Should Modi resign as prime minister

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In this excerpt from My Country My Life, L.K. Advani also espouses the mantra he learned in the company of Vajpayee — the sun will rise again.

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 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 difficult turn in our party’s long journey, and I am happy to have been his sahayatri (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 nonfulfillment 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.

Excerpted with permission from Rupa & Co.

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ThePrint Team