“Vajpayee — The Years That Changed India”, written by former IAS officer Shakti Sinha who worked with the late leader in opposition and also in office, recounts that the advance for the military aircraft had initially seemed like a scam. But Vajpayee wanted to know more and it transpired that the advance was needed to keep the Sukhoi manufacturing unit afloat. Then Russian President Boris Yeltsin sought the advance as the country’s economy was facing a rough patch.
Vajpayee decided not to raise the issue in the 1996 LS campaign, writes Sinha, as he felt that India’s security needs would be compromised. As things turned out Rao, who had taken a controversial but correct decision, lost poll and the deal was completed by SP member Mulayam Singh Yadav who became defence minister in the United Front government.
“Though too many details were not known at the time, Vajpayee didn’t use this point about an unusual advance in his poll campaign,” the book says, offering a contrast over political battles waged over recent defence deals.
Sinha writes that Vajpayee complimented Yadav in Parliament and his words of praise took some BJP members by surprise. Later, Yadav arranged a briefing for Vajpayee and senior BJP member Jaswant Singh explaining the circumstances of the military contract. Vajpayee wanted to signal domestic consensus on major security issues, particularly as regards Russia which was a major supporter of India in international forums and supplied most of its military imports. Written by an insider, the book sets out details on political developments that led to Vajpayee becoming PM in 1998 and the sensitive negotiations with AIADMK’s J Jayalalitha whose visit was preceded by a discussion on serving coconut water rather than tea. Sinha also sets out details of how she rocked and brought down the government over BJP’s inability to dismiss the DMK regime.
As per the book, contrary to popular perception, Vajpayee was not all that much of an extempore speaker and worked hard on his major speeches. He also rebuts the “right man in the wrong party” label for Vajpayee, noting that Vajpayee might have differed with BJP on occasions but remained loyal to the Sangh cause. He was steeped in Hindu cultural traditions in his upbringing.