New Delhi: A journalist, a poet, a politician and Prime Minister. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was many things at once. As his millions of admirers across the political clan would say, “He was a man for all seasons”.
India’s Bharat Ratna (conferred in 2015), Vajpayee was Prime Minister of India thrice – for 13 days in 1996, then 11 months from 1998 to 1999 and then a full term from 1998 to 2004. He was the first non-Congress politician to have served a full term.
A man of great stature and few words, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday on December 25 is commemorated as Good Governance Day.
Vajpayee was a Member of Parliament for four decades, being elected to the Lower House 10 times and twice to the Rajya Sabha. He retired from active politics in 2009 due to failing health.
Under his leadership when he was Prime Minister for the second term, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan, 24 years after the first tests in 1978. This move prompted Pakistan to respond two weeks later with its tests, revealing it to be the latest nation with nuclear weapons.
During this term too, Vajpayee moved ahead full throttle to establish a new level of diplomatic negotiations with Pakistan. He inaugurated the historic Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, which became a significant step towards deescalating tension with Pakistan, keeping Kashmir in mind. His leadership during the Kargil war, that India won, was lauded across the country as bold and unwavering.
Vajpayee was among the founders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and also headed it from 1968 to 1972. He served as Minister of External Affairs when Morarji Desai was Prime Minister. After the Janata government collapsed, Vajpayee is credited with restructuring Jana Sangh to be Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.
As Prime Minister a third time, Vajpayee concentrated on much-needed reforms in the country’s economy and infrastructure. He encouraged private sector and foreign investment, as well as research and development. He aggressively pursued privatisation of government-owned concerns. Vajpayee picked up the thread from former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to promote free-market reforms that would boost the economy.
Under his pet National Highways Development Project, was initiated the Golden Quadrilateral – 5,846 kilometers to link Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
Vajpayee commanded respect from all politicians, whether warring or at peace with each other. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called him the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics in an address in the Rajya Sabha.
His life and times is best encapsulated in what he once said of his poetry: “My poetry is a declaration of war, not an exordium to defeat. It is not the defeated soldier's drumbeat of despair, but the fighting warrior's will to win. It is not the dispirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory.”