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Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A stalwart’s legacy lives on

August 17, 2023 9:38 AM IST

BJP | PM Modi | Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Prime Minister Vajpayee | Vajpayee Death Anniversary | Indian Politics | Former PM of India | Pokhran

August 16, 2023 marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of one of India’s iconic political figures, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A key figure in Indian politics and the first-ever Prime Minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vajpayee’s impact remains deeply etched in the nation’s narrative.

On this solemn occasion, leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Droupadi Murmu, and leaders from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) gathered at the ‘Sadaiv Atal’ memorial to pay their respects to the late statesman. Floral tributes were offered to the visionary leader who steered India’s course through transformative times.

Prime Minister Modi took to social media, to acknowledge Vajpayee’s pivotal role in propelling India’s progress into the 21st century across various sectors. “I join the 140 crore people of India in paying homage to the remarkable Atal Ji on his Punya Tithi. India benefitted greatly from his leadership. He played a pivotal role in boosting our nation’s progress and in taking it to the 21st century in a wide range of sectors,” he tweeted.

A saga of resilience, innovation, and diplomacy

Vajpayee’s journey in Indian politics is a saga of resilience, innovation, and diplomacy. Known for his exceptional oratory skills and his astonishing talent with words, he left an indelible mark on the nation’s political landscape. Born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, Vajpayee entered the political arena in 1957, when he was just thirty-three, as a member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a precursor to the BJP.

In 1980, when the BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) was formed, he became its founding president. Vajpayee’s leadership paved the way for his tenure as Prime Minister, twice. Despite a brief 13-day term in 1996, Vajpayee’s second stint in 1998 was marked by strategic alliances and the consolidation of the BJP’s hold on government in 1999.

He was sworn in as prime minister in May 1996 but was in office only for 13 days. Vajpayee took oath on May 15, 1996, and on May 28, he promptly resigned, but not before delivering a stirring speech.

“Today, I have been accused of lusting after power and of doing whatever it takes to be in power… But, I have been in power before and I have never done anything immoral for power,” he roared. In early 1998 in elections in which the BJP won a record number of seats, he again became prime minister.

In a historic move, Vajpayee guided India’s declaration as a nuclear weapon state in 1998. He addressed a hurriedly called press conference at his Race Course Road residence. Here, he announced that India had conducted three underground nuclear tests in Pokhran. He also submitted to the House a paper entitled “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy”.

Known for his moderation and statesmanship, Vajpayee’s approach to the complex issue of Jammu and Kashmir even disarmed the hardliners among the separatists. His emphasis on “Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat, and Jamuriyat” as a solution remained influential in contemporary discussions.

Vajpayee: the favourite on foreign lands

Vajpayee’s eloquence wasn’t limited to the domestic stage. His tenure as India’s External Affairs Minister during 1977-1979 in Moraji Desai’s cabinet saw remarkable strides in improving relations with Pakistan and China. Vajpayee also made his iconic speech, in Hindi, at the 32nd UN General Assembly during this time.

The former prime minister described himself as a “newcomer” at the United Nations but added that “India is not, having been associated actively with the organisation from its very inception.” His vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum” – the world as one family – echoes as a timeless testament to India’s inclusive ethos. “The vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum is an old one. We in India have all along believed in the concept of the world as one family.” He ended his speech with, “Jai Jagat (Hail One World)”.

The man with many nicknames

Vajpayee’s charm and work earned him several intriguing nicknames. During his college days, his nickname was ‘Atal Guru’. Late Union Minister Arun Jaitley called him ‘Atal ji- The gentle giant’. BJP’s former president Venkaiah Naidu referred to him as ‘Vikas Purush’. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh called him ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of Indian politics.

It is not to anyone’s surprise that Vajpayee’s multifaceted persona extended beyond politics. He once said that he was a poet by instinct and a politician by accident. He was fond of artists like Bhimsen Joshi and Hari Prasad Chaurasia. He was the man who traversed poetry and politics in Indian politics.

It was in 1994 when Vajpayee was named India’s ‘Best Parliamentarian’. He announced his retirement from politics at the end of 2005. In late December 2014 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour. As we honour Atal Bihari Vajpayee on this solemn occasion, his words echo in our collective memory: “I have lived to the full, I will die as I choose, I will return, I have no fear of letting go..”

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