NEW DELHI One of India’s shrewdest and most liked politicians, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known for handling various contradictions with dexterity, particularly after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and during the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002.
Often viewed as a statesman and the BJP’s moderate face, Vajpayee managed to maintain a distance from the hardcore Hindutva ideology of the BJP and its ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, being part of both while speaking his mind.
In 2002, days after the communal riots in Gujarat, Prime Minister Vajpayee famously told then chief minister Narendra Modi he must follow his “raj dharma” of ensuring no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
Vajpayee’s comments at a press conference, with Modi by his side, had triggered speculation that the chief minister may be on his way out.
Ten years earlier, when he was opposition leader, he was the lone ranger in the BJP, unequivocally apologising for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Though no BJP leader expressed regret for the demolition of the mosque by hundreds of karsevaks, Vajpayee termed it “unfortunate” and said it “should not have happened”.
“We tried to prevent it, but we could not succeed,” he said.
It was because of his unique accommodative politics and his image of a moderate that many political observers called him the “right man in the wrong party”.
On February 27, 2002, a group of people in Godhra set fire to a few coaches of the Sabarmati Express, carrying pilgrims from Ayodhya, triggering large-scale communal violence across Gujarat.
It was alleged that the state administration did not come down hard on rioters.
Many political observers believe the Gujarat riots were one of the reasons why Vajpayee could not retain power in the general elections two years later.
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