A tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee

By Sanchit on Tuesday, June 22, 2010

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Atal bihari vajpayee tribute

The young MP whom Nehru foresaw as future PM

In 1957 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was first elected to the Lok Sabha, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed by the oratorical skills of Vajpayee that the former commented to his fellow parliamentarians that this young MP would lead the nation one day. It took 39 years for Nehru's prophesy to come true. Vajpayee was Prime Minister of India from May 16-June 1, 1996, and a second time from March 19, 1998 to May 13, 2004. As destiny would have it, Vajpayee has been the only Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to occupy the office of the Prime Minister of India through three successive mandates. Vajpayee has also been the first Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi to lead his party to victory in successive elections. A veteran parliamentarian whose career stretches over five decades, Vajpayee was elected to the Lok Sabha nine times and to the Rajya Sabha twice, a record by itself. As India's Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Chairperson of various important Standing Committees of Parliament, he has been an active participant in the shaping of India's post-Independence domestic and foreign policy.

A respected voice in the Opposition

Vajpayee has been in power only for six years, but his greatest contribution to the nation is as a respected voice in the opposition. As the leader of erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh, he expanded its political appeal, organization and agenda beyond the narrow confines of his party and his broad appeal brought respect, recognition and acceptance to what was perceived as a right-wing Hindu nationalist party. Vajpayee, along with many BJS and RSS colleagues, particularly his long-time and close friends Lal Krishna Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, founded the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980 and became its first President. Vajpayee is the first political leader to run a ruling coalition successfully for the full tenure of the government and to end the single-party dominance of the Congress in power. He could do so only because of his broad acceptability across the political spectrum.

From the Opposition Bench to seat of power Vajpayee proved that he is as effective in the Government as he is in the Opposition. His tryst with power came when he held the post of External Affairs Minister in the Morarji Desai Government from March 24, 1977 to July 28, 1979.

In a tenure lasting two years, Vajpayee made many significant achievements. He went on a historic visit to China in 1979, normalizing relations with China for the first time since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. He visited Pakistan and initiated normal dialogue and trade relations that were frozen since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War and subsequent political instability in both countries. Vajpayee represented the nation at the Conference on Disarmament, where he defended the national nuclear program, the centrepiece of national security in the Cold War world, especially with neighboring China being a nuclear power. Although he resigned in 1979 on the dual membership issue, he had established his credentials as an experienced statesman and a respected political leader. During his tenure as Foreign Minister, he also became the first person to deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi (in 1977), which he describes as the "most unforgettable" moment in his life.

As PM, Vajpayee achieved major milestones

After a brief stint as Prime Minister in 1996, Vajpayee headed a coalition government from March 19, 1998 until May 19, 2004. His tenure as Prime Minister was marked by several milestones. In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan. The five tests shocked and surprised the world, especially considering that the government had been in power for only a month. In late 1998 and early 1999, Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan, with the historic inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999. The Kargil war(1999), the Kandahar hijack episode in December 1999 and the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, were some of the crises faced by Vajpayee as Prime Minister. Vajpayee is credited with having evicted the last intruder from Kargil with minimum casualties on the India side. The enactment of Prevention of Terrorist Act(POTA) was a bold move initiated by the Vajpayee government to check rising terrorism in the county.

It was repealed by the subsequent Congress government. Vajpayee introduced many important economic and infrastructural reforms, encouraging the private sector, eradicating waste and restrictions and encouraging foreign investment, research and development and privatization of incompetent government entities. His major initiatives towards infrastructural development of the country included the Golden Quadrilateral and inter-linking of rivers. But these projects did not make much headway after BJP was voted out of power in 2004.

A man of the masses

Vajpayee is truly acknowledged as the greatest living political orator in India. There is not many to match his ability as a crowd-puller and a vote-catcher. A man of the masses, his leadership of the NDA gave a new meaning to the concept of coalition government in India. By virtue of his consensual approach, secular outlook and wide acceptability even among political rivals, Vajpayee is often referred to as the `right man in the wrong party'. He was the only leader in the Sangh parivar with the moral courage to publicly denounce the Babri Masjid demolition. Perhaps, had he been in the Congress party minus its dynastic moorings, Vajpayee would have equalled or surpassed Nehru's record as prime minister. His absence was greatly felt during the 2009 general election, the first election in four decades when he kept completely aloof from campaigning due to ill-health. BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj attributed the setback received by BJP in the last general election to the abscence of Vajpayee on the campaign trail. It is a tribute to his personality that even after he retired from active politics, Vajpayee still retains a position of esteem and respect among common people seldom offered to politicians in India.

Advani fails to measure up to Vajpayee's stature

A look back at Vajpayee's political career will be incomplete without a comparison with his closest political partner L K Advani. Advani is the undoubted inheritor of Vajpayee's mantle. Before retiring from active politics, Vajpayee announced: "from now onwards, Lal Krishna Advani and Pramod Mahajan (a BJP leader from Maharashtra, shot dead by his own brother) would be the Ram-Laxman of the BJP. But Advani has failed to measure up to the stature of Vajpayee. Advani himself has revealed the reason for this. "The party is with me, but the people are with Vajpayee", Advani once said light-heartedly, commenting on the fact that there was none to match Vajpayee's mass appeal. Advani faced severe criticism for carrying on a personalised campaign against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the last general election. This is what distinguishes Vajpayee from Advani. Vajpayee has never been in the habit of hitting his opponents below the belt. He had an uncanny ability to use political satire as a powerful tool to disarm his rivals. History may judge Vajpayee as a leader who lent dignity to Indian politics.

Source: P Venugopal, India Syndicate

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