In the passing away of Atal Behari Vajpayaee, India has sunk into a deep bereavement which no politician or statesmen has aroused in recent memory. A visionary Prime Minister, towering politician, prolific poet, masterful orator, tolerant leader- Vajpayee was all rolled into one and perhaps much beyond what an adroit Wordsmith could express.
The BJP patriarch who left for a more sublime journey at 93, was adored across the political spectrum. He has left behind a political legacy which few could match. His profound love for the country was amply manifested in a Parliamentary address in 1996 when Vajpayee stunned his peers with words skilfully woven into his own ingenuous poesy. “Governments may come and governments may go and the game of politics will be played ceaselessly. Parties will be created and split but this great nation must survive and democracy ought to live on.”
Indeed, Vajpayee belonged to an era when politics was gentler, less Machiavellian and more democratic than the turmoil of the current times. His glittering political career spanned 47 years and is a compelling case study in itself. From leaving the great Jawaharlal Nehru in consternation to taking his bumptious daughter Indira Gandhi head on, Vajpayee did it all with elan. In fact, Nehru was so amazed by a tender Vajpayee that he could not resist saying he would become the country’s Prime Minister some day. In many ways, Vajpayee was a maverick politician who built his image asunder from the hardline Hindutva agenda of BJP peddled by his contemporaries like L K Advani. One recalls him making his way to the Parliament riding on a bullock cart to protest the hike in fuel prices. Or his astonishing speech in Hindi at the United Nations general assembly!
Vajpayee served as the country’s prime minister thrice – first for 13 days, then 13 months, and finally four-and-a half years. As PM, he took India ahead into the future with some crucial reforms.
His defining moment was an audacious move to make India a nuclear super power by conducting Pokhran tests. Pokhran II was the most anxiously anticipated moment in the scientific history of India. It was during his tenure that India not only tested nuclear bombs successfully but also went unnoticed by US spy agencies while doing so. Scientists tested the nuclear fission and fusion bombs at Pokhran range and helped India realise its nuclear dream. Though the US imposed several sanctions on the country after the tests, India sailed through the difficult times without much difficulty.
In his attempt to thaw India-Pakistan ties, Vajpayee launched a bus service from Delhi to Lahore. But, the peacenik Prime Minister was stabbed by Pakistan when the terrorist nation launched an offensive in the form of Kargil war. But, Vajpayee stood like a rock and led with strength. He famously said: “Pakistan has fired the first bullet, India will fire the last.” In a war fought in the world’s highest battlefield, Vajpayee’s firm determination boosted the morale and India regained every inch of land Pakistan had captured. Today, July 26 in India is celebrated as Kargil Vijay Diwas every year.
As Prime Minister, Vajpayee’s schemes for universalisation of education and social empowerment alongside economic resurgence are abundantly known. His government launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan. The idea was to eradicate illiteracy from the country. ‘Each one, teach one’ was the motto of this educational drive. Vajpayee himself wrote the famous poem ‘School chale hum’, which was used as the promotional song for the campaign. Vajpayee’s vision for development was very realistic. He initiated the Golden Quadrilateral, connecting major cities of India. Also, he pushed the speedy development of national highways under the National Highways Development Project. Vajpayee is credited with launching a revolutionary telecom policy that marked a new dawn for the sector. By opening up competition, the policy made mobile telephony affordable for the ‘aam aadmi’.
Vajpayee’s life was a testament to his unflinching commitment to nation building and a public life of unsullied integrity. His death should serve as a telling reminder to the values that form the lodestar of politics. And, we bid him a teary adieu with his own composition:-
“Kyaa haar mein, kya jeet mein
Kinchit nahin bhaybhit main
Kartavya path par jo mila
Yah bhi sahi wah bhi sahi
Vardaan Mangoonga Nahin”