Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee – an exceptional statesman who tread the path of “Raj-Dharma”
His unmatched oratory skills, infectious public persona, and a deft handling of some of the country's most complicated national and international issues have gifted him with an immortal place in the minds and sensibilities of the country's population.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born on 25 December 1924. He has served India as its prime minister thrice, first in 1996, for a period of 15 days from May 16-31 and for two consecutive terms between March 19, 1998, and May 13, 2004. He founded the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980 by helping the Bharatiya Janata Sangh reorganize itself.
For over four decades, Vajpayee, an ardent statesman has served the Parliament. He has been elected to the Lok Sabha ten times, and twice to Rajya Sabha. Vajpayee held the unique distinction of being the first non-Congress Prime Minister who led the government at the centre for a complete term of five years.
Vajpayee started his political career by first being elected to Lok Sabha as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Sangh (BJS) in 1957. In the post-Emergency period, that is 1977, BJS formed three other parties to form the Janata Party that led the national government up to July 1979. Acting as the foreign minister for the Janata Party, Vajpayee was known for his critical contribution in improving the country’s ties with Pakistan and China. Conferred by India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna in 2014, Vajpayee’s birthday on 25 December is also observed as Good Governance Day in the country.
When the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992, he came out as one of the very few political leaders to speak against the vitriolic movement, which ultimately led to widespread religious riots across the country.
“They who interpret secularism as dharma-nirpekshata fail to understand either dharma or secularism. A secular state does not mean an anti- religious state, nor even an irreligious state. For, in that sense, the people of India just never can become secular. A secular state simply means a state which does not identify itself with any specific mode of worship and holds the balance even between all sects- secularism thus mean sampradayanirpekshata and not dharma-nirpekshata.”
“India is an ancient nation and not nation in the making. We are not to build a new nation but to make this ancient nation virile to face the challenge of modern times.”
“Our National life is full of diversities. We have here a variety of languages, of faiths, of communities, of modes of living, and schools and styles of literature and art. This diversity reflects the abundance of our national life, and need to be preserved and promoted”
Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha Session, Indore – September, 7-8, 1968
Vajpayee’s political stance was that of a pragmatist and he held a conciliatory approach towards the minorities of the country. In 1998, he defiantly supported the country’s nuclear weapon testing in face of harsh criticism from the Western world. In the same year, he pushed for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan through which, he aimed at putting a permanent full-stop to the Kashmir problem.
During the Kargil War, Vajpayee’s determination in pushing the enemy out is captured in a “secret letter” to Bill Clinton, in which he said, “we will get them out, one way or the other”. This has been long used to an inference that Vajpayee didn’t rule out crossing the Line of Control (Loc) or using nuclear weapons. After a treacherous war in snowy terrains that lasted for 3-4 months, India emerged victorious by regaining over 70% of the infiltrated Kashmir region.
India registered its strongest economic growth during Vajpayee’s rule, with the GDP touching the historic 6-7% mark. The country was pegged as a world leader in information technology during his regime. His illustrious rule will forever be remembered as the one infused with umpteen instances of raj dharma followed in its entirety. His unmatched oratory skills, infectious public persona, and a deft handling of some of the country’s most complicated national and international issues have gifted him with an immortal place in the minds and sensibilities of the country’s population.
“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 despirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory.”
“We are nations forged from many traditions and faiths, proving year after year that diversity is our strength. From vastly different origins and experiences, we have come to the same conclusions: that freedom and democracy are the strongest bases for both peace and prosperity, and that they are universal aspirations, constrained neither by culture nor levels of economic development.” –
New York September 7, 2000 Asia Society Annual Dinner