Former Prime Minister and a renowned statesman Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 93, passed away due to multi-organ failure, on August 16 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.
The three-time Prime Minister, who commanded great respect in the political circle, was admitted at AIIMS nine weeks ago on June 11. However, his condition worsened in the past 36 hours, and he was put on life support system, said AIIMS health bulletin.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mourned BJP-patriarch Vajpayee’s death and stated that his death marks ‘end of an era’. President Ram Nath Kovind and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also paid homage to the towering politician who was the strong face of opposition and challenged Congress’ successive rule at the Centre.
Long-standing parliamentarian Vajpayee was a soft-spoken poet and a dynamic leader who was known for taking bold decisions, like 1999 Kargil war, during his tenure at the Prime Minister Office(PMO). While his first two terms as PM in 1996 and 1998 were short stints of 13 days and 13 months respectively, his third term starting October 1999 secured him the reputation of a progressive and a bold leader. From connecting villages to cities under his iconic Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna to strong foreign policies, his contribution to the Indian politics will be remembered for many years to come.
Face of moderation
Vajpayee’s political career had roots in right-wing hardliner Rashtriya Swayamsevak (RSS) backyard, yet he was identified as a liberal leader. He was one of the few right-wing leaders that commanded a great deal of respect from everyone, nationally and internationally, including Pakistan.
Vajpayee started attending RSS shakhas at a very young age, and his political ideology was shaped around the right-wing approach towards nation-building. However, Vajpayee never fell for the religious animosity and hardline approach towards minorities. Regardless of his association with Sangh parivar, he promoted peace and harmony among different sects. He became the face of moderation and peace due to his repeated attempts to solve Kashmir conflict through ‘insaniyat’ and mend terms with Pakistan.
An able statesman and a visionary leader
Vajpayee’s encounter with politics happened in 1942 during the Quit India Movement. He was elected to Lok Sabha in 1957. However, it was in the 1980s that he began to display his political prowess. Known for playing his cards close to the chest and stitching strategic alliances, Vajpayee was a fiery orator and masterful rhetoric. His oratory skills were noted by SP Mookerjee, founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and got him entry into the party. Later, Vajpayee along with his close aide LK Advani carved out Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP). From here began the making of a great parliamentarian. In 1994, Vajpayee received Lokmanya Tilak Award and Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant Award for his parliamentary skills. Vajpayee was conferred Padma Vibhushan in 1992 and received Bharat Ratna Award in 2014.
In his eventful political career that spanned over five decades, Vajpayee played a critical role in shaping up the politics of modern India. While he challenged political elitism by coming to parliament in a bullock cart, he displayed ability of a modern and visionary statesman by making India nuclear power after the successful launch of Pokhran-II. Political pundits have lauded his governance. He introduced various reforms that boosted the country’s economic growth.
His formula of using sugarcane-extracted ethanol in petrol reduced country’s heavy dependence on oil imports. He also invigorated public sector savings from 0.8% in 2000 to 2.3% in 2005 by introducing Fiscal Responsibility Act. He passed several legislations with firm resolve, despite strong opposition. His privatisation drive was widely criticised but that didn’t stop Vajpayee to sell 32 state-owned companies to private firms. Furthermore, his massive infrastructure drive connected villages with the cities and boosted trade. His model of constructing arterial roads to stimulate growth has been followed by successive central and state governments.
His charisma at the international forum was also widely acknowledged, with many diplomats appreciating his fixation with peace. Even Pakistan’s then-President Pervez Musharraf developed a liking for Vajpayee’s statesmanship. His strategic skills in foreign policy were displayed when the United States wanted India to be part of the Iraq war. Vajpayee neither wanted to be part of the US mass-killing drive, nor did he want to spoil US-India ties. He subtly dropped the hint to Left parties, who were protesting against India’s participation in Iraq war, that ‘there isn’t enough opposition on the ground’. Following this, the opposition grew, and Vajpayee used it as an excuse to stay out of the Iraq invasion.
However, towards the end of his tenure as PM, Vajpayee government was scarred with allegations of crony capitalism and 2002 Godhra riots under then BJP’s Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Moreover, the Babri demolition drive under the BJP leaders and the Godhra massacre tainted the party and his supremo. Then President KR Narayanan also blamed Vajpayee government for not safeguarding the minorities. Vajpayee later regretted Babri mosque demolition and said, “It was unfortunate. It should not have happened.”
Furthermore, his ‘India Shining’ campaign failed to attract voters, and he had to step down. A year later in December 2005, Vajpayee announced his retirement from active politics and spent his remaining years in isolation and solitude.
Today, the nation mourns the demise of a skillful politician who gave the country the first national-level opposition party to the Indian National Congress.