A day after Atal Bihari Vajpayee died, a mob assaulted an assistant professor at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University, Motihari, Bihar, allegedly for making critical comments on the former prime minister. The attack followed a series of social media posts, including by a member of the BJP’s IT cell, urging people to take the academic to task. Subsequently, BJP’s Motihari IT cell chief has justified the assault that left the professor grievously injured as an expression of “public sentiment”. The Motihari incident involved a mob, but more shockingly, the state itself is in the dock in the case involving an Aurangabad corporator. Sayyed Mateen Rashid, who had opposed a resolution in the corporation that condoled the death of Vajpayee last week, was sent to judicial custody for a year on Tuesday after the Aurangabad police booked him under the MPDA (Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Boot-leggers, Drug Offenders and Dangerous Persons Act, 1981). The MPDA was slapped on the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) corporator soon after he got bail in a case filed by BJP corporators for promoting enmity between two communities. The AIMIM has alleged that BJP corporators beat up Mateen in the corporation premises when he opposed the resolution.
Vajpayee’s death has left in its wake a grief that cuts across political lines. People from across the political spectrum have mourned the passing of an inspirational leader. However, like most popular politicians, Vajpayee too had his critics, who argued and disagreed with the politics and policies of the former prime minister. Throughout his political career, Vajpayee revelled in and cherished this argumentative character of Indian democracy, and contributed to its deepening as an organiser, public speaker and parliamentarian. In fact, many eminent persons have recalled the late leader’s generosity, his ability to respect political opponents and engage with views that rejected his and the BJP’s core positions. 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. Always ready for a good debate, Vajpayee saw parliamentary politics as a dialogic engagement. Those who abuse, or try to silence Vajpayee’s critics now are doing a grave disservice to his legacy.