In an interview in the context of the current troubles in the Bharatiya Janata Party, the former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, does some comparing and contrasting between leadership styles and approaches in the party over time. The full interview, with Karan Thapar, was featured on the CNN-IBN channel on Thursday, and will come up again on Sunday night in the programme ‘Devil’s Advocate .’
You were there right beside Mr. Vajpayee for the six years that he was the Prime Minister. What was the nature of the relationship between Mr. Vajpayee and his Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. They were colleagues for 40-45 years. They were the two top leaders of the BJP and they worked together very well. Of course, they had differences. Mr. Vajpayee refused to be present in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid demonstration was going on. If you remember, he had regretted in Parliament what had happened in Ayodhya. He had different kinds of views. He is by nature very liberal and generous in his thoughts. You criticise him today and suddenly tomorrow, the man who had criticised him asks for a meeting, and he says okay, come and talk to me. Now, there are very few people who can do like that. I would say that Mr. Vajpayee is a statesman more than a politician. Mr. Advani, on the other hand, was a very good organiser. He organised the BJP and helped Mr. Vajpayee in the organisation. They had worked very closely that way.
By implication you are also suggesting that Mr. Advani is not a statesman?
Well, I’m not going to say that, but that was it.
How would Mr. Vajpayee have responded to the controversy that has been created by Mr. Jaswant Singh’s recent book on Jinnah?
Let me put it to you this way. He [Vajpayee] never criticised Mr. Advani when he [Advani] went to Pakistan in 2005 and wrote in the visitors’ book of Jinnah’s mausoleum. I don’t believe he would have criticised Mr. Jaswant Singh. We all knew that Mr. Jaswant Singh was writing about Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He had mentioned it to Mr. Vajpayee, he had mentioned it to me and to so many others.
So it follows that a BJP headed by Mr. Vajpayee would not have expelled Mr. Jaswant Singh for writing a book on Jinnah?
Certainly not expel him without calling him personally and asking him for an explanation.
One thing you are certain: that he [Vajpayee] wouldn’t have criticised Jaswant Singh and certainly he wouldn’t have expelled him?
I say he would not criticise him because he didn’t criticise Mr. Advani.
During Mr. Vajpayee’s prime ministership, there was a controversy about the James Laine biography of Shivaji, when the Bhandarkar Institute was attacked and several books were destroyed… The Vajpayee you know would have been pained by that, wouldn’t he be?
I’m sure he would have been. He did not believe in banning this or that.
What would Mr. Vajpayee think of the way his party, which he led to power, which saw its golden days under his leadership, is today squabbling and falling apart?
I would say that he would be deeply hurt in his heart by the situation in the party today.
Would he feel that a party that he lived his life for and that he took all the way to power against the most unlikely odds, today has let him down?
I don’t think he would say his party has let him down because he never claimed the ownership of the party. That was not his style. However, he would be deeply disappointed, deeply hurt at the way things are now going. The daily increase in the number of leaders coming out with criticism of the party or criticism of certain leaders, I think if he were active today he would have put an end to it.
I’m intrigued by it. How would he put an end to it?
I think he would have just called them and said something like — Ap jo bhi kar rahe hai, yo party ke liye theek nahi hai (whatever you are doing is not good for the wellbeing of the party). And that would have been enough.
He had that commanding stature?
It’s clear. Everybody in the party is missing him.
Would you say that he had that gift of leadership where just a few carefully chosen words, sometimes just a look, sometimes just a gesture, was enough, either to give assurance or to admonish and to ensure that what he wanted was to be done?
His successors don’t have that touch?
Well, I’m not going to talk about it.
How would Mr. Vajpayee have viewed the attempt by his party to remove a Vidhan Sabha leader who has the support of 68 or 69 out of 78 MLAs?
Mr. Vajpayee is a very democratic personality. In my view, he would not have approved. If my assumption is correct that he would not have insisted on the resignation of Mr. Modi and that he would have asked for corrective action, then how can I say that he would have supported this kind of thing in Rajasthan? It is not possible. If he had a problem with Vasundhara Raje, he would have called her and asked her what was going on. And the message would be sent across. He would have asked her to take corrective action and finish it off.
But he would not have supported an attempt to remove as leader a lady who has the majority support?
Certainly not. But I must also confess that I don’t know the circumstances in which all this is happening today. Vasundhara is very quiet about it and hardly any statement is coming out.