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Vajpayee: The liberal face Right

Vajpayee: The liberal face Right

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018) was one of the most popular and revered politicians. He became Prime Minister of India for three consecutive terms in 1996, 1998, and 1999. His first term as the Prime Minister lasted just for 13 days. He had to resign as his party could not muster enough support to win a majority and run the government. The second time, his government lasted for about 11 months and he had to resign after AIADMK withdrew its support and the government lost the confidence vote by just one vote. However, in 1999 when he became the Prime Minister for the third time, he ran the coalition government for a full five-year term till 2004. This was the first time that a non-Congress government completed its full term at the Centre. After NDA failed to win Lok Sabha elections in 2004, Vajypee resigned from active politics and spent most of his retirement life at home. In the last 15 years since he resigned from active politics, he was seldom seen at any public function. He breathed his last at AIIMS in New Delhi on August 16, 2018.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was always a part of the opposition politicians and had won applause from Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru for his oratorical qualities much early in his career. He won his first Lok Sabha seat from Balrampur in 1957. In all, he won the Lok Sabha elections 10 times and was nominated to Rajya Sabha twice. He was put in jail during Emergency but became Minister of External Affairs in the 1977 Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai. As a Foreign Minister, he was the first to deliver his speech at the UN in Hindi. By the time the Janata Party government collapsed, Vajpayee had emerged as a senior opposition leader who was able to work with other opposition parties with ease and deliver the results. In the 1980s, he regrouped his colleagues having an affiliation with RSS into Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which slowly grew into a major political force in the country. And, with the turn of the millennium, BJP was in power at the Centre. His long innings as a Parliamentarian, his oratorical qualities and his ability to choose the middle path compared to the extremist political ideologies set him apart from his contemporaries and peers. It was his belief in liberal values and friends cutting across party lines that helped him emerge as the acceptable leader of the NDA government he headed from 1999-2004. During the second term as the Prime Minister, he allowed the second set of Nuclear Tests in May 1998. The Vajpayee government wanted to convey the message that India is capable of producing and deploying nuclear arms to defend itself from the threats from across the border. In the last term as Prime Minister, his government had to face the Kargil War in 1999. After about two months of war with infiltrators and Pakistani army in the Himalayan terrains of the Kargil range in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian security personnel managed to drive away the infiltrators and Pakistani army personnel from the rugged mountain hills of Kargil. India lost more than 500 security personnel in the war and Vajpayee government drew flak for being lenient towards Pakistan and nurturing a hope that Pakistan will mend its ways. Vajpayee is also remembered for introducing two extremely famous road projects -- a highway project that connected all the four metro cities and a rural road project that envisaged connecting every village with a pucca road. These two road projects created massive employment for the jobless people and transformed the rural life with access to all-season concrete roads. During the five-year term, the Vajpayee government never tried to push BJP's pet agendas such as the construction of Ram temple, repeal of Article 370, or common civil code.

Though he was an RSS pracharak before his plunge into full-time politics and remained loyal to the rightist political ideology, he was far from being a rigid fundamentalist. During his tenure as the Prime Minister from 1999 to 2004, he was often under pressure from RSS on various issues, but he did not buckle under the pressure and continued to work as per the common minimum agenda worked out between the NDA partners. Vajpayee remained a bachelor all his life and lived with his adoptive daughter and her family. He has friends and admirers across the political divide. Besides being a political leader and statesman, Vajpayee was a poet at heart and his speeches reflected his clarity of thought, grasp over the Hindi language, and the passion with which he spoke.

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