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A Vjpayee Doctrine - India Today

Swapan Dasgupta ()
March 30, 1998

Title: A Vjpayee Doctrine
Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: India Today
Date: March 30, 1998

Flanked by Jayalalitha on one side and L.K. Advani on the other,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee didn't quite look the man India was
anxiously awaiting. At the release of the National Agenda for
Governance, grandly billed as the programme that would succeed in
"closing the gap between people's aspirations and the
Government's performance", the near-winner of the 1998 general
election looked buoyant and sounded vague. Who wouldn't after
the interminable confabulations and dinners that have made the
BJP-led alliance appear a Hinduised reincarnation of the United
Front? The first government in 50 years (not counting the 13 day
wonder) to be headed by a man who has never been associated with
the Congress should, ideally, have been a turning point in Indian
history. instead, Indian history is refusing to budge.

Maybe it is rash to jump to conclusions. Maybe future historians
will indeed single out match 1998 as the real point of departure.
They may even point to the National Agenda as the document that
made it happen. It all depends. Depends on how the BJP and its
12 allies interpret the confusing verdict (as distinct from a
mandate) of the general election. In essence, have two choices.
The first is to perceive the Vajpayee regime as a patch work
quilt women together for the sole purpose of forging a
government. If this is the self-perception of the regime, it can
never work cohesively and can endure only as long as sufficient
number of MPs feel disinclined to take

another shy at elections. It will be a government that will
pursue a line of least resistance, because it has no decisive
mandate. It will be in power, but will abdicate governance.

The alternative depends on the BJP. As the largest party, with a
national spread-it has MPs from all the main states except Kerala-
the BJP has to either lead from the front or suffer the
consequences. For its own sake, it must transform difficulty into
opportunity. There is little percentage in hard-liners waiting
cussedly for the day the party has the requisite MPs to scrap
Article 370 and enact a common civil code. The fact is that the
National Agenda is not absolutely lacking in ideological
ammunition for purposeful politics.

At the core is the avowed commitment to give the reforms "a
strong swadeshi thrust" via the principle "India shall be built
by Indians". Although strategically placed in the section on the
economy, swadeshi is much more than a doctrine of economic
choice. it is a political philosophy that will begin to have a
resonance when applied with the National Agenda's strictures
against the "destructive ... politics of negativism and
untouchability". In other words, the challenge before the BJP is
to take its preoccupation with Indian nationhood well beyond the
stifling- parameters of Hindu-Muslim discord and translate it
into other areas. The BJP has overtaken the Sonia Congress in
terms of seats and national reach. To consolidate itself as the
new pole of politics, it must strive to elevate doctrine into
common sense. If the Vajpayee Government puts its heart and soul
into this project-of course, it has to deliver in limited areas
such as investment in infrastructure and equitable Centre state
relations-it could find that there are returns from even a
coalition surviving on a wafer-thin majority. Vajpayee's real
challenge is not managing a coalition, but in shaping politics.
His statesmanship is not in doubt; he is on probation as a

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