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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: The man, the legend, the people’s politician

To say that Mr Vajpayee had a life of impact and significance would be an understatement. It would not be worthy of the stature of the man. A people’s leader, an impeccable orator and a poet, Vajpayee wore a lot of hats and unlike many they did not burden his head. It is said that how a man performs under pressure and in the face of adversities is telling of the mettle of the man, it is by this virtue that Mr Vajpayee would be remembered as the man who brought grace, poetry and most importantly the quintessential ‘Indianness’ into Indian polity. The prestigious ‘Bharat Ratna’ award was conferred on Vajpayee on 27th March 2015. His birthday, 25th December is also celebrated as ‘Good Governance Day’. Even when he wrote his simplicity and humbleness became apparent –

ऊंचे पहाड़ पर,
पेड़ नहीं लगते,
पौधे नहीं उगते,
न घास ही जमती है।
जमती है सिर्फ बर्फ,
जो कफन की तरह सफेद और
मौत की तरह ठंडी होती है।
मेरे प्रभु!
मुझे इतनी ऊंचाई कभी मत देना
गैरों को गले न लगा सकूं
इतनी रुखाई कभी मत देना।

Born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on 25th December 1924 in Gwalior, Vajpayee did his initial schooling from Saraswati Sishu Mandir, Gwalior. He later graduated from Gwalior’s Victoria College which has been renamed to Laxmi Bai College with distinctions in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. He furthered his education by completing his masters in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur.

A young politician in a young Democracy

Vajpayee’s political career coincides with the rise of the Indian democracy. As the nation built its institutions time and time again Vajpayee reinvented himself to adapt and often, was the agent for change.

Vajpayee’s political career is as vast as the number of accomplishments of the man. A parliamentarian for over four decades Vajpayee was elected to the ‘Lok Sabha’ ten times and to the Rajya Sabha two times.

The young Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) in 1939 and became a ‘Pracharak’ in 1947. He was chosen to be the National Secretary of the newly founded ‘Jan Sangh’ the party which is considered to be the predecessor to the Bharatiya Janata Party of today.

Vajpayee grew close to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and participated in a fast-unto-death in protest of inferior treatment received by non-Kashmiri Indians in the state of Kashmir. He was elected for the first time in 1957 from the ‘Balrampur’ constituency to the Lok Sabha. Soon after Mukherjee’s death, the mammoth task of leading Jan Sangh came unto the young Vajpayee and he became the National President of the party in 1968. It was his excellent oratory skills that made him the face of Jan Sangh.

Emergency and birth of a new era

It was the mid-seventies and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had imposed internal emergency on 1975. Vajpayee along with other leaders was arrested. In 1977 when the emergency ended the nation wanted a unified opposition and Vajpayee heeded to the call of the nation. He merged Jan Sangh into the newly formed grand-alliance, the Janata Party.

Janta Party swept the polls in 1977. Vajpayee became the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Moraji Desai’s cabinet. Vajpayee has always been a propagator of Indian linguistic prowess and he displayed by becoming the first person to deliver a speech to United Nations General Assembly in Hindi, but all was not calm in the Janata Government.

The Janata Party dissolved as soon as Prime Minister Desai handed in his resignation. Vajpayee after getting out of the Janata coalition decided to form a new party alongside L.K.Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat namely Bharatiya Janta Party in 1980.  Vajpayee became the party’s first president and then came 1984 the lowest point in BJP’s history. BJP was reduced to only two parliamentary seats in 1984 elections.

Ram Janmabhoomi Movement & the turning of BJP’s electoral fate

From the mid 80’s to the early 90’s the entire nation was abuzz with the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, which sought to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama in Ayodhya. This campaign proved to be a turning point for BJP. BJP in 1995 declared Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate for the 1996 parliamentary elections.

1996 general election results made the Bharatiya Janata Party the single largest party in Lok Sabha. Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Vajpayee to form the government and Vajpayee was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India but the BJP could not pass the floor test and the government lasted only 13 days.

Pokhran and the Kargil war

Between 1996 and 1998 two more United front governments fell and Lok Sabha was dissolved and fresh elections were announced and held. This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties joined the BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister.

The NDA proved its majority in the parliament. The government lasted 13 months until mid-1999 when the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa withdrew its support to the government. The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a single vote on 17 April 1999. As the Opposition was unable to come up with the numbers to form the new government, the Lok Sabha was again dissolved and fresh elections were held. Vajpayee remaining the Prime Minister until the elections were held.

Vajpayee then focused on India’s nuclear ambitions. He successfully negotiated with and deterred any attempt made by foreign countries to stop India from weaponizing its nuclear capability. In May 1998 India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Rajasthan. These tests were held just after the first month of Vajpayee government’s assuming of power. It is believed that the CIA was complete shocked by this development as they had no intelligence input about the programme. At that point in time, Russia and France endorsed India’s right to defend itself many countries like the U.S, U.K, Canada, Japan and E.U imposed various sanctions on India. Vajpayee did not succumb to the international pressure rendering the sanctions futile. The nuclear test was called – Pokhran II.

Vajpayee showed great leadership in leading India through the Kargil war. He showed a great sense of control and statesman attributes when he sent a secret letter to the then U.S president Bill Clinton stating – “we will get them out, one way or the other.” The Kargil war started when militants and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers had infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley and captured control of border hilltops, unmanned border posts. The incursion was centred around the town of Kargil, but also included the Batalik and Akhnoor sectors and artillery exchanges at the Siachen Glacier.

Indian army units were swiftly rushed into Kashmir in response. Operation Vijay, launched in June 1999, saw the Indian military fighting thousands of militants and soldiers in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and while facing harsh weather and treacherous terrain at the high altitude. Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the three-month-long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600-4,000 Pakistani militants and soldiers died as well. India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infantry soldiers.

The first full term Non-congress Prime Minister assumed office

Due to Vajpayee’s strong leadership during the Kargil war, BJP won 303 seats out of the available 543, giving them a secured majority in Parliament. Vajpayee took oath as the Prime minister of India on 13th October 199.

One of the key features of the Vajpayee government was their road infrastructure building capability and efficiency. His government was so good that even UPA government accepted before the Supreme Court in 2013 that half of the roads developed in the last 32 years have been developed in Vajpayee’s 5-year stint. Two of the most important projects taken up by the Vajpayee government was National Highways Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, both were aimed at connectivity and logistics.

He also showed a great awareness of foreign policy when the President of the United States of America Bill Clinton visited India in 2000. Clinton was the first the first U.S president to visit India in 22 years after Jimmy Carter. It was indicative that the Vajpayee administration understands the changing geopolitical scenario at that time.

Vajpayee was pushed for privatization during his tenure as the Prime Minister. His economic policies were aimed at free-market policies which were pro-business to reinvigorate India’s economy. All of these steps ensured an increased foreign investment and economic expansion of the country.

The former PM breathed his last today at 5:05 PM in Delhi. As the nation mourns the loss of one of its finest statesman, let us remember Vajpayee the poet who wrote about the undying spirit of life and the need to search for the silver lining under every dark cloud.

टूटे हुए सपने की सुने कौन सिसकी,
अंतः की चिर व्यथा, पलाको पर ठिठकी,
हार नही मानूगा, रार नही ठानुगा,
कल के कपाल पर लिखता, मिटाता हूँ|
गीत नया गाता हूँ|

–  Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

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