In a sudden outburst that overshadowed the Bharatiya Janata Party national executive's deliberations here, the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tonight indicated that he would not lead the party any more as he has "had enough," an apparent reference to the Sangh Parivar's attack on him after the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.
Mr. Vajpayee's supporters shouted "Abki bari Atal Bihari (it is Atal Bihari's turn)". Mr. Vajpayee retorted in Marathi "Aata Nako Bari. Pushkal Jhal. (Now no more turn. I have had enough)."
Vajpayee has always been a voice of moderation in the BJP, and his departure will prove to be a loss for Indian politics. He appeared to try to provide good governance during his term as Prime Minister, though he frequently came up against opposition from within the BJP. His refusal to censure Narendra Modi after the riots in Gujarat is only one instance where he succumbed to party pressure instead of doing what he thought to be right. It eroded his credibility with large sections of society, but I think the worst damage was personal. As a politician who always occupied the moral high ground, he never really recovered from what must have been a blow to his self-image. To be less in one's eyes than one expects is always crushing to an honourable person, and I believe that was one reason for his appearing tired and lost towards the end of his tenure. Of course that's speculation, but it seems reasonable. I suspect the truth will only be revealed with the publication of his memoirs.
What does this mean for the BJP? Judging from the National Executive meeting, a return to hard-core Hindutva seems to be in progress. I suppose RSS pracharaks are thrilled at the prospects, but a large section of voters will definitely be turned off. It might also make life more difficult for some of the BJP's allies. Watching it play out will be extremely interesting.
UPDATE: Aditi tells me that NDTV has reported that Vajpayee claims he was 'only joking' about the attacks. The BJP, in what might be a quid pro quo, has also just announced that Vajpayee is still its 'tallest leader.' If he was only joking, he managed to fool pretty much all his listeners, and the mainstream media. Couldn't he at least claim he changed his mind? Sounds like giving in to the party again, instead of resigning honourably.