A must read analogy of Modi and Vajpayee : How true is Guru-Shishya Tradition ?

By Ashok Nath


When former Prime Minister of India and Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away recently, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi very solemnly and pontifically announced to the world that Vajpayee was his Guru and Role Model. Nothing could be farther from from the truth, for they were poles apart. In fact, Modi is the very antithesis of Vajpayee.

First of all, claiming somebody as one’s Guru is a serious matter. The Guru- Sishya parampara has existed in this country for thousands of years. This sacred relationship means, in simple words, the shishya has to follow certain precepts, values, ideals, behavioral parameters like humility, compassion etc. of his Guru. Similarly, to make somebody a role model you have to follow or inculcate his positive attributes, his good qualities, habits, behaviour etc. A lot has been written about Vajpayee in the past few days. Eminent people from all walks of life, political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists, lawyers, editorials, friends have given us a window into his soul. Some will be quoted extensively later on.

Both Vajpayee and Modi came from humble backgrounds. Both are from RSS. There the similarity ends. While Vajpayee was erudite and a poet scholar Modi in comparison appears pedestrian and less educated. Vajpayee was a complete human being, so to say. He liked his food, his drinks, music, poetry; went to see movies. He was warm hearted, friendly, had a great sense of humour, always smiling or laughing. In contrast Modi is a loner, never smiles, has an ascetic life style, stone hearted, no hobbies or pastime. He keeps his Navratri fast and is maybe a healthier specimen of the two. One was humble, effusive, reaching out,
the other is arrogant, egocentric bordering on megalomania. Vast difference in their nature.

It is in their political behaviour and parliamentary conduct that the contrast stands out. Although from the RSS he never kowtowed to them unlike Modi. He was a Sanghi but secular at heart. He once declared,” if India is not secular, then India is not India at all. We believe in equal respect for all faiths”. In a function in Lucknow, he accepted the skull cap offered by a Muslim organisation at a function. Modi’s visceral hatred for the minorities is well known. He has always turned down a skull cap when offered to him. One Muslim carpenter who came to pay his last respects to Vajpayee had this to say, ” Atalji worked hard for the nation. It didn’t matter for him whether someone was a Hindu or a Muslim. All communities had faith in him.” Can one say this for Modi?


Another dissimilarity between the two leaders is in their interpersonal relationships. As said earlier, Vajpayee was warm, friendly and reached out to people. Modi is grim, aloof and never extends his hand in friendship. Vajpayee was gracious, never hesitated to express his gratitude. Modi is just the opposite. The most endearing quality of Vajpayee was he never belittled any person, least of all a political opponent. Modi never has a kind word for anybody. He grabs every opportunity to denigrate and vilify the Nehru family, right from Nehru to Indira Gandhi , Sonia and Rahul. He shouts from the rooftops that there was no development during their time and that development in the country started only after he took over as PM in 2014! What a laugh.

In contrast to his fake shishya please appreciate the tribute  Vajpayee paid to Nehru in Parliament after his death in May, 1964,” Mother India is in mourning as her beloved prince has gone to sleep… A dream has remained half fulfilled, a song has become silent and a flame has vanished into the unknown.” What beautiful poetry! Asim Premji says,” it is a moving speech, generous, full of honest admiration for the immensity of Nehru’s contributions to India.” Elsewhere, Vajpayee said of Nehru “in spite of differences of opinion we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country and his indomitable courage.”  In a mehfil he stated that Nehru’s description of Ganga in his ‘ Discovery Of India’ can only be a work of a Mahakavi. One poet to another! Of course, to Modi it would be like bhains ke samne been bajana.


The most astounding example of Vajpayee’s respect for his political opponents and his profound magnanimity has been given by none other than Ravi Shanker Prasad, minister in Modi’s cabinet. He remembers when Vajpayee had gone to Patna to meet JP Narayan in 1977 when elections were announced after the emergency was lifted. He said something derogatory of Indira Gandhi. Vajpayee snubbed him and said he did not expect such language from him. Prasad says, ” here was a man just released from prison where he had undergone two surgeries and yet he had no ill will against Indira Gandhi.”  Can we expect the same magnanimity from his chela? On the contrary he is known to be very vindictive and never forgets a slight even if it was years ago.

There are hundreds of instances of his graciousness in personal interrelationships. A few would suffice here. Once he thanked Rajiv Gandhi in public, saying he was alive because of him. Apparently when Rajiv was PM and he an MP the former came to know he had a kidney problem. He called him over to his office and told him that an Indian delegation was going to the UN and he was putting him in as a member so he could get proper medical attention in the US. He also told the leader of the delegation ,not to let him come back till he had fully recovered. Another time he thanked Sonia Gandhi who rang up to enquire about his health after the attack on Parliament in December 2001. She was in her residence when the attack took place. Soli Sorabjee , former attorney general remembers Vajpayee calling him from Japan to thank him for an important case he had won for the Government. Such was the stature of the man. Did he prove to be a role model for his chela?

In Parliament it was no different. The contrast, I mean. When Modi first entered the hallowed precincts of Parliament he bent down and touched his forehead on the steps( probably a photo op) and proclaimed to the world that Parliament was a temple of democracy. Once inside, Modi has hardly displayed any attributes of a good parliamentarian. In fact he has nothing but contempt for parliamentary proceedings and sees the opposition as enemies. Once he uttered a derogatory remark against an opposition leader which had to be expunged later. First, for any Prime Minister in history.
If one has watched proceedings on TV one would have seen him sitting grim faced like a sphinx, glaring at the opposition. He hardly intervenes in any debate.

The only time he speaks is when he has to sum up during important motions or after a President’ s address.             One facet of his character has perplexed many commentatars . He doesn’t speak in Parliament. He doesn’t speak to the media. Yet when he hits the campaign trail ge goes ballistic. Combining oratory and histrionics he succeeds in Mesmerising the crowds, making a fool out of them.

Vajpayee on the other hand, revelled in Parliament debates. His high oratorial and parliamentarian skills are acknowledged by every one. Premji says,” for a man of his legendary skills of oratory, he could have won every argument. But Atalji never wanted to win arguments, he wanted to win hearts. Which he did.”  The debates in which he participated were without rancour. Were lively, interspersed with sher shairi,  poetry and plentiful of repartees. As somebody said,” parliamentary debate was Vajpayee’s forte, Modi’s is the high voltage campaign bhashan.”  Ravi Shanker Prasad has this to add,” the sheer height to which he took parliamentary debate with the depth of his commitment, wit , humour and sarcasm including the ability to laugh at himself has become the stuff of legend.”

Another dichotomy between guru and chela is the spirit of cooperation with the opposition which Vajpayee amply displayed and is sadly lacking in his chela. Under Modi whenever cooperation is required from opposition he sends his ministers to them. I’ve never seen him coming down from his pedestal to personally meet leaders of the opposition.  Pranab Mukherjee, former president , shares this interesting piece of information. During Congress rule an important bill on WTO could not be passed because the BJP had vehemently opposed it. When the BJP came to power under Vajpayee the Congress were adamant in opposing it. The bill was crucial. The country’s prestige was at stake since it was a founder member.  To resolve the stalemate Vajpayee went to ‘ Pranab Da’ and said that since the bill was their baby he requested for his help. It was very difficult for Mukerjee to convince the angry congressmen but he managed to do it. After  the bill was passed Vajpayee thanked him profusely.
This is how business was transacted in Parliament- in a friendly and cooperative manner. One cannot blame Modi for not imbibing a sense of humour from his guru for one is born with it but surely the nuances of friendliness and cooperation could have been. One facet of his character has perplexed many commenters. He doesn’t speak in Parliament. He doesn’t speak to the media. Yet when he hits the campaign trail he goes ballistic. Combining oratory and histrionics he succeeds in Mesmerising the crowds, making a fool out of them.

Another thing which doesn’t gel with the ‘ role model’ claim is the way the two leaders formed and ran their governments. Vajpayee had a very competent  set of people in his cabinet to whom he delegated full powers and responsibility and they delivered. In Modi’s cabinet, apart from a few, there are semi literate, orthodox  and fundamentalist jokers who only embarrass the government frequently with idiotic statements in public. Vajpayee was a true democrat and his government was decentralised whereas Modi’s is highly centralised with all power concentrated in him via the PMO. Modi himself is autocratic if not dictatorial and his decisions instead of being based on discussions, consultations and exchange of ideas are purely whimsical and intuitive. Demonetisation and the  faulty implementation of GST are good examples. It is a fact that Vajpayee’s government came out with more fundamental reforms in business, industry and agriculture than Modi can boast of. In a nutshell, Vajpayee ran a true cabinet form of government while Modi’s  is akin to a headmaster taking a class of recalcitrant juveniles.

Another glaring dissimilarity is the way they handled their allies. Vajpayee had a coalition of twenty or more allies and he ran a perfectly smooth government. He walked the extra mile to reach out to allies. In contrast Modi has already alienated most of his allies. Since he has a majority in Parliament he is perceived as arrogant and accused of ignoring them.

One political commentator remarked,” Vajpayee observed a certain dignity in his long political career. He had a particular approach towards politics that was people centric, not power centric. For him, the party was bigger than the individual but the nation was even bigger than the party.” He has hit the nail on the head, for Modi is the complete antithesis. He considers himself as the state or the nation and the party is only a tool to be used. During campaigns he urges people to vote for him. Never mentions the party. People voted for BJP earlier because it was being led by Vajpayee .This is the basic difference from then and now. Actually, Modi doesn’t need either a guru or a role model. He is himself both.

Another trait, in sharp contrast between guru and chela, is the former’s handling of the press. While Vajpayee felt at home when meeting the press  and often joked with the reporters, the press is Modi’s bête noire. He simply hates them. He has never held  a press conference. The only interview he gave on a TV channel was to Karan Thapar and even there he walked out in a huff soon after the interview began. Modi has gone hammer and tongs after the print and electronic media and screwed them into submission. As a result there are not many now which can be Truly labelled as independent. Just to paint the razor sharp contrast a few anecdotes are in order.  Shortly before his China trip he came down with fever. A reporter asked him how he was feeling. In his usual impeccable style he replied,” arre bhai, Chinese food Khane ke liye to theek hona parta hai.”  Another time at a public meeting a young speaker copied him very well. When asked by a reporter how did he do Vajpayee replied,” if the duplicate is so good then why trouble the original?”

I have stated earlier that while Vajpayee tried to unite people Modi is trying his best to divide. A view from across the borders will confirm this. The Dawn newspaper of Pakistan had this to say,” Vajpayee combined a formidable intellect with political skill and organisation to widen the political mainstream in that country.”  This is what a Lankan paper wrote,” voice of moderation within the cacophony of Hinduvta nationalism . And he put himself at the service of the party unlike Modi who calls the shots both in the party and the government.” There couldn’t be a clearer indictment.\

An obituary in an Indian newspaper perhaps had Modi in mind when it wrote this,”  Many eminent persons have recalled Vajpayee’s generosity, his ability to respect political opponents. This willingness to reach out to adversaries, seek common ground and forge a consensus most defines Vajpayee’s political spirit and legacy. Political differences did not upset Vajpayee . He recognised them as inevitable in a democratic polity and saw them as a feature that enlivens it. He was neither scared nor scarred by criticism.”

To end I must quote Shanti Bhushan, the eminent lawyer,.” Many have said that Atalji was the right person in the wrong party. It is amazing that he remained staunchly secular even though he had emerged from the RSS. Perhaps, if he had not fallen  so seriously ill about twelve years ago, the course that the party took would have been different.”
To conclude, I think the claim of Modi of  Vajpayee  being his guru and role model sounds hollow and hypocritical. I leave it to the readers to draw their their own conclusion.


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