“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 de-spirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victor”.
These are the words of a colossal man, who brought back an ideology from the edge of oblivion and led a floundering nation back to the desired path of strength and growth.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee became an active Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) member at the youthful age of 16. By his mid-20s, he was the national secretary of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. By 32, he had become a member of parliament.
Earmarked as a future Prime Minister by Nehru himself in the early years of Parliament, the young, vibrant Vajpayee’s fiery and passionate speeches in the temple of democracy won both admiration and plaudits from fellow peers.
Challenges, Reality Check and Resurgence
The unfortunate demise of Deendayal Upadhyaya laid the leadership of Jan Sangh in Vajpayee’s hands. His closest ally and friend LK Advani led the party with him.
The infamous Emergency led to the arrests and detention of almost all opposition leaders, including Vajpayee. After the 1977 elections, he served as the Minister of External Affairs in Morarji Desai’s cabinet. He was the first person to deliver a speech to the UN General Assembly in Hindi.
In 1980, the members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh came together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), with Vajpayee as its first president.
The 1984 General Elections proved a shocker with the party winning only 2 seats. But, Vajpayee and the BJP were not going to lie down in dejection. In the next elections in 1989, the party won 89 seats in parliament. This year would also kick off almost a decade of coalition politics, where it became increasingly easy for leaders and parties to get lose touch with their ethos, principles and ideology.
In this phase of coalition politics and backstabbing, Vajpayee stood tall and remained true to his principles; refrained from engaging in power-hungry political manoeuvres.
Leading The Country
During a party conference in Mumbai in late 1995, then party president LK Advani announced that Vajpayee would be the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate in the forthcoming elections. Advani later admitted in an interview that he didn’t inform Vajpayee of this decision before the conference because he knew he would decline it. By 1996, the BJP was the single largest party in Parliament. Vajpayee became Prime Minister but the government lasted only 16 days. Vajpayee would return and lead the country for more than half a decade.
Making India Stand Tall: Pokhran and Kargil
The Pokhran tests in May 1998 showcased India’s might in the face of adversity. Despite the sanctions imposed by the international community on information and technology in India, the domestic mood was one of jubilance, resurgence and pride.
The Kargil War and the subsequent victory showcased reiterated India’s supremacy over our noisy neighbours and Vajpayee’s tactful diplomacy, which is often overlooked while discussing him.
Connecting India, Connecting Indians
Vajpayee’s vision for well-established, world-class connectivity routes within the whole country is well documented. He announced the East-West and North-South Corridors of the National Highway Development Project, a multicrore project which was to take government infrastructural development into a new age.
Vajpayee and the Northeast
Contrary to the prevailing conceptions/impressions of the Northeast at the time i.e it was known as a troublemaker, with every state having its fair share of problems and obstacles, Vajpayee saw the Northeast as a gift to the nation rather than a crippling organ of a body.
For him, the development of the Northeastern region was as important as anything else on his agenda and vision for India in the 21st century. As was usual to his unique foresightedness, he realised pretty early that the Northeast was a crucial component of the development dialogue.
Nehru named a certain Northeastern state(Manipur) as the ‘Jewel of India’ but Vajpayee was the first PM to treat the Northeastern region as a jewel, through actual action.
He created the DoNER(Development of Northeastern Region) ministry, exclusively for the region and also earmarked 10 per cent of the annual budgetary allocation of all ministries of the government of India to the DoNER ministry as mandatory, for the development and welfare of the region.
Governance, Humour and Vajpayee
During his years as Prime Minister, the challenges India faced were humongous in every conceivable form. Reaching and stepping into a new century, the country was at a crossroads on many fronts (economy, national security, Foreign diplomacy, internal issues) but like Vajpayee, India took everything in its stride and moved ahead unflinchingly.
His principles, personal ethos and culture of politics was unique and genuinely admired by his peers. Perhaps his greatest ability was that of bringing consensus among opposing parties for causes greater than parties or personal agendas; that of the nation.
His ability to use his humour is well-known and well-admired. Using this gift to tread the treacherous waters of Indian politics is something which may never be witnessed again. He was referred to as the Bhisma Pitamah of Indian politics by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a speech in the Rajya Sabha, a reference to the character in Mahabharata who was held in respect by both warring sides.
His love for the nation and its values above everything else is summed up in this excerpt from one of his greatest speeches in Parliament, “The game of power and politics will go on, governments will come and go, parties will be formed and deteriorate but this nation should remain immortal, the democracy of this nation should remain immortal”.
The poet was many things; a Bharat Ratna, a Prime Minister, a fighter, a fine leader, a politician, an orator but most importantly, a ‘Nation Builder’.
Last week my 14-year-old son asked me the reason behind December 25 (which also happens to be Vajpayee’s birthday) being observed as Good Governance Day. Perhaps the words I have written in this simple article could be an explanation of his query.
(The writer is an environmentalist, formerly General Secretary and Vice President BJP, Manipur Pradesh. Formerly Vice Chairman of Manipur Infrastructural Development Agency(MIDA) and Chairman of Manipur Development Society(MDS), Govt of Manipur. Presently, he is the state spokesperson of BJP Manipur Pradesh and also Chairman of Loktak Development Authority (LDA), Govt of Manipur)