Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi both belonged to the Bhartiya Janata Party and came from the same ideological background of RSS. There are many similarities amongst them yet many differences. Although, I feel that this question is a bit unfair to Modi as comparing him to a political great like Vajpayee Ji means that he has no chances of winning from the beginning itself.
Both Modi and Vajpayee have been powerful orators. Their oratory has the capacity to bind the audience. But Vajpayee Ji spoke to your heart whereas Modi speaks to your brain. Vajpayee could make you weep with his speeches, Modi would not. Modi’s would make you think. Vajpayee was a poet, he could say a lot with so few words.
Vajpayee ran a coalition government whereas Modi runs a Government with an absolute majority. Both won the mandates in their names. People calling Modi lucky for running a majority Government obviously have forgotten the most punishing and disciplined campaign he ran for his election. Modi addressed 437 rallies, travelled more than 300000 km in a period of 8 months for getting that number. Forget the many Chai pe Charchas, 3D rallies and the interviews he gave. So, he is not lucky. He worked for that number and he got that number. Fair and square. Get over it.
Vajpayee Ji used to share power with people. He was first amongst the equals in his Government, Advani enjoyed almost equal say on almost all policy matters. All his cabinet colleagues were in awe of him yet could freely speak their minds. He was a man of few words. He would give you a patient hearing and yet speak nothing. Modi, on the contrary, does not share, not easily at least. Its said that he heads a Government where Rank 1 to 10 in his Cabinet are all occupied by him. He holds absolute authority over his cabinet and his stamp on his Government is final. He runs a much younger Government and his authority is unchallenged. His colleagues almost fear him.
Vajpayee did not enjoy the luxury of running a majority Government, he had to please many regional satraps, accommodate them. But he was a master at that. He could bring people from different parties together and managed to keep them together. Let me share an anecdote. Once, the hot headed railway minister Mamata Banerjee had stormed off from a cabinet meeting and TMC was threatening to pull out of the Government. During one of his foreign visits, he was accompanied by Ms Banerjee. She was waiting for him as part of the protocol in front of the aircraft. She out of habit touched Vajpayee Ji’s feet. But Vajpayee Ji stopped her midway and hugged her affectionately. The tension evaporated instantaneously. A Modi would not do that.
Vajpayee in his Prime Ministership did not run the Government, he just managed the politics and the coalition. The Government was literally run by his close confidante, National Security Advisor and Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra whereas in Modi’s tenure its run by him. All important policy decisions were taken by him with the Prime Minister being kept in loop. Vajpayee Ji preferred to work from 7 Race Course Road and was briefed in the evening by his NSA and PS about the proceedings of the day. There was a clear understanding between them. Modi’s style is different. He authorises complete hold over the party, the Government and his Chief Ministers as well. He is to be briefed on anything and everything that concerns his Government. He keeps the bureaucracy on its toes and expects them to perform.
Vajpayee’s PMO was like a happy family whereas people worked together in complete trust of the Prime Minister. Modi’s PMO is like Corporate Headquarters where the emphasis is on delivery, performance and deadlines. Modi’s bureaucrats know who the boss is, whom they are accountable to. The chances of fumbles are minimal. Nothing is going to remain unnoticed. Vajpayee was magnanimous in his dealings. He could be forgiving, benevolent and accommodative. Modi is a hard task master, he knows how to make use of the system and use it to his advantage.
Modi’s mandate is bigger and thus his targets are bigger. His focus is on delivery. Modi in his first year has broken many records of performance. Highest electricity production, highest coal production, highest highway construction in a year, the mammoth number of accounts opened under Jan Dhan and he is just getting started. Vajpayee’s successes include the Golden Quadrilateral, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and the nuclear tests. Modi has introduced PM Fasal Bima Yojana, PM Krishi Sinchayi Yoajana amongst many others. Vajpayee Ji was sometimes accused of neglecting the rural sector, whereas many of Modi’s schemes are focussed solely on rural populace. Be it the RURBAN Mission, Kaushal Vikas or Digital India. The rural landscape is getting transformed at a much greater pace. Vajpayee despite efforts could not transform railways, Modi has come up with a comprehensive vision for that.
The BJP as a party has grown at a much faster pace under Modi than compared to Vajpayee. Modi has nearly threatened the existence of his opponents as well as his allies and that is one of the main reasons for hostility towards him. BJP is leading the Government in Maarashtra and Haryana and a partner in J&K Government. All because of Modi. Vajpayee Ji made a 35 seat party Nitish CM when BJP has 65 of its own in Bihar. Modi would never do that. Modi managed to get a deputy CM in J&K but did not make one from Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. He has a vision for his country ,his Government and his party. He bargains hard, he is not in politics for niceties. Modi could never possibly enjoy the luxury of being large hearted, too many people are praying for his failure just as so many are praying for his success.
Modi can never be the statesman Vajpayee Ji was. But I don’t think he is chasing that legacy. He wants to leave behind his own legacy, he himself is his competition. On the Government front, be it domestic policies or the foreign policy, he is carrying forward and building upon the the legacy left behind by Vajpayee Ji. Modi understands the complex intricacies of being a statesman and a shrewd politician. One will help grow your stature, the other will keep you relevant in politics. His speeches from the Parliament or the ramparts of Red Fort have been all statesman like but he won’t shy away from raising those occasional controversial topics in election rallies.
It is too early in his term and I am sure that after a decade or so, we could make a more objective and fair comparison between the two. Modi would love to be compared with his political guru but on objective data. He neither is capable of nor aspires to take his place. Modi, in my opinion, would love to be seen in the light of Vajpayee and how much he could do to achieve what Vajpayee Ji could not but wanted to.