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In 2002, TIME had taken on Vajpayee

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Last Updated: July 09, 2012, 18:38 IST

In 2002, TIME had taken on Vajpayee

TIME had torn into former PM AB Vajpayee in a cover story published on June 10, 2002, titled 'Asleep at The Wheel?'

The buzz around TIME's Asia cover story on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not been limited to the Indian media. The leading parties of the ruling coalition and the Opposition have also come out strongly, respectively for and against the contention of TIME. While the Congress has slammed the depiction of its PM as an 'underachiever' with the UPA Union home minister P Chidambaram not according too much importance to the report by labelling TIME as "just another magazine," the BJP has gone a step ahead by suggesting that TIME has been too lenient in letting Singh walk off with the 'underachiever' tag.

If TIME's article on the possibility of Narendra Modi emerging as the Hindu right wing's prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 general elections was wrongly interpreted by the BJP rank and file as international endorsement for Modi, they should find it a little less comforting that the same publication had torn into the right wing party's tallest leader and Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in a cover story published on June 10, 2002, titled 'Asleep at The Wheel?'

The question raised by TIME was that as India and Pakistan put up their nukes, was an ailing and frail Vajpayee the right man to have his finger on the button. The article, almost in a mocking tone questioned his physical and mental fitness to lead a nuclear-armed nation.

It read: "He drank heavily in his prime and still enjoys a nightly whiskey or two at 74. India's leader takes painkillers for his knees (which were replaced due to arthritis) and has trouble with his bladder, liver and his one remaining kidney. A taste for fried food and fatty sweets plays havoc with his cholesterol. He takes a three-hour snooze every afternoon on doctor's orders and is given to interminable silences, indecipherable ramblings and, not infrequently, falling asleep in meetings…Atal Behari Vajpayee, then, would be an unusual candidate to control a nuclear arsenal."

The article, while describing the BJP as a "pro-Hindu" constituency, "stuffed with extremists", also said: "The frail bachelor seems shaky and lost, less an aging sage than an ordinary old man. He forgets names, even of longtime colleague and current Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, and during several recent meetings he appeared confused and inattentive. After a meeting with a Western Foreign Minister, his appearance was described by one attending diplomat as 'half dead'."

The report also spoke about the erratic transformation of the man of peace into a hatemonger. TIME talked about his conscientious outburst on the Gujarat riots and verbal reprimand of Modi in contrast to what he did just a week later. Vajpayee spoke at a public rally in Goa and TIME quoted the speech: "These days militancy in the name of Islam leaves no room for tolerance. Wherever such Muslims live, they tend not to live in coexistence ... they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats."
first published:July 09, 2012, 18:38 IST
last updated:July 09, 2012, 18:38 IST