Politics in India is a strange, murky thing. But how did politicians behave earlier? Was it always about blaming each other? Probably not. Historian Ramchandra Guha on Sunday took to Twitter to share a nostalgic video of former Prime Minister and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaking on his relationship with Pt Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament.
In the 1.42 minute-long clip, then PM Vajpayee can be seen reminiscing on his relationship with India's first PM. He spoke of the time when he was the Minister for External Affairs under PM Morarji Desai and there was a portrait of Nehru in New Delhi's South Block (the Secretariat Building). One day, Vajpayee found the portrait removed. Upon his inquiries as to why the portrait was removed, it was put back up.
"My friends in Congress may not believe me, but in South Block, there was a portrait of Nehru," he said. "When i became the Foreign Minister, I noticed one day that the portrait was missing. I asked, "Where did it go?". There was no response but the portrait was again put on the passage wall".
"Does this sentiment merit respect?" Vajpayee asked a full house in Parliament amid thumps and claps.
Speaking about his interactions with Nehru, Vajpayee went further back to the days of his youth when he was new to politics. " "In Parliament, I had my fair share of arguments with Nehru ji", Vajpayee said. "I was new, I used to sit at the back. Sometimes I had to stage walk-out to get the chance to speak to him. Slowly, with time, I made a space and name for myself" he added. "It is not that I did not have disagreements with Nehru. These disagreements came out strongly during debates," the former PM said. He recalled the time when he called Nehru's personality and character as a "mixture of Churchill and Chamberlain". Neville Chamberlain was the PM of the United Kingdom from 1937-40 and is best remembered for his highly-criticised "appeasement" policy with Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany in the years immediately preceding World War 2. Winston Churchill was also a two-time British PM who led the English to victory against Nazi Germany in the second World War. Despite the comparison to two of the most controversial and critiqued world leaders, Vajpayee said that Nehru did not get angry. Later that evening, Vajpayee ran into Nehru at a banquet hall. "He told me that you gave a rousing speech today, and he left laughing," Vajpayee told the House. "Nowadays, this kind of criticism means fostering enmity. People will stop talking to you," Vajpayee said. Shared by historian Ram Guha, the tweet has over 3,000 retweets and the video has nearly a lakh views. "Vajpayee, when he was Prime Minister, speaking in Parliament about his relationship with Nehru," he wrote as caption. The video has gone viral with many including Congress leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor sharing it on their timeline. "There was another BJP PM - not too long ago," Tharoor tweeted.
There was another BJP PM - not too long ago ! pic.twitter.com/PdWT4Atd2r — Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) July 3, 2020
Yet others compared BJP leaders from a Vajpayee's time to its current brand of politics.
It may seem hard to believe, but not so long ago the BJP, or at least a part of it, aspired to the moral high ground in public life. Simple test: compare the language of party spokespersons ten years ago with their language today. https://t.co/HguQDCvZKf — Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) July 5, 2020
Not long ago, Indian politics had grace. PM Vajpayee talking about Nehru. Today, it’s unimaginable. Sigh! https://t.co/ABSwlgcOem — Sayema (@_sayema) July 5, 2020
Many others on Twitter shared messages of respect for Vajpayee who chose dignified, "constructive criticism" instead of "defamation".
vajpayee sir always maintained that dignity in politics & did constructive crtitcism rather than defamation. — Sid dalvi (@sidspeaksup) July 5, 2020
The last line is the most important one where he says 'such criticism will be met with enmity'. True of most our political leaders today. Across the party lines. — Nikhil Pohekar (@nIKHIL_pOHEKAR) July 5, 2020
Democracy is all about discussions, debates, dissent, arguments, counter arguments, consensus and finally it's a collective decision making by cabinet headed by PM. But now government has been reduced to just one person. He thinks he is supreme and rest all are just for namesake. — ramki.sri (@ramkisusi) July 5, 2020
A former Jan Sangh leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee served as three-time Prime Minister of India. His first term in 1996 was just 13 days long. In his second term, Vajpayee remained in office for 13 months before completing a full term in 1999-2004. Vajpayee was known in his lifetime for his diplomacy and statesmanship. He passed away in August 2018 following a kidney infection.