Good, Better, Best

May 4, 2024by Rajeev Hora0

“As a result, he came across as a fellow human being on a common journey with similar struggles, predicaments and tribulations.”

My earliest memory of a politician is that of Late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that goes back to 1967. He had come down to a smaller version of the Ramlila grounds in our neighbourhood for a political rally.

If my hazy memory serves me right, there was quite a rush in the gathering and an unrestricted view for a three-foot tall lad like me was not quite possible. My elder brother had taken me along and my biggest fear was about losing his finger rather than losing myself in the crowd. I am not too sure but I probably had a general idea about how to reach back home which was quite close by.

Over the years many things have changed and many people have influenced my life. What has however remained with me is my first brush with eloquent oratory. Obviously, I don’t remember a single word from Atalji’s speech. But the very pleasant recollection of the poise and grace he brought to the stage refuses to fade away. Every word chosen with apparent wisdom and delivered with his characteristic pauses. An unsaid energy felt by the crowd by his spirited presence.

Thereafter as I grew up, I happened to observe him over the years with a great deal of interest. I make no comments on his ideologies whatsoever. However for me, what made him stand apart was his charisma, his geniality and gentlemanly behaviour. He could so effortlessly diffuse a tense situation with his trademark smile or a unhateful witty repartee. Such was his tender humour that the opposition would be laughing along with him even if their positions were radically poles apart.

Never short of a befitting verse, the veer-ras poet-politician could summarise his heroic thoughts in so palatable a fashion. A large-hearted statesman who could achieve balance in the most difficult of situations, many of which he encountered while leading a coalition government. Who but him could find such a subtle balance between Nehruvian liberalism and right wing Hindu nationalism with so much of ease? Who but him had the courage to speak out against his own when the right tended to move far right?

Often touted as the right man in the wrong party, he was extremely conscious of his language and his image of a responsible parliamentarian. His understanding of mass dynamics and power equations was unparalleled. At the same time, he never gave the impression of being desperate about power.

A contemporary of his once commented, “Atalji could seduce anyone with the twinkle in his eyes, the smile on his lips, the genuineness of his soul and the goodness in his heart.” I think the usage of the word ‘seduction’ is in a way, derogatory for this great man. ‘Lovable charm’ would probably be better descriptive of him.

For the public at large, he was an epitome of harmony and tolerance. He was remarkably transparent and left open his vulnerabilities when trying to manage contradictions and ethical dilemmas. As a result, he came across as a fellow human being on a common journey with similar struggles, predicaments and tribulations. A sensitive person almost all Indians could relate to, irrespective of their political beliefs.

His brand of nationalism spoke for itself when he led the opposition in applauding Mrs Gandhi on the floor of the parliament after the 1971 war. What better acknowledgement of his credentials than being selected by the Prime Minister to represent the country at the United Nations when he was the Leader of the opposition. Unthinkable in today’s world!

More than five decades have gone past and I have been witness to as many as fourteen general elections and umpteen number of political discourses. I try to take a zoomed out view of the political landscape in our country. I conclude that steadily but surely, there has been a logarithmic decrease in the standard of narratives that are brought forward by the entire polity.

Subconsciously, I try to compare Atalji with the present lot. The differential is undeniably stark. It would be wrong on my part to pick or choose a particular party or political outfit for this moral degradation. The gutter-level language and personal attacks of today make us wonder as to where are we headed. Sex scandals and attacks on ancestry have become par for the course. Racism and sexism is out in the open. Religion of course is the favourite whipping boy.

There is not an iota of decorum or mutual respect visible in any quarter. Accusations and twisted historical narratives led by history-sheeters and social-media armies galore. Crass behaviour and lack of civility become precursors to street brawls and even riots in some volatile regions. Was this the vision of our founding fathers? Is this the legacy we are handing over to the next generation?

Politics is the subject and genuine is the student’s query, “Ma’am if we are supposed to choose our best, why do our best choose to show their worst?”

Helpless is her look and evasive is her reply, “I guess, when we look at ‘Good, Better ,Best’, the best is sometimes not good enough!”

Quite in agreement,
Horax (Casper)

First published at ( on 04/04/24

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