Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee breathed his last on August 16, 2018. India lost a great son that day. Not only was he a brilliant politician with a conviction but also a man of the masses and is one of India’s most beloved leader to date. He commanded respect within the Indian political spectrum as well as abroad. He was one of the very few politicians who was respected by both his colleagues and his rivals alike. A powerful orator, he impressed everyone with his words and his poetry and is considered one of the finest Hindi poets.
An ardent follower of Gandhi at the age of 16 years in 1942, Atalji along with his elder brother participated in the Quit India Movement. He flirted with communism initially before joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1939 after being influenced by Babasaheb Apte. In 1951, along with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, he started working for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He was appointed the national secretary of the party for the northern region. He became a close aide and follower of party leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1957 he contested the general elections to the Lok Sabha. He lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura but won in Balrampur. Such was his oratory skills that the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru predicted that Vajpayee would become the Prime Minister someday.
In 1975 Vajpayee was jailed along with several opposition leaders during the Internal Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi regime. After the emergency ended in 1977 a coalition of political parties including the Jana Sangh came together to form the Janata Party which won the subsequent general elections. After the coalition collapsed with the resignation of Morarji Desai in 1979, he became the driving force behind the Bharatiya Janta Party which was formed in 1980.
He became the Prime Minister of India for the first time when Bharatiya Janta Party emerged as the single largest party in 1996, but he had to resign after 13 days since the party could not prove its majority. Successive coalition governments ruled till 1998. BJP again emerged as the single largest party after fresh elections were held in 1998 and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister. He was able to keep the coalition intact despite the fact that many of the parties were not aligned with the Hindutva ideology of the Bharatiya Janta Party. Not only this, he is the only parliamentarian to be elected from 4 states.
Atalji’s tenure is considered to be one of the brightest periods in the history of modern India and some of his policies changed India forever. He is credited with making India a nuclear state. He secretly gave a thumbs up for the nuclear tests in a meeting to the Department of Atomic Energy chief R. Chidambaram and the DRDO chief Abdul Kalam on April 8 and subsequently, preparations were made in order to conduct the tests in order to avoid suspicion and grab attention from the US satellites. The tests were conducted in Pokharan on May 11, 1998. The tests had caused an outrage among the international community and sanctions were slapped on India. Such was Atalji’s conviction that none of these threats could deter him from making India a nuclear power.
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, Vajpayee initiated a new peace process aimed towards permanently resolving the Kashmir dispute and other conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and mutual friendship and envisaged a goal of denuclearised South Asia. This eased the tension created by the 1998 nuclear tests, not only between the two nations but also in South Asia and the rest of the world.
Vajpayee launched many ambitious road projects – the Golden Quadrilateral and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana. Both the projects proved to be of immense success and contributed immensely to India’s economic growth. The Vajpayee government made another beginning by introducing the Fiscal Responsibility Act that aimed to bring down fiscal deficit. It boosted public-sector savings which rose from -0.8% of GDP in FY 2000, to 2.3% in FY 2005.
During his 3 terms, Vajpayee took India to new heights with his conviction and firm determination. He always stressed on unity between the government and the opposition, since the common goal of both of them is the welfare of the nation.
He has led such an exemplary life that no one will ever be able to fit in his shoes. The successor of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh summed up his contributions to Indian politics by hailing him as ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of independent India, the Maha-Bharata. He commanded respect and love not only during his lifetime but even after demise. His final journey to Smriti Sthal in Delhi, where he was cremated with full state honors, was not only attended by distinguished Indian leaders and foreign dignitaries, but it also saw thousands of common people in attendance.