It is indeed a very, very sad day for the nation as we bid goodbye to India’s most lovable political figure, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee fondly called as Atal Ji. A gifted orator, passionate poet, compassionate politician, a wise statesman, a Bharat Ratna and above all, an ideal human being. As we pay our respects it would be hard to say the final goodbye to the man who brought India onto the global table and ensured that a new India arose in the 21st Century.
Bharat Ratna Atal Ji started his career as a journalist. With a flair for writing, at heart he remained a passionate poet throughout his life. As destiny would have it, his calling was not just reporting news as his fate brought him closer to the RSS. It was upon RSS’s insistence that Atal Ji decided to enter politics when Jan Sangh was created, and this is when his life changed; from reporting news it was the start of him becoming the news.
Atal Ji’s ATAL passion for “akhand bharat” comes from the close experience of Dr. Mookherji’s struggle to ensure that there is no permit which is required for an Indian to visit the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Mookherji lost his life under mysterious circumstances after being arrested for entering Kashmir without a permit; but when arrested, Dr. Mookherji told a young Vajpayee:
“Vajpayee go tell the nation, I have entered the State of Jammu and Kashmir without a permit, even if as a prisoner.”
A legend was born that day as Atal ji travelled across the nation to bring together a group of people that would form as a viable opposition party. The vision of Atal Ji was clear, he wanted to create a family, a family that works together with the sole purpose of building a strong nation.
His understanding regarding the role of government was clear right from his early days in politics. When in the Lok Sabha Pt. Nehru talked about establishing a hotel, he stood up and explicitly objected, stating that the role of government is to create hospitals and schools, not businesses. In subsequent speeches, despite the low strength in numbers Atal Ji made a name for his fiery oratory skills and wit. Pt. Nehru had then predicted that Atal Ji would one day become the Prime Minister of India- as he did on three different occasions.
However, Atal Ji remained in opposition for a major part of his political career. Often, people termed him as the right man in the wrong party; to which he retorted:
“If I am right, how can my party be wrong? And if my party is wrong, how can I be right? You cannot separate Vajpayee from my family”. In 1996 confidence motion, in his classic charm asked:
“Toh ache Vajpayee ka kya karne ka irada hai aapka?”
His politics was based on people and national interest. He had from time to time supported successive Congress Governments, be it the Green Revolution or even the Bangladesh war- this symbolizes his commitment towards the ideology of Nation First, Party Second, Self Last. It is his commitment towards the nation that in 90s Former Prime Minister, Sh. Narasimha Rao sent him as head of India’s delegation to Geneva to counter Pakistan’s allegations against India despite him being the leader of opposition. He performed exceedingly well in Geneva and safeguarded India’s interest by ensuring that Pakistan’s resolution failed. The act of a leader of opposition supporting the incumbent government made the world admire India’s democracy. Admiration and respect for him transcended any political or national lines as he had admirers not just in India but even abroad. The opposition led by him was opposition that focused upon constructive criticism and mutual respect. It is this, that made him one of the most respected politicians of India.
When the Janata Party split occurred, a new party was born- The BJP. In those uncertain times, Atal Ji said- “Andhera Chatega, Suraj Niklega, Kamal Khilega”. Since days of Jan Sangh the party ran a campaign slogan during elections “Agli Bari Atal Bihari”. Atal Ji in his classic wit and charm asked to change the slogan to “Ab ki bari Atal Bihari.”
Kamal khila and he became the Prime Minister in 1996, 1998 and then finally again in 1999. As a head of the state, Atal Ji had a very clear vision for India of the 21st Century and he took several steps towards making that vision a reality.
A strong nation needed to have a nuclear deterrence, given that our both neighbors had access to such sophisticated weaponry. Atal Ji knew that respect is commanded by strength and thus to be respected, India needs to become stronger. He initiated Pokharan-II. Being fully aware of the diplomatic consequences, he decided to take measures to undertake a nuclear test. The test was conducted and consequently several sanctions were imposed upon India. However, it was the love for Atal Ji that such sanctions failed to have any significant economic impact on India. Atal Ji requested NRIs to send in money and they did, in ever increasing numbers thereby making the Indian Economy stronger. It was the admiration for a leader who for once, acted rather than made excuses that impressed upon the NRIs, some of whom even came back to their motherland and established businesses here.
Having seen the impact of partition, Atal Ji knew that a nation needs to have good relations with its neighbors. He went to Lahore on a bus to foster good relations with Pakistan. He even tried the Agra Summit. However, his efforts didn’t warm the hearts of Pakistani leadership enough to foster good relations in India. In 1996 from the lawns of 11, Ashoka Road when he was just appointed as Prime Minister Designate, he was asked “What message would you send Miss. Benazir Bhutto tonight” to which, in his classic charm he said, “Is there any harm if I send a message tomorrow morning?”
During the 1996 confidence motion, that was the first ever televised confidence motion in India, he categorically stated that he would not engage in any unfair means just to remain in power. He had faith in the Indian electorate, in Indian institutions and the ability of his party to ensure they garnered adequate popular support to form the government. In 1998 he was elected as the Prime Minister for the second time, within months, Kargil occurred.
The Kargil War was the biggest test for Atal Ji as he had to see Indian soldiers lay down their lives while he was at the helm of affairs. Having known him well, I can clearly say that it was by far the most difficult period for him while heading the government. To boost the morals of our forces, he visited Kargil becoming the first Prime Minister of India to ever visit an active war-zone.
He was shocked when he got to know that mortal remains of our martyred soldiers weren’t sent back to the families. He decided to end this practice and send the mortal remains back to the families, with all dignity to the martyrs. It was the first time that India saw the bodies of our soldiers from war come back; a nation stood up and realized how bloody a war is. There were lines outside blood banks to donate blood as the nation was united in reclaiming what belonged rightfully to us. To boost the morale of our army, he visited an active war-zone becoming India’s first Prime Minister ever to do so. Atal Ji just gave a simple instruction, to claim a high moral ground; do not cross the LOC. Claim what’s ours but don’t provoke an unnecessary war. This resulted in greater respect for Indian Government across nations and it helped India foster the start of a long-term cooperation with the United States of America.
Having traveled across the nation, he knew what poverty is. He decided to build roads and infrastructure that would help in easy movement of goods. He knew that by building roads, he’d create employment and once a road is built and goods can move easily, trade would further result in greater development. It is his government that demonstrated and taught the nation what it meant to have “good governance”. It is his government that demonstrated the importance of building roads. He initiated several reforms across sectors with one simple agenda- to create a strong and vibrant country, to create a modern India of 21st Century, that could walk from shoulder to shoulder with the most advanced nations of the world.
Atal Ji’s politics was simple, refined and centered around people and morals. He was transparent about his life and his actions. An avid food lover, I still remember how even as a Prime Minister he would crave and visit a Gol-Gappa vala or visit a road side vendor for food.
It is this morality that ensured his strong objection to “horse-trading” to formulate a coalition and run his government. In 2004, there was not much difference between BJP and Congress’s seats and Atal Ji could have become the Prime Minister, but since he was the leader of the second largest party, he decided to sit in opposition. This demonstrates the strong morals that Atal Ji had and these morals are the reason why till date he is by far the most widely accepted, respected and loved leader in the history of India.
From just 2 members, in 1984 today the BJP governs 19 states and has a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. The party built by Atal-Advani is their legacy towards the country; a party with a difference; a party made by their blood and sweat along with the countless dedication of several karyakartas that were guided by them. Given that he sacrificed his personal life towards the creation of a modern India, it is fitting to honor him with the title of “Rashtra-Putra”. Being one of India’s tallest sons, who spent over five decades in selfless service, he deserves to be honored with a title that would also serve as an inspiration for generations to come.
The nation owes a lot to you, Atal Ji- the architect of a strong, vibrant and prosperous India. The party owes a lot to you, Atal Ji. In the glorious history of India, you and your contribution shall always be remembered. As your mortal remains leave the world, your thoughts and your deeds will continue to guide us and inspire us.
वो अटल व्यक्तित्व के स्वामी; वो अटल थे स्वाभिमानी
वो अटल चरित्र, वो अटल मित्र, रखते थे एक बालय चित्त;
वो गहरे कवि की अटल छवि, ना होगी कभी पुरानी
उस अटल नेतृत्व का दुनिया में,ना होगा कभी कोई सानी;
ये प्यार हमारा है अटल, विश्वास हमारा है अटल
उनके सपनों के भारत को, हम मिल के जल्द बनाएँगे
उस अटल देव के चरणो में, ये आख़िरी भेंट चढ़ाएँगे ।
Thank-You Atal Ji,
Thank-You Atal Ji.
Dr. Sumeet Bhasin is director at Public Policy Research Center (www.pprc.in) and National Convener, Samagra AtalJi (www.ataljee.org).