Print edition : July 30, 2004
The real Vajpayee

A.G. Noorani has ripped to shreds the last vestiges of respectability from Vajpayee's purported liberal visage ("The man behind the image", Frontline, July 16). The media have been more than a willing tool in manufacturing this false construct in the face of evidence to the contrary at various historical junctures, as enumerated by Noorani.

If it were not for the sinister design behind this convenient mask, it would have been easy to dismiss Vajpayee as one who puts the fun into fundamentalism, given his litany of retractions, the latest being in Mumbai. In our pantheon of Prime Ministers, he will surely stand tall, head and shoulders below the rest.

D. Sudhir Kozhikkode

The Cover Story ("The real Vajpayee", Frontline, July 16) has impeccably analysed the multi-faceted personality of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpaee is a loyal man of the BJP and he helped the party taste power at the Centre. Although it was the Congress' policies and the help of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that was crucial in propelling the BJP to power, Vajpayee had only one mission - to rescue the BJP through his moderate or his hardline views - on Ayodhya, Gujarat, Hindutva and so on. Despite being out of power, he is a towering personality in Indian politics, and credit should go to him for striking a balance between the hardliners and the moderates in the BJP. The BJP used his face for the recent Lok Sabha elections but benefited little. That will pave the way for the rise of L.K. Advani as the supreme leader of the party.

Akhil Kumar Delhi

The Cover Story makes a genuine attempt at assessing the man behind the image. In our search to find the "Real Vajpayee", we may have to turn to Keats, who writes of the differences between things of transient value and those of eternal significance: things `unreal' and `real'. Vajpayee as "poet" is the `real' Vajpayee. Vajpayee as "politician" is the `unreal' Vajpayee - more so as a "politician in power". Now, when he is out of power, he seems utterly confused, especially when he attempts to trace the causes of the BJP's defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. As your Cover Story reveals, Vajpayee as former Prime Minister finds himself "alone at the top", as there no takers for his reasons for the party's defeat. As the head of a coalition government, he survived on the basis of the "compromises" he made. While in office the `real' Vajpayee went through a transformation for the worst - he compromised on principles/ideology just to remain in power. "Blame Game at Mumbai" only indicates that neither Vajpayee nor the BJP are sure of the causes of the defeat. During the election campaign, Vajpayee should have been graceful enough to own up personal responsibility for the deaths at the venue of the saree distribution held as part of his election campaign in Lucknow, instructed party leaders like Narendra Modi and Vinay Katiyar not to indulge in personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi and shown the political courage to sack Modi. That would have been the `real' Vajpayee I know of from my school days.

Onkar Chopra New Delhi

The article by A.G. Noorani reads well. But Vajpayee remains one of the greatest statesmen India has had. I think I will never find a magazine or a newspaper that is neutral and does not support a political party. Why does Frontline not publish an article about Sonia Gandhi, her political career, her work for India or for Indians?

Madhusudhan Vasudevamurthy Christchurch, New Zealand

With his statement in 1992, that he regretted the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Vajpayee, the liberal, came to the fore. With Advani being charge-sheeted in the Hawala case, he pushed Vajpayee to the pedestal. It served two purposes - getting rid of the "political untouchability" tag to forge alliances and to appeal to secular voters who were fed up with Congress misrule. The `mask' helped to cobble up a coalition and keep it running, although on crucial issues the man behind the `mask' showed his `true' colours as a `swayamsewak'. Now with the `mask' failing to woo voters, it is being conveniently discarded.

S. Raghuram New Delhi

The Cover Story rightly exposed the stuff BJP leaders are made of. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was considered the only statesman in Indian politics, turned out to be a power-hungry politician. He would have risen in stature had accepted the responsibility of his party's defeat in the general elections and retired gracefully.

Siddhartha Raj Guha Jabalpur


Asha Krishnakumar has comprehensively discussed the rising burden of HIV infection and AIDS in various parts of India, and stressed the fact that women are more vulnerable to HIV infection ("Women and the high risk", Frontline, July 16). As AIDS is not curable and available treatment modalities are either inaccessible or unaffordable to many patients, it is imperative that more attention is focussed on preventive strategies.

In a recent study conducted in an English medium school in urban Bangalore involving almost 400 students in the 13-15 age group, misconceptions about anatomy, childbirth and HIV were found to be common (Saksena and Saldanha, 2003). Similar misconceptions and lack of awareness about sex are prevalent among adolescents too. Given the inadequacy of information on topics such as `sex and reproduction' in school textbooks, students depend on movies, peers and television for information. The topic of sex is also taboo in most of our households and less than 10 per cent of parents discuss sex-related matters with their children. There is an urgent need to incorporate sex education in schools if we want to check the `AIDS menace' in time.

Dr. Sudhir Kumar Vellore, Tamil Nadu

Saving water

"A walk to save water", (Frontline, July 2), brought home the need to remember the role played by people in villages across the country to preserve their water resources. Maharashtra's innovative programmes should help conserve the State's water resources.

Rahul Padavi Nandurbar, Maharashtra

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