The king of coalition dharma, the Bhishma Pitamah of Bharatiya politics, a man who rose like a phoenix above mundane party politics and put the country firmly on the path of sustained economic growth, Bharat Ratna, three time Prime Minister of Bharat, a man who had the audacity to pitchfork Bharat into the elite nuclear league, astounding orator & a mercurial poet, the great Atal Bihari Vajpayee left a long legacy with his demise.
In a society riddled with factionalism & divisive politics, Atal ji was the only statesman who was loved & admired by all politicians cutting across party lines. As the tributes pour in across party lines, the stature of the man towers above everyone else.
Always the conciliator, Atal ji led a 23-party coalition successfully for a full 5-year term, thereby becoming the first non-Congress PM to last a full term. It is unprecedented & unparalleled that a politician in the modern era won so many accolades & rich tributes from all parties & politicians. Such was the charisma, humility & intellect of the man.
A propounder of Hindi, he delivered a memorable speech in Hindi at the UN when he was the foreign minister in the 1977 Morarji Desai cabinet. When Vajpayee made his first entry in parliament in 1957, his oratory skills prompted the then Prime Minister Nehru to prophesize that the former would one day become the PM of Bharat.
Vajpayee ji’s kind heart meant that he left no stone unturned to have good relations with Pakistan, inspite of past betrayals and the ‘death-by-a-1000-cuts’ policy of our neighbour. Staying true to type, Pakistan back-stabbed us in Kargil right after Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore – but the Kargil misadventure of Pakistan was given a befitting reply by Bharat under Vajpayee ji’s leadership & every inch of Bharatiya territory was taken back.
His steely resolve & decisiveness manifested itself in the Pokhran nuclear tests conducted in 1998, undeterred by the threat of sanctions by the US & other countries. It was a tribute to his foreign policy that just 2 years after the Pokhran tests & the imposition of sanctions, the then US President Bill Clinton visited Bharat.
On the domestic front, he did not let the conglomeration of parties which he led come in the way of pursuing development of the country. He pursued his dream of connecting the four corners of the country with a wide network of roads know as the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ & was fondly called ‘sadak wala pradhan mantri’. The focus on infrastructure development, and structural reforms like telecom revolution and disinvestment ensured that the economic liberalization program started by PV Narasimha Rao took deep roots in Bharat under Vajpayee. When Vajpayee left office in 2004, our economy was on the upswing – which makes the way that platform was squandered and then wrecked under UPA-1 and UPA-2 respectively, all the more tragic.
Such was Vajpayee’s charisma & stature that Mamta Banerjee in the east, Chandrababu in the south , Balasaheb in the West & the Akalis in the north were his allies. But that was also a relatively simpler era when the virus of minoritarianism had not become as deeply embedded in our body politic, as it has now become after the UPA era.
One of the biggest achievements of Vajpayee was not letting coalition dharma become an excuse for open loot of the exchequer, and keeping Delhi’s notorious power brokers at bay. The nation went on to witness the worst face of coalition politics under an ‘accidental’ PM in the post-Vajpayee era.
The 2004 loss was a setback for Atal ji, and even more so for the nation. That election will remain an enduring mystery, with critics blaming the BJP’s ‘India Shining’ campaign for being too premature, but more likely it was the complacency of the Hindu voter and lack of an emotive issue that determined the outcome.
Vajpayee ji was never the same man after the 2004 loss & slowly went into decline. His health did not allow him to play an active part in politics & just as Bishma Pitamah spent his last days on a bed of arrows, Atal ji also spent his last few years with ailing health.
Vajpayee ji often said that Matbhed (differences) should not turn into Manbhed (animosity), and that was the mantra which endeared him to all across the political spectrum. The biggest tribute to Atal ji by the politicians of today would be to follow the high standards of political discourse set by him in public life & to move away from the path of mindless opposition to a constructive path of working towards the betterment of the nation.
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