Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee – a Tribute (1924-2018)


Known as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian Politics, Atal Bihari Vajpayeewas conferred India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee in 2015. With his death, a vacuum has been created in polity and an end of an era of politics in this country –


Atal Bihar Vajpayee is the former Prime Minister of India born on 25th December 1924 in Gwalior and was elected to the position twice in 1996 and 1999. A member of the Bharatiya Janta Party, Vajpayee is also known for his great oratory skills. Apart from being a politician, he is also an acclaimed writer who has written various poems. He was a member of the Indian Parliament for over four decades, having been elected to the Lok Sabha – the lower house ten times and twice to the Rajya Sabha – the upper house. He served as the Member of Parliament for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh until 2009 when he retired from active politics due to health concerns.


He was awarded India’s highest civilian honor Bharat Ratna in 2015 on his birthday. His birthday, 25th December was also declared as the Good Governance Day by the Narendra Modi government.


He breathed his last on 16 August 2018 after a prolonged illness at the age of 93.


Early years…

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born into a middle-class family in Gwalior. His father was Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, a school teacher and poet, and his mother was Krishna Devi. He attended the Saraswati Shishu Mandir and later went to Victoria College from where he graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. He enrolled at DAV College, Kanpur to complete his post-graduation and earned his M.A. in Political science.


He was a patriot at heart and participated in India’s struggle for freedom even as a student and edited several nationalist Hindi newspapers.


Vajpayee had joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 as a student leader. Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at an early age in 1939, only to be drawn towards the Communist ideology in 1942. He followed the path till 1945, after which he once again looked towards the RSS for ideological guidance and joined the organisation as a full-time worker in 1947 and worked as a journalist for a short period before he joined BJP. He was the first non-congress political leader who became the Prime Minister of India. He went to jail during the JP Narayan movement when emergency was declared by the Indira Gandhi government.


Vajpayee’s personality and political career is a guiding force for the nation. Vajpayee was first elected to Parliament in 1957 and he rose through the ranks of the BJS(Bharatiya Jana Sangh), becoming president of the party in the late ’60s and guiding the philosophy of the party through various iterations.


He was a noted poet, writing in Hindi. His published works include ‘Kaidi Kavirai ki Kundalian’, a collection of poems written when he was imprisoned during the 1975–77 emergency, and ‘Amar Aag Hai’.


A true patriot and a multi-faceted personality, he was also well-known for his native language Hindi-he was the first person to deliver a speech in Hindi at the U.N. General assembly. He was very famous for his oratory skills and held several prestigious positions in Indian politics before being elected the Prime minister.


With regard to his poetry he wrote, “My poetry is a declaration of war, not an exordium to defeat. It is not the defeated soldier’s drumbeat of despair, but the fighting warrior’s will to win. It is not the dispirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory.”


Vajpayee’s contribution to bring Hindu nationalism into the mainstream as well as a man of progress and science will be remembered for ever.


Vajpayee remained a bachelor throughout his entire life. He adopted and raised as his own child Namita Bhattacharya, the daughter of long-time friend Rajkumari Kaul and BN Kaul. His adopted family lived with him.


Career as the Prime Minister


Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the only parliamentarian who had been elected from four different states at different times, namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi. He made his foray into politics during the pre-independence era when he took part in the Quit India Movement which led to his arrest and imprisonment.


The BJP emerged as the single largest party in Lok Sabha in the 1996 general elections. Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister in May 1996. However, he resigned after 13 days since BJP could not obtain a majority.


He was again sworn in as the Prime Minister in 1998 after BJP emerged as the single largest party and formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with other political parties. This government lasted for a little over a year when fresh elections were held.


It was during his tenure that India conducted underground nuclear tests in Pokhran in May 1998, just a month after the government came into power. These tests were regarded as a national milestone.


The Kargil War between India and Pakistan took place between May and July 1999. By the end of the war, the Indian Army and Air force had recaptured the areas infiltrated by the Pakistani militants. The Kargil victory cemented the reputation of Vajpayee as a strong and able leader of the nation.


The BJP-led NDA again emerged as the largest political alliance in the 1999 general elections in the wake of the Kargil War victory. Vajpayee was made the Prime Minister for the third time in October 1999.


He introduced many economic and infrastructural reforms like strengthening of private sectors, encouraging private research and development, bringing about privatization of certain government owned corporations, etc. Vajpayee’s privatization campaigns were however criticized by trade unions and government employees as excessive privatization was not in their favour. His major projects were National Highway Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.


US President Bill Clinton paid a state visit to India in March 2000. This was the first visit by a US President to the country in more than two decades. It has been a very significant step in improving the foreign trade and economic relations between the two nations.


In 2001, he invited the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to India with a view to improve Indo-Pak relations. However, this attempt could not achieve much success for India.


He launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2001, with the aim of universalization of elementary education.


The Parliament House in New Delhi was attacked in December 2001 by Pakistan trained terrorists. Investigations pointed to a conspiracy hatched in Pakistan. For a long time the threat of a full-fledged war between the two nations loomed. The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) was enacted in the aftermath of the attack during the reign of Vajpayee.


The Vajpayee government implemented several economic reforms during 2002-03 which resulted in a record growth rate of 6-7% in the GDP. The international image of India also improved due to the rapid developments that took place in the country during this period.


Vajpayee’s biggest contribution to modern India is arguably the work he has put in on the National Telecom Policy in 1999. The landmark reform passed under Vajpayee’s governance helped the industry overcome some of its toughest challenges in its early days. The result we are seeing today is the result of the reforms initiated by Vajpayee. He was responsible for opening up the telecom sector and for providing policy impetus to expand the telecommunication sector in India. Vajpayee is also credited with separating the Department of Telecom from the service provider arm BSNL. This particular move led to BSNL gaining a significant market share.


Vajpayee resigned as Prime Minister in 2004 after Congress emerged as the single largest party in the general elections. He announced his retirement from active politics in 2005 and didn’t contest the 2009 parliamentary elections.