New Delhi: A government inspired by the RSS is ruling the country today. The Narendra Modi government would go down in history as being thoroughly unequal to the greatness of this country. The RSS at the same time inspired another government at the Centre some years ago. Although it lasted less than a full term, remaining in power from 1998 to 2004 in two circumscribed phases, it has left an enduring mark on Indian politics. Obscured from the public in view of failing health, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s stature has only grown in the years of absence. It is this writer’s contention that in Modi’s place, Vajpayee would have humanly and proactively contained the deteriorating situation in the Kashmir Valley and defeated Pakistani purposes. Why are Modi and Vajpayee so different although they have both arisen from the RSS?

Vajpayee hails from the earliest generations of the RSS leadership which, owing to its origins from the Congress party, still retained some of its features. The Congress was the preeminent party of those times and the RSS was still not convinced to make a political foray which would come later under pressure from Balasaheb Deoras. When the Jan Sangh was eventually formed, the premature death of Deendayal Upadhyay brought other young and bright leaders to the fore, including Vajpayee and L. K. Advani. Vajpayee admired Jawaharlal Nehru and naturally modelled much of his later prime-ministry on him. Although the Jan Sangh was going nowhere in its infancy, Vajpayee made good use of the political isolation. He set about building bridges with non-Jan Sangh and later non-BJP leaders, and it ultimately resulted in Vajpayee having more friends outside the BJP and RSS.

With the RSS, Vajpayee had distant relations. A hallmark conservative, he was opposed to mixing religion with politics. He did not participate in the Ayodhya agitation. Vajpayee’s greatest leaning experience came as Foreign Minister during the first Janata government. Previous to that, Indira Gandhi had conducted an overbearing foreign policy towards neighbours. Having created Bangladesh, she was feared. Vajpayee came as a breath of fresh air to the countries of the subcontinent. South Asia feted him. That was when he showed the beginnings of becoming the statesman of later years.

A statesman has to be a consummate politician. He has to arrive at a balance between morality, truth and justice on one hand and realpolitik on the other, with the scale loaded in favour of truth and justice. Vajpayee ran one of the country’s most complex and talented coalition governments. Among others it had Nitish Kumar and Arun Shourie. Nitish Kumar is Prime Minister material if he were to get over his prohibition fixation. Intellectually, for his part, Shourie was the star of Vajpayee’s cabinet. The Modi cabinet does not come close stuffed with mediocrities with the exception of Nitin Gadkari.

Vajpayee was never insecure about his position. He was content to remain in the background while his ministers proved their worth. His moral force was enormous. He was a man with a soul which is not the most revered entity in politics. He ensured the conduct of Jammu and Kashmir’s first free and fair elections during his term as Prime Minister. When Parvez Musharraf came with blazing guns to the Agra Summit, Vajpayee confounded him with long, ponderous silences, proving he was infinitely the greater man and peerless leader. It was Vajpayee’s political skills which ensured the ceasefire with Pakistan on the LoC and international border.

In comparison to Vajpayee, Narendra Modi is a provincial. This is no disrespect to Gujarat which produced M. K. Gandhi and Sardar Patel. Furthermore, Modi is dragging the BJP to provincialism. Chief ministers usually fail when they come to the Centre. This writer thought Narendra Modi had broken the iron rule. Alas no. For a country as great, complex and democratic as India, you need a Prime Minister who can dive to and surface from its fathomless depths. Narendra Modi has proved again and again to be shallow and superficial. He cannot understand a simple proposition that the army would be hard-pressed to fight on two fronts in Kashmir: one against Pakistan and one against its own citizens. Armies don’t shoot their own people. This is what differentiates a national army from a mercenary force. Fortunately, the Indian Army has complete understanding of this whereas the Central government does not. For a government as electorally powerful as this, it is gravely devoid of basic sensitivities.

In geopolitics, a head of government is only as good as he has strategic mastery. Vajpayee was strategic. Donald Trump is trash. However, American institutions are so powerful and unbendable that they will check -- and sometimes checkmate -- the most disastrous and venal Presidents. India has no such luck. Yesterday, the Attorney General, who outdid Indira Gandhi’s defence of the Emergency, argued in the Supreme Court that the Indian state owned the physical body of its citizens. If this perversity had been avowed in a US court, it would have provoked a constitutional crisis. Even with the most powerful Central government in years, India appears seriously to have lost its way. The singular moral force of Indian democracy is in precipitate decline. A trepidatious sentiment returns this writer to that great Paul Simon song-line, ‘Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio...?’