Friday, August 17, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee - poet, orator, politician, statesman, Prime Minister

Photo courtesy: The Hindu
India is in mourning. The nation lost one of its greatest leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yesterday evening at 5.05, at the age of 93.

He straddled the Indian political scene for nearly 60 years. He was elected to parliament for the first time in 1957; he was the foreign minister from 1977 to 1979, and later the Prime Minister thrice between 1996 and 2004. In 2005, he retired from all public activities and politics.

UNUSUAL GENTLE POLITICIAN

One reason why the sense of loss is extremely heavy is because Vajpayee was the type of politician, we all miss today, not just in India but in many other nations. He belonged to a political party, the BJP, which has always been perceived as radically nationalist, sectarian and divisive.

But, he transformed the image of that party, and made it acceptable to a huge majority of people. As a result, not only the BJP came to power, but Vajpayee, leading a coalition of over 20 parties, completed his tenure of five years - the only non-Congress party prime minister ever to do so.

POET, DIPLOMAT, ORATOR

There are multiple reasons he endeared himself to a vast section of people.

He used his deft diplomacy, poetic way with words and arresting oratorical skills to powerful effect turning adversities into strengths, and setback into success.

He was a great consensus builder. And he was a politician last.

He was willing to give respect and space even to his arch political rivals. The way he fought elections without indulging in personal, below-the-belt-level attacks on his competitors is well known. He proved that politics can also be practised by adhering to certain basic human values. There is no need to make it crass and ugly.

RARE MAGNANIMITY

There are many anecdotes that illustrate the person Vajpayee was:

When India got its first non-Congress government in 1977 (after 30 years of rule by Congress party), Vajpayee was appointed as the foreign minister. When he entered his office, he found that a photo of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (of Congress party) had been removed. Evidently, someone thought that it was only appropriate the photo should be removed as the Congress had lost power. But, Vajpayee got the photo back in place.

Here is another one. India embarked on its historic economic liberalisation during Congress rule in 1991. Economist Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. In a parliament debate, Singh faced harsh criticism of his liberalisation policy from the opposition, especially Vajpayee. Soon after, a hurt Singh went up to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and submitted his resignation. When Vajpayee got to hear about this, he called Singh; and advised that in politics such debates and criticisms should not be taken personally, and urged him to stay in office.

How many politicians today would have such magnanimity.

TUMULTUOUS PREMIERSHIP

The five years he was the Prime Minister from 1999 to 2004 was momentous. Some of the significant events during those years were:

  • The rise of India as an Information Technology super power; 
  • The nuclear tests, and how India survived the international sanctions without a scratch
  • Strengthening of India's relations with the US and many other countries
  • Vajpayee's outreach to Pakistan by extending a hand of friendship even though it was fomenting trouble in Kashmir.
  • Kargil war, and Pakistan's defeat
  • Hijack of an Indian Airlines plane, planned in and directed from Pakistan
  • Overthrow of the civilian government by Pak army
  • Pak-sponsored terror attack on India's parliament. 
  • Vajpayee's continued efforts at friendship with Pakistan, by agreeing to a summit with Pak President Gen Musharraf, who had engineered the Kargil war.
  • A host of development schemes for different sections of the people across the country.

In spite of Vajpayee's popularity and good performance, his party BJP lost the 2004 election to the Congress, and Manmohan Singh became the PM.

In 2005, beset with multiple old-age related ailments, he retired from politics and public life.

Vajpayee was, more than anything, a good human being. He had his fair share of successes and setbacks; but there was never any doubt about the spirit and objectives of his actions. He played straight from his heart. A glorious life, of multiple hues, has come to an end.

Rest in Peace.

REFERENCES AND VIDEO CLIPS

The news in BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian

"Never Thought I Would Be A Politician, Always Wanted To Be A Poet"


Atal Bihari Vajpayee Wasn’t Jealous, Or Insecure, Says Arun Shourie


Vajpayee's Best Speeches & Poetry


Vajpayee's "Here Comes My Resignation, Mr. Speaker" speech in Parliament


Pokhran II- Atal Bihari Vajpayee's major nuclear initiative


Vajpayee's speech in Parliament after Pokaran Test

7 comments:

  1. A brilliant account of ABV’s persona and his achievements.Little wonder he was admired, loved and held in high esteem across all sections of the people regardless of any distinction.A true patriot, may his legacy continue to inform the policy and development of the country.

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  2. He sounds like a great man.

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  3. Well done Pradeep - you've certainly given us a full overview to consider and realise what a great man he appears to be - and yes so many of us should be more generous and careful in our thoughts and work towards helping others ... thanks for this post to the President, who would have been a poet if he hadn't had higher callings ... a sad loss for you and India - with thoughts - Hilary

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  4. Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a great man, great leader, and a humble person. One more anecdote I want to remember here.

    In 1999, when presenting the Stree Shakthi Puraskar award to Chinna Pillai, a village woman from Tamil Nadu, the much older Prime Minister bowed down in respect and touched her feet.

    May he rest in peace.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You have recounted his qualities and achievements in a nutshell.How we miss such qualities in current politicians!

    ReplyDelete
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  7. A man full of generosity, stood for values, carried patriotism in the blood, accepted the worthy outlooks of even rivals and so many such traits we can extract from this gentleman. I really wished for his tenure once more in 2004. Had he been in PM's chair, I think the occupation of his mind would have made him stand upright and many more apposite things for the nation would have materialised. Nice article, Pradeep, bringing to light all that A B Vajpayee's personality profile contained.

    ReplyDelete