Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018): Kinder, Gentler Face of Hindu Nationalism

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away today in New Delhi, India, according to media reports. He was 93. He was seen as the moderate face of Hindu Nationalism. Mr. Vajpayee led Hindu Nationalists to their first-ever outright election victory with the majority of seats won by his BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the Indian parliament in 1999. He had briefly held the prime minister's job twice earlier but the third time proved to be the charm. His third term in office lasted from 1999 until 2004.

Hardcore Hindu Nationalist:

Vajpayee represented kind and gentle face of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Beneath the surface, however, he was a hardcore Hindu Nationalist.  He joined the RSS at the age of 16.  The RSS has sought to make India a Hindu Rashtra (nation) since its founding in 1925, a year after Vajpayee was born.

Vajpayee stoked hatred against India's large Muslim minority. In a speeches to Hindu audiences he said: "Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace."

In 2003 as Prime Minister of India, Vajpayee installed a portrait of  virulently anti-Muslim Hindu Nationalist leader VD Savarkar in the Indian parliament house in New Delhi.  Savarkar, in one of his books titled Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, elaborates on why raping of Muslim women is not only justified but encouraged. Prime Minister Modi describes Savarkar as "worthy of worship". After getting elected to the highest office in India, Modi paid tribute to Savarkar by laying flowers at his portrait that still hangs in India's Parliament.

Savarkar has used revisionist Hindutva history to exhort his followers to rape Muslim women as payback for historic wrongs he believes were committed by Muslim conquerers of India. “Once they are haunted with this dreadful apprehension that the Muslim women too, stand in the same predicament in case the Hindus win, the future Muslim conquerors will never dare to think of such molestation of Hindu women,” he writes.

1971 India-Pakistan  War:

Vajpayee saw India's military victory over Pakistan in religious terms. He lavished praise on Indira Gandhi by calling her Durga, Hindu goddess literally meaning "the invincible",  on India's victory over Muslim Pakistan in the 1971 war in East Pakistan. `

Indian Muslims faced "insulting and provocative slogans" by Hindu Nationalists celebrating India's 1971 war victory over Pakistan. Here's an excerpt of a report from India:

"The chief reason for the resentment of the Muslims is that the event of the independence of Bangladesh and her severance of all ties with Pakistan was generally celebrated in India as if the 'victory' had been gained against the Muslims themselves. Insulting and provocative slogans were raised against them in public meetings in this country. A second reason is that the Muslims in general do believe that the war was primarily fought for the purpose of destroying the integral unity of Pakistan. Our Ministry of Information hands out all sorts of propaganda but does nothing to dispel the dejection and resentment of Indian Muslims" (Quoted in Sidq-i-Jadid; 21 January 1972).

Vajpayee's successor Prime Minister Narendra Modi has railed against Muslim rule of India by describing it as "bara so saal ki ghulami" (1200 years of servitude). Here's an excerpt of Modi's 2014 speech:

"Barah sau saal ki gulami ki maansikta humein pareshan kar rahi hai. Bahut baar humse thoda ooncha vyakti mile, to sar ooncha karke baat karne ki humari taaqat nahin hoti hai (The slave mentality of 1,200 years is troubling us. Often, when we meet a person of high stature, we fail to muster strength to speak up).

India-Pakistan Nuclear Tests:

Vajpayee ordered India's underground nuclear tests in 1998 to intimidate Pakistan and assert India's status as a nuclear power on the world stage.  Within weeks, Pakistan responded to those tests with six of its own, forever altering South Asian security.

Vajpayee threw away India's substantial conventional military edge over Pakistan by going nuclear.  It gave Pakistan the justification it needed to go nuclear a few weeks later, thereby achieving balance of terror with its much larger neighbor with a huge conventional military.

Indian analyst Krishna Kant explains his country's policymakers blunder as follows: "Nuclear weapons have reduced Pakistan defense cost while we (India) have been forced to spend tens of billions of dollars to acquire latest military hardware in a bid to retain the edge. Its shows in the defence budget of the two countries since 1999 nuclear blasts. All through 1980s and 90s, Pakistan was spending around a third of its government budget and 5-6% of its GDP on defense, or about twice the corresponding ratios for India. After going nuclear, Pakistan’s defense spending decelerated and its share in GDP is expected to be decline to around 2.5% in the current fiscal year, slightly ahead of India’s 2%. This is releasing resources for Pakistan to invest in productive sectors such as infrastructure and social services, something they couldn’t do when they were competing with India to maintain parity in conventional weapons."

Agra Summit:

In 1999, during Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan, both countries agreed to the Lahore Declaration and pledged to make joint efforts for peace and stability in South Asia. The Kargil war came months later and proved to be major setback in this effort.

Contacts between India and Pakistan resumed at the highest level with talks in New Delhi between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in July 2001.  A.S. Dulat who has served as Chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and as Special Director of India's Intelligence Bureau told Indian Journalist Karan Thapar of India Today that the Musharraf-Vajpayee meeting resulted in agreement on Kashmir and other major bilateral issue but still ended in failure.  He put the entire blame for its failure on India's Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. Here's an AS Dulat quote from the interview:

“This is when L. K. Advani surprised Musharraf by asking for Dawood Ibrahim. This took Musharraf back and a shadow was cast thereafter on the Agra summit.” “As Mr. Mishra put it: “Yaar, hote-hote reh gaya … Ho gaya tha, who toh.”

Rise of Hindu Nationalism: 

The rise of Hindutva forces that began with Vajpayee's 1999 election victory is tearing India apart along caste and religious lines as the country celebrates 71 years of independence from the British colonial rule.  Hindu mobs are lynching Muslims and Dalits. A recent  Pew Research report confirms that the level of hostility against religious minorities in India is "very high", giving India a score of 9.5 on a scale from 0 to 10. Pakistan's score on this scale is 7 while Bangladesh's is 7.5.

Chart Courtesy of Bloomberg

Summary:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee represented kind and gentle face of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Beneath the surface, however, he was a hardcore Hindu Nationalist.  He led Hindu Nationalists to their first-ever outright election victory with the majority of seats won by his BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the Indian parliament in 1999.  Vajpayee saw India's military victory over Pakistan in religious terms. He lavished praise on Indira Gandhi by calling her Durga, Hindu goddess literally meaning "the invincible",  on "Hindu" India's victory over Muslim Pakistan in the 1971 war in East Pakistan. Vajpayee ordered India's underground nuclear tests in 1998 to intimidate Pakistan and assert India's status as a nuclear power on the world stage.  Within weeks, Pakistan responded to those tests with six of its own, forever altering South Asian security. Vajpayee threw away India's substantial conventional military edge over Pakistan by going nuclear.  It gave Pakistan the justification it needed to go nuclear a few weeks later, thereby achieving balance of terror with its much larger neighbor with a huge conventional military.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Disintegration of India

Who's at Fault in India-Pakistan Conflict?

1971 India-Pakistan War

Dalit Death Shines Light on India's Caste Apartheid

India's Hindu Nationalists Going Global

Rape: A Political Weapon in Modi's India

Hindutva: Legacy of British Raj

India's Superpower Delusion

Riaz Haq Youtube Channel

VPOS Youtube Channel

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
#India's #Hindu Nationalist Sena: "#British Queen Victoria rid #India of Islamic invaders": Hindu Sena celebrates death anniversary. The #Hindu Sena on Tuesday organized an event at #Delhi's Jantar Mantar to celebrate the Queen. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/hindu-sena-queen-victoria-islamic-invaders-1436717-2019-01-22 via @indiatoday

ueen Victoria rid India of Islamic terrorists and invaders - with this tagline, Hindu Sena, a right wing outfit was seen celebrating the British royal's death anniversary on January 22.

Known for its bizarre protests and celebrations, the Hindu Sena on Tuesday organised an event at Delhi's Jantar Mantar to celebrate the Queen.

In its invite that is circulating on social media, Hindu Sena also declared the 1857 as the year in which India gained independence in the truest sense.
Riaz Haq said…
Abrogation of #Indian Constitution's Article 370 on #Indian Occupied #Kashmir by #Modi: It’s the beginning of disintegration of #India, says Former Union Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram. #BJP https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article-370-its-the-beginning-of-disintegration-of-india-says-chidambaram/article28822443.ece

‘Every State in the country could be dismembered like Jammu and Kashmir’
Senior Congress leader and former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Monday said the government move to amend Article 370 was “the beginning of the disintegration of India if the current government continues to be in charge.”

Monday was the worst day in the constitutional history and “the idea of India as a union of States is in grave danger,” he said at a press conference. Though he anticipated a misadventure, he didn't expect this 'catastrophic decision'.

“What they have done is a constitutional monstrosity. People of India, people of every State must wake up to the grave danger that was set as an example today by these completely unconstitutional and illegal resolutions. I want to warn every party, every State, every citizen of India that the idea of India as a union of States is in grave danger,” he said.


Mr. Chidambaram accused the government of “dismembering” Jammu and Kashmir, and claimed that every State in the country could be similarly dismembered. “They can dismember every State and break it up. This is the beginning of the disintegration of India. I am sorry to use such strong words but this is the worst day in the constitutional history of India.”

“All that they have to do is to dismiss the elected government, impose President's rule, dissolve the elected Assemblies, the Parliament takes the power of the State Assembly, the government moves a resolution and Parliament approves it and the State can be broken up,” said Mr. Chidambaram, who is also a noted constitutional lawyer.

“What have they done. They dismembered the State of Jammu and Kashmir by mischievously interpreting both Article 3 and Article 370 of the Constitution. If this can be done in J&K, then let me caution you that it can be done to every other State. Every State can be broken up into two or three or more Union Territories by mischievously misinterpreting Article 3 and Article 370 and they won't stop at that,” he said.
Riaz Haq said…
Jaswant Singh, India’s former foreign minister, who died on September 27 after six years in a coma from a fall at his home, was carrying a history-making sheaf of typed papers in his briefcase on July 16, 2001, in Agra, papers of immeasurable importance to the future history of South Asia.


https://scroll.in/article/974874/what-if-jaswant-singh-had-been-allowed-to-achieve-peace-between-india-and-pakistan

So powerful were the contents in Jaswant Singh’s draft he had agreed with his Pakistan counterpart that it had the potential to forestall any future war between India and Pakistan. Singh’s far-right colleague and home minister LK Advani torpedoed the draft pact moments before Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf were to accept it.

The sabotaged Agra summit could have saved India and Pakistan an endless need to procure military hardware at prohibitive costs to their poverty-stricken masses. Had history not played truant that day in Agra, there would be a hoard of money available for healthcare and education for both countries – saved from scandal-tainted Rafale jets in India, for example – which in turn would have enabled both to better fight the coronavirus menace, and perhaps even spare precious resources for the less endowed neighbours.

The French Rafales were meant to deal with the military contingency in Ladakh with China, one might argue. Yes and no. Jaswant Singh’s peace deal carried the power, in fact, to vacate the need for even India and China to think of war or to send hapless men to inhospitable climes for guarding their ill-defined frontiers. There would be perhaps no deaths from frostbite or avalanches in Siachen either. There would be no need to interdict the Karakoram Highway.

There is a humanitarian catastrophe brewing in Jammu and Kashmir. An Agra pact would have made unnecessary the subjugation of Jammu and Kashmir last year. True, there were howls of protest from Hindutva nationalists when Jaswant Singh proposed in a subsequent TV interview that India could accept the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir as a hard border and thus end a core dispute with Pakistan.

The protests had less to do with the logic of peace between nuclear rivals, rather they were needed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its assiduously nurtured hatred for Pakistan. A worried Arun Jaitley, the late partisan of the RSS, told the Americans in as many words, according to WikiLeaks, that good relations with Pakistan were detrimental to Hindutva’s political constituency in northern India. The instructive core of such an argument can imply that the December 2001 terror attack on the Indian parliament or the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai harmed India but helped the BJP. The logic again came into play with the Pulwama attack last year.

To loosely translate an Indian saying, the horse cannot befriend the grass. That is a likelier reason for the failure of the Agra summit – because peace with Pakistan would destroy the BJP’s plank to win votes. It goes to the credit of Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh that they did not see their politics through the prism of perpetual communal hostility.

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