The nation has paid its tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his death. Thousands of people mourned the loss as one of the BJP’s popular statesman, and leaders was rested with full state honours. The government has declared a state of mourning for seven days, and the national flag across the country will be flown on semi-mast for seven days.
CNN highlighted that the leader didn’t succumb to international pressure. “Facing heavy criticism at home and abroad over India’s nuclear ambitions, Vajpayee defied the threat of economic sanctions, telling parliament that “we have never made a decision after coming under international pressure and we will never do so in the future,” the obituary read.
In an obituary named ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India, dies at 93’, The New York Times described Vajpayee as a strong politician. “Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who as India’s Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004 stunned the world by ending a decades-old moratorium on nuclear weapons tests but nevertheless managed to ease tensions with Pakistan and build closer ties to the United States, died on Thursday in New Delhi. He was 93.”
The Washington Post was told in his obituary entitled ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee’, a Prime Minister who made India a nuclear power, died on 93. The article credited Vajpayee for establishing a nuclear weapon state but also elaborated on how India’s decision to test nuclear weapons impacted its relations with the United States.
Pakistan’s media outlet The Dawn put an obituary named ‘Vajpayee, Favouring Peace With Pakistan’, where it was said that Vajpayee was praised in Pakistan as an ‘honest peacekeeper’.
The first Foreign Minister, who gave a speech in Hindi at the United Nations General Assembly, Atal Bihari Vajpayee effectively lifted India’s stand on important issues such as nuclear disarmament, state-sponsored terrorism, and improvement in the world in general.
“I am a newcomer to the United Nations, but India is not, having been associated actively with the Organisation from its very inception.
As one who has been a parliamentarian in my own country for two decades and more, I feel a special sense of exhilaration in attending this assembly of nations for the first time,” he said in his historic address.
Vajpayee visited United Nations Headquarters to give speeches on seven occasions at the General Assembly from 1977 to 2003 in his role as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister. Known for his great explanation skills, Vajpayee addressed the UNGA 32nd session in 1977 under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister Morarji Desai under the Janata Party government.
Born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior, to a humble school teacher in Madhya Pradesh, Vajpayee entered politics in 1942 during the Quit India Movement. He graduated in Political Science from Victoria College in Gwalior. It is said that Vajpayee, who was also fluent in English, was the force behind raising Hindi on the international stage by giving every UN speech in Hindi.
He touched the theme of the Non-Coalition Movement and said that India “stands firmly for peace, non-alignment, and friendship with all countries.” Vajpayee said, “Vashudhaiva Kutumbakam’s vision – the world is a family – an old one. We believe in the concept of the world as a family in India.” In his speech, he said that India is hoping to strengthen relations with Pakistan to not only ensure lasting peace but also to promote beneficial bilateral cooperation. This was the first time that an Indian leader had given a speech in Hindi in the UNGA because other Indian leaders had opted to speak only in English.
In 1978, Vajpayee again visited the UNGA as External Affairs Minister and raised the issue of nuclear disarmament.
“There is no let-up in the arms race either quantitatively or qualitatively. Disarmament is still a distant goal, and the probability of a nuclear war looms over us like a menacing shadow.
“India believes that partial measures such as the creation of zones free of nuclear weapons comprising the nuclear ‘have-nots’ are not likely to generate any genuine feeling of security unless there is, at the same time, significant progress towards nuclear disarmament,” he said.
In 1998, Vajpayee came to give a speech as Prime Minister in the UNGA and then met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York.“India has shown that democracy can take root in a developing country… I believe the Indian experience will prove that democracy can provide a stable, long-term basis for development in developing societies, this is the path that India has chosen, and I stand in front of the Assembly today, as this new symbol of the resurrection,” he added.
In 2000, Vajpayee appeared once again in UNGA to address the United Nations Millennium Summit. They talked about the threat of terrorism, nuclear war and nuclear programs of India.“The threat of atomic war is a serious threat to global peace and security in the new era, whose arrival has been marked by this Summit,” Vajpayee said, “India was forced to develop these weapons in 1998 because the major nuclear weapons states refused to accept the almost universal demand of disarmament. Besides, the spread of nuclear weapons in our neighbourhood made us particularly vulnerable.”
He returned in 2001 to address the 56th session of the UNGA and talked about the policy of sponsoring terrorism by some states because a session was being organized in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.“We know from our bitter experience in India that terrorists develop a global network driven by religious extremism, whose operations are supported by drug smuggling, money laundering, and weapon smuggling. Some states adhere to the policy of sponsoring and sheltering them, and terrorists can only be considered through the coordinated efforts of the international community.”
In 2002, Vajpayee again raised the issue of state-sponsored terrorism and nuclear blackmail in South Asia in his address in the 57th session of the UNGA.“In our South Asian region, in the last few months, Atomic Blackmail has emerged as a new arrow in the State-sponsored terrorism quiver.” He warned, “There were dark threats that India could incite a nuclear war to prevent cross-border terrorism.”
Vajpayee’s last address at the UPA came in 2003 when he criticized the world body in the 58th session, “The United Nations has not always been successful in stopping or resolving conflicts” and referring to Iraq’s example he said that “we need to introspect on some assumptions made in the years related to the will and reach of the United Nations.”
“We felt that the United Nations does not have magical powers to solve every crisis in all parts of the world or to change the inspiration of the leaders and communities around the world,” Vajpayee said that with the sense of realism. It is necessary to recognize clearly what the United Nations can achieve, and in order to play an optimum role in today’s world, changes in form and function are required. Ten times Lok Sabha member, Vajpayee announced his retirement from politics in 2005. He passed away in New Delhi on August 16. May his soul rest in peace.
A version of this post was first published here.