A Book Review of - Vajpayee: The years that changed India

A book titled ‘Vajpayee: The years that changed India’ written by Shri Shakti Sinha published by Vintage: An imprint of Penguin Random House launched in the year of 2020 gives a comprehensive view of the contemporary political history, basically covering Vajpayee Ji’s political career as Prime Minister of India and how his key strategic decision & initiatives have shaped India since then. The book ranges in ten chapters namely: Swearing-In, A Hung Parliament, the incomplete mandate, the ground moves, the stumble, Vajpayee Asserts, the bus ride, the fall, and looking back respectively.

Shakti Sinha established the fact in the book, that Vajpayee Ji had proven himself as a national leader by the time the general assembly election took place in 1967 which was unusual for someone who never belonged to the hegemonic Congress. Starting as an RSS student volunteer and then joining Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS 1951), Vajpayee Ji became the top leader of the Jana Sangh as well as Bharatiya Janata Party. Hence, as the name suggests, the years did witness some momentous developments like representing a genuine fulcrum of Indian politics with BJP emerging as the focal point, ending India’s nuclear ambiguity, opening up to Pakistan to end the irrelevant India-Pakistan agitation and the responsible conduct of Kargil War. 

The writer, then serving as private secretary of Atal Ji, not only narrates meticulously the important political events but ever so gently brings his comments which helps the readers to have insights into the inscrutable persona of the leader under focus and understanding the political constraints within which he worked. Another value addition in the book is the clear vision one gets about the way parliamentary federal democracy worked on the ground in those uncertain long years of minority and coalition governments. And also, how the centre-state relation transitioned within the rise of state-level parties.  

The book positions Atal Ji as one who led his government to promote the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ and walked the extra mile to establish a lasting peace. Moreover, the writer remarkably shows Atal Ji's ability to accommodate the allies up to a point, and at the same time not letting the governance or welfare of citizens suffer, he could take momentous decisions that come out with a positive result. His resolve to make India a nuclear power despite the impending international sanctions showed his leadership mettle as his decisions as a caretaker prime minister not to let Indian armed forces across the Line of Actual Control during Kargil War, but at the same time, he was firm in not accepting ceasefire before the intruders were thrown out from the Indian territory.

All his uncanny ability to connect with the masses and the marked exuberance can be witnessed when he is in public meetings, whereas, the writer came across that Atal Ji was an intensely private and reticent person in his personal life. There are several incidents narrated by Shakti Sinha to show Atal Ji’s self–deprecating humour he possessed which also livened his speeches. Here, Sinha offers several nuggets: ‘The year was 1998, the BJP led Delhi government had invited Atal Ji to be the chief guest at the inauguration of the flyover at Yamuna Bazar. The master of ceremonies kept referring to Atal Ji as “Bhootpoorv Pradhan Mantri”. When it was Vajpayee Ji’s turn to speak, he said that he knew he was the “poorv pradhan mantri” but had no idea where the “bhoot” came from. Also, Sinha refers to a certain element of enigma about his political persona as one considers his cryptic utterance and pauses, sometimes sending different messages to different people.

The reflection of ‘A man of big ideas’ is visible in Vajpayee Ji’s persona illustrated in the book with the taking instances of his ambitious and bold golden quadrilateral plan. His statesmanlike quality was evident in the way as a leader of the opposition he promptly supported the defence deal struck with Russia by the Rao Government once he was convinced about it being in the national interest or in his famous speech invoking ‘Insaniyat, Jamuhuriyat, Kashmiriyat,’ that is still remembered by everyone.

For the generation who lived and saw Vajpayee Ji’s time, the book serves as a good lesson, not to forget the limitations a rickety coalition government impose on a good leader, and for the millennials, it brings an equally important lesson that one should always take responsibility for their deeds and actions.   


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