Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born on 25th December, 1924 in Gwalior. A poet, a politician, an orator par excellence and a revolutionary leader, his reforms and policies helped shape the New India. Shri Vajpayee never advocated for Hindutva or minority appeasement, he was always strongly in favour of ‘Bhartiyata’. We shall take a look at his political career, which was nothing short of controversies and twists.
Life Time Line of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpaypee
1942-1951: At a tender age of 16 years, he joined the Rashtriya Samyasevak Sangh (RSS). At the age of 18 years, he participated in the Quit India Movement, led by Gandhi ji, along with his brother and they were arrested for 23 days. In 1951, he joined Bhartiya Jana Sangh, a political wing of the RSS.
1957: Shri Vajpayee contested in 3 Lok Sabha seats for the first time- Lucknow, Mathura and Balrampur, which marked his entry into mainstream politics. He emerged victorious in Balrampur, but was defeated in Lucknow and Mathura.
1968: After the tragic death of Shri Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the co-founder of Jan Sangha, on 11th February, 1968, Shri Vajpayee was declared as the National President of the party. He worked tirelessly for the party. During emergency in 1975, imposed by the then Prime Minister Shri Indira Gandhi, he was arrested again.
1977: After the emergency was withdrawn and elections were announced, Jan Sangha, under the guidance of Shri Vajpayee merged with the opposite parties to for Janta Party. Janta Party got the taste of victory in the General Elections. Shri Morarji Desai was sworn in as the Prime Minister, who was the first non- Indian National Congress Prime Minister. Under his cabinet, Shri Vajpayee became the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was the first Indian diplomat to give a speech in Hindi, addressing the United Nations General Assembly.
However, within months, Shri Morarji Desai resigned from the post of Prime Minister and the government was dissolved.
1980: Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee joined fellow Rashtriya Samyasevak Sangh and Jan Sangha colleagues Shri L.K. Advani, Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat etc to form Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). He was the BJP’s first National President.
In the initial years, BJP struggled to gain seats. In fact. After the 1984 General elections, BJP had only managed to secure 2 seats in Lok Sabha. BJP, under the leadership of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, supported the Ram Janmbhoomi Movement of the RSS and the Vishva Hindu Parishad(VHP). BJP gained popularity among the masses through its participation in the movement demanding Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
1994: This year marked the presence of BJP in the political scenario of the country. It gained an appreciable amount of seats in elections in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Finally in 1996, BJP emerged victorious and Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India. However, due to lack of support, Shri Vajpayee resigned within just 13 days.
1998: BJP came back to power and National Democratic Alliance NDA) was formed. Shri Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India. During this term, Vajpayee gave nod to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to conduct nuclear tests in Rajasthan- POKHRAN-2. The tests were carried out with extreme secrecy as the United States of America was keeping a close eye on the activities within India. The tests were successful, and India entered the elite club of countries possessing nuclear power. But, just after 13 months, AIADMK, under J. Jayalalitha, withdrew its support and the government dissolved.
Finally, BJP won again in 1999. During this, he brought a lot of revolutionary reforms which transformed India. Some of them were-
- For the first time, India and Pakistan were connected by a direct bus service. Vajpayee travelled on that first bus. At Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan, Vajpayee wrote in the visitors’ book that India wanted Pakistan to be “sovereign and prosperous” — the first time an Indian leader had emphasised Pakistani sovereignty.
When asked as to what India is suggestion about its relations with Pakistan, Shri Vajpayee, very beautifully remarked that “We have been the victims of three attacks. This fate should not repeat. We are not getting ready to attack anyone. We don’t have that intention. I was asked about the connection between Pokhran-II and the Lahore bus service. They are two sides of the same coin — the strength of our defence and the hand of friendship — the hand of friendship through honesty.”
- The most ambitious road projects in India were launched by him, including the Golden Quadrilateral and the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna. The Golden Quadrilateral made transportation easy, connecting metropolitan cities of Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai, through a well-connected network of highways. Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojna connected distant villages across the country with a network of all-weather roads.
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee adopted a more strategic foreign policy for India. Under his reign, India improved its trade and reduced territorial disputes with the People’s Republic of China. In 2000, he invited former US President Bill Clinton, improving the bilateral ties with USA, after the Cold War.
- He also brought about transformation in the Education policy of India. It was for the first time in India that elementary education became free for children aged 6-14 years. School dropout rate decreased by 60% during his tenure.
- He launched a new Telecom policy for India. His government introduced a revenue-sharing model under New Telecom Policy which helped telecom firms to get away with fixed license fees. Telecom Dispute Settlement Appellate Tribunal was also created. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd was separately created to head over the services and policies.
- Under his tenure from 1998 to 2004, India maintained a GDP rate of eight per cent, the inflation level came down to four per cent and foreign exchange reserves were flourishing. During his tenure, India witnessed tragedies and disasters, including an earthquake (2001), two cyclones (1999 and 2000), a horrible drought (2002-2003), oil crisis (2003), the Kargil conflict (1999), and a Parliament attack. Inspire of all this, he was able to maintain a stable economy. The Prime Minister further introduced the Fiscal Responsibility Act which aimed to reduce the fiscal deficit and boost public-sector savings, bringing about a revolution in the economy of India.
- His government also advocated for privatisation. Shri Vajpayee formed a separate disinvestment ministry. The most important disinvestments were that of Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO) and Hindustan Zinc, Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited and VSNL.
- In his Independence Day speech, he announced, “Our country is now ready to fly high in the field of science. I am pleased to announce that India will send her own spacecraft to the moon by 2008. It is being named Chandrayaan.” Shri Vajpayee gave nod to the Chandrayaan-1 Project.
His tenure, was however, not free of controversies. Some of them are-
- During the 2002 Gujarat riots, Shri Vajpayee chose not to dismiss the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi, as he was accused of favouring the Hindus. He was criticised by the media.
- Due to IC-814 hijacking, Shri Vajpayee was compelled to release terrorists Maulana Mashood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar, to secure the passengers aboard the hijacked plane. Maulana Mashood Azhar created Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist organization and Omar Sheikh killed a US journalist and was also a part of the 9/11 attack.
Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Pole star of the Indian Politics. He was awarded Bharat Ratna in 2015. The lines, from his self-composed poem, describe the spirit which was residing in him-
Hone, na hone ka kram,
isse tarah chalta rahega.
Hum hain, hum rahenge,
yeh bhram bhi sada palta rahega.
(The cycle of being and not being
shall continue as ever,
we are and shall remain
– this illusion too shall
be nurtured forever.)