For many years before he actually breathed his last, Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained out of action. Having slipped virtually into a state of coma, his life sadly remained confined to a hospital bed in his home, where he remained as oblvious of the world around him as the people , who once looked up to him with awe.
But no sooner than he passed away, the BJP leadership seems to have gone on an overdrive to extract as much political mileage as possible out of his name.
Even those among the BJP leaders, who hardly cared to call on him over the past decade during which he lay bed-ridden, seem to have suddenly sprung into action and were busy paying homage after homage to him.
The exercise began with the decision of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath to carry Vajpayee’s ashes to different parts of the state. A high-profile ‘asthi-kalash yatra’ was planned for the ashes of the icon, whose heart was never in sync with the much hyped and controversial ‘rath yatra’ led by Lal Krishna Advani in support of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, way back in 1990.
This was clearly an afterthought, since the formal immersion of the ashes had already been carried out in Haridwar. Apparently, Yogi Adityanath wanted to make his immersion ceremony a far bigger affair. A press release issue by his office said that Vajpayee’s ashed would be carted to each of the 75 districts across Uttar Pradesh and immersed in every river in the districts. Sure enough, the task sounded incredible as the count of the immersions went up to 163.
When a scribe sought a party spokesman’s comment on the practicability of the exercise, pat came the reply, “Obviously there is some mistake in the official press release issued by the state information department; the ashes will be carried only to the 17 divisional headquarters and immersed in the key rivers in each of these places.”
Thus the ritual began with a high-profile ‘asthi-kalash yatra’ along the main thorougfares of Vajpayee’s ‘karmbhoomi’, Lucknow, where the immersion was carried out in the Gomti river.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh accompanied the ‘yatra’ together with chief minister Yogi Adityanath, while thousands of people followed the long motorcade to pay homage to their beloved leader.
Questions were also being raised as to how many times had the UP chief minister visited Vajpayee during his prolonged illness. How much he subscribed to the Vajpayee school of thought was also a million dollar question
As if that was not enough, Yogi Adityanath also got down to launching several development schemes named after Vajpayee. Passing of a condolence resolution by the Yogi cabinet was understandable, even though it was rather late in the day (four days after the demise). But for a government that had little do with Vajpayee’s ideals in 17 months of its existence, it was surely a surprise that a bagful of schemes were now being launched in his name.
Questions were also being raised as to how many times had the UP chief minister visited Vajpayee during his prolonged illness. How much he subscribed to the Vajpayee school of thought was also a million dollar question.
Quite systematically now, the UP CM seemed to be going overboard. He has already announced several memorials for the former prime minister in different parts of the state. One of these was proposed in Vajpayee’s native village Bateshwar in Mathura district, the DAV College at Kanpur, where he did most of his education, as well as his ‘karmbhoomi’, Lucknow, from where he was elected to the Lok Sabha five times. Another memorial is planned in Balrampur, from where he won his first Lok Sabha election in 1957.
Senior party leaders like Lalji Tandon feel that a befitting tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be to name a grand institution after him. ”I would urge the chief minister to name one of the new medical colleges that were coming up in UP, after Atal ji”, he said. Tandon, who was always seen as Vajpayee’s closest lieutenant in Lucknow, was perhaps the only party veteran who made it a point to visit him regularly during his nearly decade long bed-ridden state.
While he strongly refutes the charge that the party was out to play politics in the name of the departed leader, it remains a fact that the manner in which a series of events related to Vajpayee were being planned has to do with 2019 election in mind.
Who does not know how Vajpayee was completely ignored in successive election campaigns of the BJP. But there was a sudden surge of emotion in the party rank and file to encash his name.
In a nation laden with caste politics, the advent of Narendra Modi did seem to give the party a backward tilt, leaving its traditional following of upper caste Brahmins somewhat disillusioned. In any case, the Adityanath regime has somehow created an impression that Rajputs were enjoying an upper hand.
The return of Vajpayee to the centre stage of the poll campaign could therefore act as a much desired shot in the arm at a time when Narendra Modi was desperate to get anywhere close to the whopping victory on 73 of UP’s 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The changing caste equations and political re-alignments, that were in the pipeline, could upset Modi’s applecart to an extent that all hope could turn into despair.
Perhaps, the party’s decision to play up the Vajpayee card was a consequence of some kind of realisation that all was not as hunky dory as it had been in 2014.