Thursday, 25 December 2014

'Atal'

They say "What's in a name?". Well, at least I know of one such guy who is a literal personification of what his first name stands for. 



It was a little more than 15 years ago on one fine Sunday. Any school holiday would start with a hefty dose of morning cartoons unless it was a national holiday which would then require you to cater to more pressing business like watching the parade or celebrating the same at school. But this Sunday was different. The drawing room in my house was abuzz with discussions among the elders. Paper headlines were being referred to, and statements were made regarding "13 days" and "13 months" and ultimately it was concluded that the television had to be tuned to news channels instead of my usual Cartoon Network spree. I patiently watched shaky pictures, all showing one stout man waving the 'V' for victory sign and some correspondents indicating how early trends were favoring a certain 'NDA' government. News anchors kept changing and I was now increasingly fascinated about everybody's obsession with this one single man. Later in the evening, it was declared that this certain Atal Bihari Vajapayee was to lead the nation as the next Prime Minister. And that was just the beginning of a lifelong obsession with the ardor of one man that was simply unmatched.

I kept growing up, kept grasping more and more, and Civics was now a full time subject. And due to that epoch, most of my understanding of politics was centered around Vajapayee's ideology. You'd see the man on television every single day. You'd see him launching a bus service to Pakistan, and you'd see him nailing the neighbor with his incisive polemic prowess and his tough decision to wage a war when the same turned into an enemy. You'd see him launching a new project every now and then, and you'd see him interacting with leaders from all over the globe with a confidence that was not characteristic of a lot many Indians. I had come to believe that politics is like that. An active leader who takes upon himself the entire list of onerous tasks and then does them one by one, sometimes to perfection, and sometimes to be harangued and hectored by what was called the 'opposition'. Simply put, he kept going. 



Times kept passing by and my understanding of politics grew more solid. I suddenly began to understand that not everyone is like Vajapayee. In fact there were people within the NDA govt itself that lacked any substance and that were just about average, but were just about performing well under an able leadership. I found out about the Congress dynamics in India's politics and how a non-Congress government formation was an event of astronomical proportions. People had now begun to make references to Janta Party govt of late 70's which was a sham, the 3rd front govt from 96' and NDA's own last 2 cabinets which fell before they could be properly founded. People said that NDA under the leadership of Vajapayee was here to stay and I said "Okay! This is going to be exciting!"for no palpable reason, I kind of liked this man, who for some reason seemed like he was doing nothing more than simply doing his job. Once again, simply put, he just kept going. 

More time passed by and amid a transition from a charlatan in politics to a vocal supporter of Vajapayee in my class, which was still mainly comprised of a largely indifferent audience, much had happened. Lives were getting transformed and standards were on the rise. A massive attack had rocked the parliament from outside and a blatant scam from the inside. There were mentions of 'growth' and 'employment' and for some reason, optimism was ensconced in otherwise trite lives. On the other hand, NDA was on critics' radar for being a little too pro-rich. Even for a passive observer with limited knowledge, Vajapayee came across as a subtle yet staunch person. And then I realized that the very meaning of the word 'Atal' is to sustain and thrive. And boy was he doing justice to it. He still kept going.



As my understanding of history improved, so did my appreciation of what this one single man had achieved in a lifetime. Through history books and basic inferences, it was easy to see the clout the Gandhian lineage was to have in the Indian political scenario. For someone to obliterate that advantage, one had to be an apostate who would take on challenge after challenge. In short one had to be a warrior of sorts. I learned of the JP movement and how Vajapayee was all that was largely left of it. I found out how ideologies of others diluted over time and how BJP managed a paltry 2 seats back in 84'. And then the very thought of struggling and striving all the while, losing partners and seeing ruse and deception, and finally seeing all your dreams come true; It was bristling. And well, Vajapayee did indeed see all of it. He simply never stopped. He just kept going. 



Elections took place in '04 and people ousted what they termed an 'incumbent' government when I never really felt that way. Half of the crowd talked about the 'feel good factor' and half of them said things about going back to the old ways. And some just wanted the solace of the Gandhian legacy again. Whatever it was, Vajapayee's tenure was over and it was clear he'll never be the PM again. For some reason, it came across as a shock even though I knew politics was just meant to be nebulous and complicated. Slowly and steadily, this cult that lasted for 5 years faded into the past and we now had a new much more qualified PM whom everyone looked forward to. 

Elections kept happening, parties kept getting usurped, new heroes entered the scenes and old ones kept waning away. But all that remained in my mind of that era from 99 to 04 was that picture of one man who could be both stolid and sturdy, sober and rabid, and would always be an inch ahead of what was demanded of him. His dreams of a connected India, his vision of India Inc and his ideology of aggressive progression, dwindled with the next governments and even the current NDA's vision is not as definite. There was to be only one such man who would do the right things and wait for the outcome patiently. Who would take up challenges he knew were debilitating and yet he would be hopeful. Who would stay firm even in the most torrid of tests and would still be flexible enough to change when needed. Who would dream as against the volition of all those who were conservatives and who would ultimately prove his detractors wrong. All in all, there was to be just one man who would survive the tests of time to get that one single opportunity to do that he always dreamed of doing - Transforming the nation. And maybe there was to be just one such man who literally defined what his first name meant - To hang around and to fight, no matter what! And one who just kept going.