Governments come and go and parties are born and disappear. Above it all, the country must stay shining, its democracy immortal. Former prime minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee said this while speaking at the Confidence Motion in Parliament on 28 May, 1996. The government that was formed that day ran for only thirteen days as he was not ready for horse-trading of MPs.
In the course of his long political journey, Vajpayee’s personal integrity did not receive a single stain and his political chastity and credibility remained impeccable. Better known as Atalji, he could easily make space among people through his mild manners, gentle humour and poetic lilt. After Jawaharlal Nehru, he is the only Indian political leader under whose direction a party won three general elections in a row.
At a time when caste, religion and political instability were the key players in Indian politics, Vajpayee’s six years in government – from 1998 to 2004 – saw governance and development enter political agenda. It was Vajpayee who set the wheels in motion for development and governance to become a primary issues in Indian politics as we see today.
Vajpayee was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1992 and in 1994 he was named the best parliamentarian. At the BJP convention in November, 1995, He was declared the Prime Ministerial candidate for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. in 1996 BJP emerged as the single largest party and Vajpayee took the oath as the prime minister. This government , however, did not last long. In his historical speech in Parliament during the floor test he said that he will not touch corruption even with a kitchen tong (chimta). The government fell by one one.
Politics of Governance
The six years during which Vajpayee led the country, redefined Indian politics. BJP contested the elections with the slogan of ‘Able leadership, Stable Government’ and Vajpayee gave the country a much-needed stable government.
During his term as the prime minster, Vajpayee took several new initiatives. In 1998, showing great political dynamism and gusto, he green-signalled the nuclear tests that made India a full nuclear power. The USA and other countries put India under sanctions which failed to have an impact. Within one-and-a-half year, first President Bill Clinton and then other world leaders visited India and signed partnership agreements. For the first time India was beginning to make its foray as an emerging world power.
The reforms pushed by the Vajpayee government, improved the country’s economic growth rate which reached 6-7 percent and the benefits of this percolated to the grassroots. Employment was generated, record foreign investment was registered and infrastructure improved like never before. India emerged as an IT super power in the world. People felt development work around them.
Vajpayee started an ambitious project to connect four ends of India with a four-lane road. It was a herculean task given the sheer volume of the project. The Golden Quadrilateral project started to became a reality with an average of 15km road being laid each day. This project helped in putting economy on growth track. Another related project was the Prime Minster Gram Sadak Yojana whose target was to connect all the villages with the city roads.
Vajpayee declared his long-time associate and Union Home Minster LK advani as the Deputy Prime Minster. The then BJP president Venkaiah Naidu termed Vajpayee as Vikash Purursh (Man of Development) and Advani as Lauh Purursh (Iron Man) in 2002.
On 12 January, 2004 at Hyderabad BJP national executive Vajpayee announced the decision to go in for elections. He said, the BJP is not just a political party but a movement of social transformation. “Different sections of the society are coming to our fold. We should again take verdict of the people and try to fulfil their aspiration. We should make all our efforts to make India a develop country by 2020,” he said.
BJP lost 2004 general elections by a few seats. Atalji said after the results, “We have lost the government but we have not lost sight of our commitment to national service. We have lost elections not the determination. Victory or loss are integral parts of life, we accept them with equanimity.” Atalji gave up political life in 2005. In 2015, President Pranab Mukherji visited Vajpayee at his house in a special gesture and conferred the highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna to him.
Observing his commitment to governance and development, the central government has decided to celebrate his birthday as Good Governance Day. Besides being a man of masses, an author, journalist and thinker, Atalji also was a great administrator and statesman. He set the new standard of politics – one of governance and development – inspiring millions who contribute to the country’s social and political life.