In India, prime ministers are thought to be frail if they have an unabridged majority in Parliament. By that definition, Vajpayee should have been a very powerless prime minister. Yet, it was through Vajpayee’s thoughtful perceptiveness that he transformed the appearance of the BJP from being seen as an opinionated party,arising from the destruction of the Babri Masjid, to one being honoured by colleagues.
Always provoked, he was able to reign productively. Hewas momentous in moulding India’s democracy and establishing the country on the path to economic breakthrough. He was generous and unselfish by nature.
He was very distinguished for his oratory skills and held several prestigious positions in Indian politics before being elected the Prime minister. From speaking with vivacity in the Parliament to using humour and wit to tackle questions on a tricky issue like Kashmir, Vajpayee has always used this benefit to persuade through thehearts of the nation. Against his opposition, Indira Gandhi was known as The Iron Lady and The Empress of India. But she heeded that powercan only be attained through crippling the institutions, she disregarded the only rule in the democracy which isto give respect to the authority of the institutions. She concentrated all the political power in her which resulted in creating the most cataclysmic atmosphere in India at that time.
Atal Behari Vajpayee was a highly respected veteran politician who had served as the Prime Minister of India in three non-consecutive terms. He was a member of the Indian Parliament for almost five decades; in fact he was the only parliamentarian who had been elected from four different states at different times, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi. He entered the politics during the pre-independence era when he took part in the Quit India Movement which led to his arrest and imprisonment.
A true nationalist, he was one of the founding members of the once named Bharatiya Jana Sangh, an Indian political party. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s UNGA address on September 13, 2002, is celebrated for being the first one delivered in Hindi. However, there are more consequential issues it should be remembered for.
For the first time, an Indian PM took on Pakistan’s use of terror in the United Nations. He had said he would negotiate on Kashmir when terrorism stopped — and, interestingly, levels of violence fell to almost zero in 2002.
His first stint as the Prime Minister of India lasted for just 13 days. He was again sworn in for the second time after a couple of years. This time too, his government lasted for just over a year. His third stint as the Prime Minister was his most lucrative one and he served a full term of five years in this position.
From leading a delegation at United Nations to introducing Lahore bus service to resolving the vexed Kashmir issue with Pakistan, Vajpayee won the hearts of Indians and even the opposition.
An orator par excellence, who gave some of the memorable speeches that will remain, etched in the annals of Indian parliamentary history. On Aug 16th 2018, this BJP stalwart passed away at AIIMS in Delhi.
Childhood & Early Life
Atal Behari Vajpayee was born into a middle-class family in Gwalior. His father was Krishna Behari Vajpayee, a school teacher and poet, and his mother was Krishna Devi. He attended the Saraswati Shishu Mandir and later went to Victoria College from where he graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit.He enrolled at DAV College, Kanpur to complete his post graduation and earned his M.A. in Political science.
Vajpayee’s mark in Indian politics had already been made due to the sheer brilliance of his eloquence. Rarely would a politician around the world have made a mark with his style of communication the way he did. In the days when India’s political scene was dominated by the giants of the Indian National Congress, Vajpayee had already carved his own alcovespot in Parliament.
- Vajpayee was elected to the LokSabha for the first time from Balrampur (U.P.) in 1957.
- He was made the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968 after the death of DeendayalUpadhyaya. In 1977, the BJS was united with the BharatiyaLok Dal and the Socialist Party to form the Janata Party.
- After the victory of the Janata Party in the general elections, Vajpayee became the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s government.
- The Janata Party was dissolved following Morarji Desai’s resignation as Prime Minister in 1979. Vajpayee, in collaboration with Lal Krishna Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat formed the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) in 1980 and became the party’s first president.
- After the 1984 elections, when BJP was reduced to two seats, Vajpayee worked tirelessly to build the party and in the next parliamentary elections in 1989 BJP won 88 seats.
- By 1991, BJP had emerged as the principal opposition party and the party won 120 seats in 1991 parliamentary elections. He became the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in 1993 and in November 1995 at a BJP conference in Mumbai, he was declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP.
Career as the Prime Minister
First Term: May 1996
Due to not efficient support from other parties to obtain a majority, Atalji resigned as Prime Minister of India after 13 days.
Second Term: 1998-1999
- It was during his tenure that India conducted underground nuclear tests in Pokhran in May 1998, just a month after the government came into power. These tests were regarded a national milestone.
- The Kargil War between India and Pakistan took place between May and July 1999. By the end of the war, the Indian Army and Air force had recaptured the areas infiltrated by the Pakistani militants. The Kargil victory cemented the reputation of Vajpayee as a strong and able leader of the nation. The BJP-led NDA again emerged as the largest political alliance in the 1999 general elections in the wake of the Kargil War victory. Kargil was followed by the Agra Summit in 2001 where Vajpayee refused to relent to pressure from Pakistan’s President Musharraf, with the summit ending in an utter failure. His period as Prime Minister also witnessed the largest turbulence in J&K in terms of terrorists killed; in 2001.
Third term: 1999–2004
- Vajpayee was made the Prime Minister for the third time in October 1999. He introduced many economic and infrastructural reforms like strengthening of private sectors, encouraging private research and development, bringing about privatization of certain government owned corporations, etc. His major projects were National Highway Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram SadakYojana. U.S. President Bill Clinton paid a state visit to India in March 2000. Clinton’s visit to India was viewed as very significant in improving the foreign trade and economic relations between the two nations.
- Vajpayee’s privatization campaigns were criticized by trade unions and government employees as excessive privatization was not in their favour.
- In 2001, he invited the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to India with a view to improve Indo-Pak relations. However, this attempt could not achieve much success for India.
- He launched the SarvaShikshaAbhiyan in 2001, with the aim of universalization of elementary education. Within four years of its launch in 2001, the number of out-of school children dropped by 60 per cent.
- The Parliament House in New Delhi was attacked in December 2001 by Pakistan trained terrorists. Investigations pointed to a conspiracy hatched in Pakistan. For a long time the threat of a full-fledged war between the two nations loomed.
- In 2002, Hindu-Muslim violence in the state Gujarat killed more than 1,000 people. Vajpayee officially condemned the violence. Later, Vajpayee’s controversial remarks raised questions against him. He said,”Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace.” The remark was later clarified by PMO office. Vajpayee was also accused of doing nothing to stop the violence, and later admitted mishandling the event. K. R. Narayanan president of India also blamed Vajpayee’s government for failing to stop the violence.
- On 18th of April 2003, during a visit to Kashmir, Vajpayee’s penultimate year in power, Vajpayee outlined his famous philosophy of resolving J&K through dialogue with Pakistan and the people. The words – “Insaniyatkedaiyeremein” rang loud and clear, lifting him to a status of full and final endearment among the people of J&K; perhaps a level to which no Indian Prime Minister had ever risen. From that emerged the soft slogan – ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat’; the three principles by which peace would be sought by the Indian state in J&K. Prime Minister NarendraModi even repeated these in his speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day 2018.
- The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was enacted in the aftermath of the attack. The Vajpayee government implemented several economic reforms during 2002-03 which resulted in a record growth rate of 6-7% in the GDP.
- Vajpayee resigned as Prime Minister in 2004 after Congress emerged as the single largest party in the general elections. He announced his retirement from active politics in 2005 and didn’t contest the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Awards & Achievements
- He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in India in 1992 for his distinguished contribution in public affairs.
- He received honorary D. Lit. from Kanpur University in 1993.
- He was honored with Best Parliamentarian Award in 1994.
- In 2014, he was honoured with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the Republic of India.
Personal Life & Legacy
- Vajpayee remained a bachelor all his life. He had adopted Namita Bhattacharya, the daughter of BN Kaul and RajkumariKaul, and was very close to his friends and relatives.
- He had a deep love for Hindi and wrote several poems in the language. He had a long history of illness. He underwent knee replacement surgery in 2001.
- A stroke in the year 2009 impaired his speech. In the last few years of his life, he was largely confined to a wheelchair and failed to recognise people. He suffered from dementia and diabetes. He had not attended any public event in the last few years of his life.
All of this appreciation hasn’t just occurred by the multitude of anguish. It has come because of the nature and personality of his which always had a lasting impact on the lives of people during the course of time.
What he has done for India is somewhat unattainable for any of the politicians present today and only for this reason, Atalji was unquestionably the most apt winner of the Bharat Ratna.
His soul will persistently guide us as we constitute the New India of his dreams.