Did Amit Shah write a protest note to PM Vajpayee on nuclear tests in 1998?
Though he has not seen or read the letter, the author of ‘Jugalbandi’ insists in an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire that three sources he is unwilling to name confirmed Shah wrote the letter
Vinay Sitapati, author of Jugalbandi, claims that in 1998 Amit Shah wrote to the then Prime Minister Vajpayee, sharply criticising the nuclear tests. The book otherwise deals with the relationship between Vajpayee and his number two in the NDA Government and long-time colleague Lal Krishna Advani.
In a letter Shah allegedly wrote: “Respected Vajpayee Ji, because of your greed for publicity you have forever lost Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”.
Sitapati adds that when Vajpayee summoned him to Delhi for an explanation, Shah told him that Morarji Desai had told him: “if we both (India and Pakistan) become nuclear powers, we can never win back PoK through war”.
Morarji Desai, former Prime Minister died in 1995 at the age of 99. Amit Shah was 30 years old in 1995. Some observers, who are unwilling to be named, say it would have been highly unlikely for the former PM to have confided in Shah, given the state of his health in his last years. Others also doubt if a young BJP MLA ( Shah was 33 years old in 1998) would have written a letter to the PM even if he believed the test was not in India’s interest, as many pointed out at the time.
Shah became an MLA in 1997 when he won in a by-election and retained his seat in the election held next year.
In a lengthy interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Sitapati claimed he was relying on three different sources but would not reveal their names. In his book, however, he explains in a footnote that the story was told to him by “a senior journalist who wishes to remain unnamed”.
Sitapati admitted that he had neither seen nor read the letter Amit Shah allegedly wrote Vajpayee but added its content had been communicated to him by the three sources. Two of them, he said, had read the letter. When questioned on what basis he has included alleged quotations from the letter in quotation marks, when he admits he hasn’t seen or read it, Sitapati said he had done so on the basis of trust in his three sources. He also said he was asking the readers of his book to trust that his account is accurate and correct and refused to accept his story is based on mere hearsay.
He insisted that Amit Shah’s criticism of the nuclear tests was “proof” there was internal democracy in the BJP and Shah’s criticism reflected the idea of Akhand Bharat “which is deeply embedded in BJP thinking”.
He also claims, relying on an interview with journalist Sheela Bhatt, that on 28th of February 2002, hours after the killings began, Narendra Modi was “a person totally shaken up … Modi was struggling to get a grip on the situation … he was really frightened”.
He says that he accepted the veracity of Sheel Bhatt’s description of Modi’s behaviour both because she met Modi on the 28th morning and because it ties up with Modi’s behaviour on subsequent days. He said Modi was “scared and terrified his Hindu constituency was leaving him”.
However, Sitapati admitted that for this account of Modi’s behaviour he’s relying only on Sheela Bhatt and does not have any other source.
He also revealed that on the 28th of February 2002, George Fernandes, who was then Defence minister, visited a police kiosk in Ahmedabad where he heard on the police wireless “voices of some BJP MLAs directing the violence, telling the police not to do anything”.
Sitapati told Karan Thapar that he had found this out from an unimpeachable source but there was absolutely no way that he can reveal the person’s name. He added he had no doubt this was the truth.
Speaking about the Vajpayee-Advani relationship, Sitapati maintained that for most of his life Advani was in awe of Vajpayee. Even when he was home minister and deputy prime minister, Advani was not as important and powerful as some people have assumed. “Vajpayee was boss”, said Sitapati. “He wanted Advani to handle the party. He didn’t think Minister Advani amounted to much”.
Of Vajpayee, Sitapati said that there are several instances when he failed to stand up for his principles. Two telling examples are his attitude over the demolition of the Babri Masjid and his insistence that Narendra Modi should resign as chief minister in 2002. Sitapati said whenever Vajpayee realised he was in danger of annoying or offending his party he would do a somersault.
As he put it: “Vajpayee’s first ‘liberal’ reaction would be followed by the realization that he risked being cast aside by his party. He would then leap to his party’s defence, a leap not of faith but of moral acrobatics”.