Charisma that binds: Moderate Vajpayee outshines aggressive and decisive Indira Gandhi as India's best PM
but his popularity has only increased since he left office. In our January 2013 poll, for the first time,
Vajpayee has overtaken Indira Gandhi as the most preferred Indian prime minister of all time.
The outcome is somewhat counter-intuitive. India is passing through a phase of very weak national leadership across the political spectrum. In such a context, the strong and decisive Indira Gandhi would
have been an obvious favourite from the past. But respondents have chosen the genial and conciliatory Vajpayee.
Perhaps a nation in crisis is looking for a man of stature and a man of consensus to taper over the several political faultiness that have paralysed governance. Vajpayee, after all, ran a giant, inclusive 22-party coalition for six years with considerably greater ease than Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi has managed (with fewer allies) in either UPA 1 or UPA 2. For the UPA, coalition politics is only a ruse to justify various acts of misgovernance. Vajpayee's NDA, on the other hand, pushed through several tough reforms which in fact benefited UPA 1 by delivering rapid growth. In an era which is likely to be defined by coalition politics and not single-party rule,
a leader needs to carry different voices with him or her, something Indira Gandhi may not have
managed had she not led a single-party government. What also goes in Vajpayee's favour was his ability to rise above the narrow interests of either BJP or RSS. Much like Indira Gandhi, he was larger than the party he belonged to. Importantly, his geniality was never a mask for unprincipled compromise. His leadership style has several lessons for aspirants in both BJP and Congress. BJP 's frontrunner Narendra Modi must learn from Vajpayee the art of inclusive politics and the value of humility in public life. Rahul Gandhi, the frontrunner for Congress, must learn the skills of treating allies as equal partners, not inconvenient subordinates.
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