A Tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee

  • Atal B Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister was path braking in many ways. It was for the first time that there emerged a ray of hope that India could live to its potential. The seeds for high economic growth were sowed during his tenure but the actual growth rates were during UPA1. This article tells you about Atalji journey, the hits and the misses.


A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. The iconic leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) always lived by this quote. He was an immensely respected personality, whose political career lasted for about five decades.


Atalji served the nation as the eleventh prime minister of India. He headed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, and became the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term in office.


Atalji was called as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian Politics by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. In 1992 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for exceptional and distinguished service in public affairs. Two years later he was honoured with the best parliamentarian award for his unparalleled contribution to Indian Parliamentary Committees. 


His revolutionary strategies and policies across sectors made a huge difference to the lives of each and every Indian. He was conferred with India’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna, in 2015. The Modi government declared his birthday, i.e. 25th December, as Good Governance Day. 


Early life of Atal Bihari Vajpayee


Born on 25th of December 1924 in Gwalior, Atalji belonged to a middle-class Brahmin family. His father was a school teacher and poet. Vajpayee pursued his studies at the Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Gwalior. Later, he graduated from Victoria College Gwalior now  known as Laxmi Bai College. He did his post-graduation in political science from Kanpur's Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College.


The uncompromising devotion to the Motherland made him join the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in 1939 and soon he became a full-time RSS worker (pracharak). He also worked for Panchjanya Hindi weekly, Rashtradharma Hindi monthly, and daily news platforms like Veer Arjun and Swadesh. Atalji never married. He adopted the daughter of long-time friend Rajkumari Kaul and BN Kaul and raised her as his own child.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s political journey 


He entered public life in the pre-independence era when he took part in the Quit India Movement. He contested elections from the states of Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Atalji was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a nationalist party.


Atalji was a leader of great vision, a nationalist to the core and an outstanding parliamentarian who stood solidly for a cause, far bigger than his own personal advancement. He was elected as member of the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) nine times and twice as the member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Parliament).


He was foreign minister in the Janata Party government 1977 and made attempts to improve relations with China and Pakistan. “The initial 1977 Farakka Accord on the sharing of Ganga waters with Bangladesh was pushed through, despite opposition from Chaudhury Charan Singh.


Atalji became Prime Minister for three non-consecutive terms. His first tenure was from 16 May to 1st June 1996 i.e. for 15 days. The second term was for a span of 13 months from 19 March 1998 to 26 April 1999 and the third phase was the longest and the most remarkable period was for five years i.e. from 13 October 1999 to 22 May 2004. His government was till now the first non-Congress government to be in power for a full five years.


Vajpayee had understood pretty early in his life that flexibility and tolerance were important  factors for a successful political journey. He introduced several infrastructural projects and economic reforms; made policies for encouraging private research and development activities. He supported privatization by selling government-owned corporations and disinvested stake in government companies at an unheard of pace.


It was during his reign that the Golden Triangle Highway project was conceived and implemented. The pace at which Brig B C Hinduri’s team made highways is unparalleled. India’s international image improved due to economic reforms and growth. 


Atalji inherited a very difficult economy after the dream budget of P C Chidambaram. Through sheet grit, economic reforms and better management growth rates increased to 6-7% towards the end of his tenure. Unfortunately the government and BJP took the India Shining campaign seriously and lost the 2004 Lok Sabha poll. It was a big loss for India because the next ten years of UPA rule set back the country by more than a decade. Never take voters for granted.


His commendable skills beyond the domain of leadership


Besides being a highly regarded politician, Atalji was an extremely popular personality across the political spectrum. He was a renowned poet, with several published poems, and loved his mother tongue Hindi. Hearing his videos is sheer delight as much for as what is spoken as the style. In fact he was the first person to deliver a speech in Hindi at the U.N. General assembly. Atalji was well known for his oratory skills even during the time of Nehru.


Remarkable steps taken by Atal Bihari Vajpayee:


The Atalji led NDA government took some important decisions and introduced schemes the notable ones are – 

  • The Pokran nuclear test in May 1998 signalled a new era in India's security and foreign affair relations - the world began to look at India differently.  
  • Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and National Highways Develop Project (NHDP). PMGSY is a nationwide plan to provide good all-weather road connectivity to villages that were not connected. NHDP includes connecting the four major cities of Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi.
  • Economic reforms, privatization of public sector undertakings. Disinvestment proceeds during the last year of NDA 1 was amongst the highest ever for e.g. shares of PSU’s like ONGC, Maruti were sold to the public. 
  • It was during his tenure that free and fair elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir , that marked a turning point in the State’s affairs.
  • In 2001 was launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan that made education a fundamental right for children of ages of 6 to 14.  India has achieved nearly universal net enrolment ratio in elementary education due to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). 

Atalji tried to improve relations with Pakistan and made a historic Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999. Instead what he got was Kargil, Parliament House attack, Kandhar hijack amongst many terrorist attacks.


Former ambassador to Pakistan G Parthasarathy recently wrote, “The Agra Summit followed the hijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar. What came soon after Musharraf's return to Pakistan was the attack on India's Parliament by Masood Azhar's followers, all members of the Jaish e Mohammed, which Azhar headed. I was scathingly critical in the media of Mr Vajpayee's handling of the Kandahar hijacking and the invitation to Musharraf for the Agra Summit.” For article see link one below. 


Retirement and Death


In December 2005 Atalji announced his retirement from active politics and said that he would not contest any subsequent election.


Atalji had major health problems after a stroke in 2009. Due to the stroke, his speech abilities got impaired. Later he could not recognize people as he suffered from dementia. On 11th June 2018 he was admitted to AIIMS Delhi as his health deteriorated. After being in the hospital for two months he breathed his last on 16th August 2018.


Atal B Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister was path braking in many ways. It was for the first time that there emerged a ray of hope that India could live to its potential. The seeds for high economic growth were sowed during his tenure. Due to the lag affect the actual growth happened during UPA 1 for which they are credited. Such is life.


Also read

1 Vajpayee a master of realpolitik

2 Vajpayee Nehruvian in domestic politics but also strategically foolish

3 Similarities between Nehru and Vajpayee

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