu tan-man, Hindu jeevan, rag-rag Hindu mera parichay
(When have I desired that, after attaining freedom, I should enslave the world? I have all along taught only how to control one’s own mind. How many atrocities have I committed in the name of Ram and Krishna? When did I commit carnages in home after home to convert others to Hinduism? Will someone tell me how many mosques did I break in Kabul? My resolve has been to conquer not territories, but the hearts of millions of human beings. My body is Hindu, my mind is Hindu, my life is Hindu, and the identity of my every blood-vessel is Hindu.)
When I look back at the time I have spent with Atalji in innumerable situations, and think of the best way of concluding this tribute to him, the moment I most fondly recall is a film we watched together sometime in 1959 or thereabouts. Watching Hindi movies was our common interest, and, until the mid-1970s, it took us frequently to Regal and other theatres in Delhi. Atalji and I, along with hundreds of workers of the Jana Sangh, had worked hard for some by-election to the Delhi Municipal Corporation. In spite of our best efforts, victory had eluded our party, plunging us into a state of dejection. Atalji then said to me, ‘Chalo, koi cinema dekhne chalte hain.’ (Let’s go watch a film.) The two of us went to Imperial theatre in Paharganj to watch a film starring Raj Kapoor, the legendary actor and filmmaker.
The film, loosely based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s acclaimed novel Crime and Punishment, was set in the aftermath of India’s Independence. It depicted injustice to the poor and people’s disillusionment over nonfulfi llment of promises of the Nehruvian era. However, it also urged them to be patient and hopeful for the new ‘dawn’ was yet to come. Its optimistic message, quite appropriate for the downbeat mood that both Atalji and I were in, was captured in its title: Phir Subah Hogi (There will be a new dawn again).
On many occasions in later years, especially after a major electoral defeat, I have cited this episode to highlight what has become one of my core beliefs in life: ‘This too shall pass.’ Our party’s unexpected setback in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections was one such occasion. I have no doubt that the darkness of defeat will give way to a new dawn of victory for our party in the next parliamentary elections, a victory that we shall convert into a greater triumph for India’s unity, security, democracy and development.
To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics; to appreciate beauty; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—that is to have succeeded.
—RALPH WALDO EMERSON
I recently read a fascinating and widely acclaimed thriller, a genre I enjoy reading once in a while to keep my wits sharpened. The Interpretation of Murder1 by Jed Rubenfeld, a law professor at Yale University, USA, is, however, less about a murder mystery and more about the mystery of life. The author, a student of Shakespeare and Sigmund Freud, in his debut novel, presents a psychoanalytical exploration of the two basic questions about human existence: happiness and meaning:
There is NO mystery to happiness.
Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn—or worse, indifference—cleaves to them, or they do to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.
But there’s the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the present: he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning—the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life—a man must reinhabit the past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus, nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.
For myself, I have chosen meaning.
Although the novel claims that a man can either have meaning or happiness in life, I have had the good fortune of experiencing both, and in abundance.
Meaning comes with purpose, with a sense of mission, whatever be one’s calling in life. It answers the question: ‘Why should we live?’ The answer takes us to our past—individual and collective—and also to our own dreams and goals about the future. It makes us realise that our life is meant to fulfi ll a duty, and the present provides both a field and an opportunity to carry out that duty to the best of one’s abilities.
When I look back at my life of eight decades, I remind myself that I found my calling in life when, on a tennis court in Hyderabad in Sindh, I fi rst heard the name of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and became a volunteer in 1942. I found meaning when I started attending Sunday evening discourses on the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Ranganathananda in Karachi. I found meaning when I left my home and family to work as a pracharak of the RSS, fi rst in Karachi and later, after being uprooted by Partition, in Rajasthan. That meaning got further enriched when I embarked on a political journey fi fty-five years ago, fi rst as a worker of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is a journey that has not yet ended. From the age of fourteen and a half years till now, only one duty has defi ned the purpose of my life: to serve my Motherland. During the course of fulfilling this duty, my devotion, sincerity and commitment to my own cause and ideals have been tested many times, especially when I have faced any adversity in my life. I can say, with both humility and contentment, that I have not been found wanting in the eyes of my own conscience. Errors of judgement, I have committed many. I have also erred in the execution of my tasks. But I have never indulged in scheming or acts of opportunism for self-promotion nor have I compromised on my core principles for personal comfort or gains. I have stood my ground for the sake of self-respect and for what I believed was in the larger interest of the nation, even when doing so carried obvious risks. Whether I had to spend long stints in prison, as happened during the Emergency, or had to face a false charge of corruption in the Hawala case, or was labelled as a ‘Hindu hardliner’ for my role in the Ayodhya movement, or when I was misunderstood and castigated for having betrayed my ideology after my visit to Pakistan, I have followed the call of my conscience and stood firm. Besides fortifying my self-belief, it has given me happiness and imparted meaning to my life.
I am writing these lines at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh, an idyllic ashram located on the banks of the Holy Ganga, with the verdant mountains of the lower Himalayas towering behind it. It is run by His Holiness Swami Chidanandaji Saraswati, whose work for the reform and renaissance of Hinduism I have greatly admired. I had come to this place a year ago to experience the dawn of 2007, and am here again with my family to spend a few days in spiritual solitude. The air around is pure and the atmosphere sublime. But what has touched me the most is the gurukul established by Swamiji in which orphans and abandoned children are trained to become ‘Rishikumars’, receiving both traditional and modern education that helps each child to blossom with his own innate artistic and intellectual creativity. Participating in the elaborate aarti in the evening with Swamiji and these little angels, with the sacred waters of the Ganga flowing in front of me and the sky above illuminated by the full moon of Paushya Poornima, has had a purifying effect on me.
…It so happened that I arrived in Rishikesh the same day that the NDA entrusted me with a new responsibility: to lead the alliance in the next Lok Sabha elections. My party’s Parliamentary Board had taken a similar decision a month earlier. This is indeed a challenging responsibility, and I shall do my utmost to discharge it successfully, seeking the support and cooperation of all my colleagues and countrymen, and seeking, above all, strength, guidance and grace from the Almighty. It shall be my unceasing endeavour to make good governance, development and security, both for the country and its citizens, the principal thrust of the NDA’s election campaign and, if the people do give us the mandate, also the guiding objectives of our government.
India, I believe, has been expectantly looking for honesty in governance and strong leadership that is uncompromisingly committed to the nation’s unity, integrity, security and progress. Our people want to see an end to ‘pollution’ at the Gangotri of Governance—at the nodal centres of power in New Delhi—so that the rest of the Ganga can become clean and lifesupporting. And by ‘pollution’ I do not refer only to financial corruption and misuse of power in politics and administration. Of course, corruption of this kind is a foe of both national security and national development, and our people, who are being harassed and humiliated by it at all levels, want to see it eliminated. But ‘pollution’ also manifests in other poisonous forms: pseudo-secularism, minorityism, vote-bank politics, criminalisation, emasculation of institutions and insult to the sacred symbols of our nationalism, all of which are weakening India and making it vulnerable to grave threats.
No less worrisome is the fact that, even after sixty years of Independence, a majority of our population is receiving only the leftovers of economic growth, while the bulk of its fruits are allowed to be cornered by the rich and the privileged minority. The rich are becoming richer and the poor remaining poor. Our people want a government that cares equally for every section of our diverse society, especially for the poor and deprived. And they are looking for a leadership that genuinely respects democracy and is determined to safeguard its institutions from assaults inspired by selfish considerations.
Each of these expectations is legitimate, even urgent. And the future belongs to those in India’s political class who hearken to the people’s demands with a firm commitment to good governance, development and security.
I have performed every responsibility, minor or major, that has been entrusted to me from time to time in the course of my long political journey with honesty, devotion and commitment. This accounts for the credibility I have earned in public life. In future too, I shall perform any duty that Destiny may assign to me with the same aspiration: make my humble seva towards ensuring that India becomes more united, stronger and stands taller, with its Tomorrow brighter than its Today.