RIP Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018)
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RIP Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018)

By IndraStra Global News Team

RIP Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018)

On August 16, 2018, a day after India's 72nd Independence Day celebration, country's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying he passed away from long illness at the age of 93.

Earlier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at New Delhi issued a Press Release informing that the Former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away at 05:05pm (IST). He was being treated at the AIIMS New Delhi, where he had been admitted nine weeks ago.

Vajpayee, prime minister three times between 1996 and 2004, had been battling poor health for years. But his condition deteriorated rapidly in recent days.

"Atal Ji's passing away is a personal and irreplaceable loss for me," Modi said in a tweet on August 16. "It was Atal Ji's exemplary leadership that set the foundations for a strong, prosperous and inclusive India in the 21st century."

United Progressive Alliance (UPA)'s chairperson and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said that she was deeply saddened by the passing away of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "Vajpayee was a towering figure in our national life. Throughout his life, he stood for democratic values and demonstrated this commitment in all his acts whether as a parliamentarian, a cabinet minister or the prime minister," ANI quoted her as saying.

Pakistan's prime minister-in-waiting Imran Khan remembered Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a "tall personality of the subcontinent". "His attempts for the betterment of India-Pakistan relationship will always be remembered. Vajpayee, as a foreign minister, took responsibility of improving India-Pakistan ties."

The "Good Governance" Legacy

He was a member of the Indian Parliament for over four decades, having been elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house, ten times, and twice to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. He served as the Member of Parliament for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh until 2009 when he retired from active politics due to health concerns. Vajpayee was among the founding members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) which he also headed from 1968 to 1972. He was the Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

When the Janata government collapsed, Vajpayee restructured the Jana Sangh into the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. He was the first Indian prime minister who was not a member of the Indian National Congress party to have served a full five-year term in office.

In the year 1999, he created a separate disinvestment department in the finance ministry and subsequently made it a ministry under Arun Shourie in 2001, despite opposition. Earlier, under Vajpayee in 1998, finance minister Yashwant Sinha said in his 1998-99 budget that the government intended to hold only 26% in non-strategic public sector undertakings (PSUs) while keeping the majority stake in strategic PSUs. With 30 strategic sales between 1999 and 2004, including Balco, Hindustan Zinc, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd, and many government-run hotels, Vajpayee’s record of disinvestment remains unsurpassed.

It was him who had laid the foundation for India’s next generation infrastructure ahead of its time. His vision of joining the North-South and East-West gave birth to India’s most ambitious project called the "Golden Quadrilateral", which connects Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi, and Mumbai through a network of highways. Later, the very same project was extended to India's hinterlands through Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) which envisioned to connect villages with all-weather roads.

In the year 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi established "Good Governance Day" on the birth anniversary of the Vajpayee for fostering awareness among the Indian people of accountability in government.

Image Attribute: The file photo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's UN General Assembly Speech, Circa 1977

Image Attribute: The file photo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's UN General Assembly Speech

The Foreign Policy

In late 1998 (after the Pokhran II nuclear tests), Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan — an initiative that led to the 1999 Lahore Declaration with Islamabad.  Vajpayee himself traveled to Pakistan on the inaugural bus service (via Wagah-Attari border crossing) and the two sides signed a pact agreeing to inform each other ahead of missile tests as a major confidence-building measure. The treaty helped ease tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors and initiated a new peace process aimed at permanently resolving their dispute of the divided region of Kashmir. It also expanded trade relations and envisioned the goal of a denuclearized South Asia.  

But, the Kargil incursion by Pakistani army regulars just weeks later put paid to that effort as did an attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001 that saw India mobilize its troops on the border with Pakistan. But Vajpayee made another effort in 2003 to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan. India and Pakistan then agreed to stop cross-border firing, an understanding that is held up as a major confidence-building measure between the two countries even now.

Despite the post-nuclear test sanctions, it was during his tenure, the historic "Vision Document" on the future course of relations between the United States and India was signed during the President Bill Clinton's visit to India. The visit came barely two years after the Pokhran tests, and one year after the Kargil invasion and the subsequent coup in Pakistan, it was read to reflect a major shift in the post-Cold War foreign policy of the United States. 

On the other hand, he oversaw a major deepening of ties between India and Israel, particularly during his third stint in office from 1999 to 2004. The highlight was Ariel Sharon’s visit to India in 2003, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister. His Hindu Nationalist BJP party was far friendlier to Israel than the long-ruling Congress party, which only formalized ties with the Jewish state in 1992.

With reporting by AFP, AP, PIB India, and Reuters