“This young man one day will become the country’s prime minister.”
These were the words of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru while he was introducing a young Atal Bihari Vajpayee to a foreign dignitary, back in 1957. Forty years later, his vision was echoed by the whole nation.
Born on 25 December 1924, Vajpayee was just a teenager when he participated in the freedom struggle in 1942 and also served jail time for a brief period.
Standing at 5 feet 5 inches, Vajpayee was a giant figure in the Indian politics. He was revered equally by the opposition parties.
Vajpayee’s spelt his charm on the global platform even before he became the elected head of the country.
In 1977, Vajpayee became the first person ever to give a speech in the United Nations in Hindi.
In 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister for the first time, marking a huge shift in the traditional Indian political scenario.
His Prime Ministership lasted only for 13 days, but the speech that he gave, before submitting his resignation to the President, is still considered as an iconic one.
He acknowledged the lack of requisite numbers in forming the government and assured full cooperation to the opposition in running the assembly. Such was his spirit to serve the country.
In 1998, soon after he was elected as the Prime Minister for the second time, he undertook a huge task of making India a nuclear power. Despite the threats of economic sanctions from the US, he gave a go-ahead for conducting nuclear tests in Pokhran.
Under the leadership of newly-elected Prime Minister, India defied the US and became a nuclear power in May 1998.
Post the 1998 nuclear tests, the relations between India and Pakistan had soured. In an effort to reconcile with the neighbouring state, in 1999, Vajpayee undertook a bus journey to Lahore. While addressing the people of Pakistan on television he said:
“Ye bus lohe aur ispat ki nahin hai, jazbaat ki hai. Bahut ho gaya, ab humein khoon bahana band karna chahiye.” (This bus isn’t made from iron and steel. It’s a bus of emotions. We must end this bloodshed.)
In a party that carries an image of being a hardcore Hindu nationalist, Vajpayee was considered as a moderate. During his second term, India also won the Kargil war and in October 1999, Vajpayee became the PM of the country for the third time.
Vajpayee was the first head of the government from outside the Congress party that served a full five-year term.
Unlike the politicians of today, Vajpayee didn’t hold back in reminding Narendra Modi of his duties.
In 2002, when communal tension was at its peak Gujarat, during a press conference, Vajpayee advised Modi that a ruler must not differentiate among his subjects on the basis of caste, religion or community.
Vajpayee is also credited with accelerating India’s economic growth. He referred to highways as the bhagyarekha (luck line) of a nation and played a pivotal role in reforming India’s highways.
He laid the foundation of the Golden Quadrilateral- the Rs 50,000-crore National Highways project connecting all the metro cities of India, the Srinagar-Kanyakumari North-South corridor, and the Silchar-Porbandar East-West corridor.
The Vajpayee government had a notable contribution towards promoting education in the country.
In 2000-2001 the then NDA government had launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government program to provide free and compulsory education to children between 6 to 14 years. As a result, the net enrolment ratio at the primary level had increased to 99.8 per cent.
Regarded as the Bhishma Pitamah of the Indian politics, Vajpayee was a guiding force that took the country on the path of an overall development.
Aside from being an astute politician, he was a giant figure in the literary world. He wrote poems that mesmerize readers to date.
A man of rare genius, a politician with an unparalleled dedication to serving the nation and a man with profound knowledge, Vajpayee was that rare gem whose passing has left an everlasting void in the Indian politics. He’ll always be remembered as the real people’s Prime Minister.