Atal ji finally gave up and lost this one battle, as he set sail for new unseen horizons. This is a battle none has won so far and Atal ji is no exception. But what makes him vastly different from others of his generation are the several battles that he had fought when he was alive by remaining ‘Atal’ (unmoved) as far as the core values and convictions were concerned. He was both ‘Atal’ and ‘Behari’ (wanderer or a dreamer) all through his life. He stayed rooted to his core beliefs even as he dreamt of a new India. My first brush with Atal ji was in the late 60s when I used to go around Nellore city in a tonga announcing the impending visit of him. Little did I imagine at that time that I would one day be privileged to be the president of the party and sit between Vajpayee ji and Advani ji.
Ever since, I have been fortunate to receive in great abundance the bounty of his love, affection, guidance and patronage. I deem it as a rare honour that such a person of many virtues has guided me through hand-holding as well as promoting me. It is usually said that one’s ‘inner core’ gets reflected in one’s face. Atal ji is a fine example of this. His clarity of thought, strength of convictions, vision for the country and his idea of the inescapable course the nation would take to attain its glory made him so relaxed, and even detached, to the amazement of even his peers. His inerasable smile, in my view, is a clear manifestation of this inner core of Atal ji. Of his 65 years of active public life till 2009, Atal ji spent about 56 years in opposition and only about nine years in power.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha ten times and twice to the Rajya Sabha. He was the minister of external affairs in the Morarji government and later became prime minister thrice. But, whether he was in opposition or in office, Atal ji made seminal contributions to the growth and evolution of India since its Independence. The great orator that he was, Atal ji excelled as a public speaker and Parliamentarian, winning wide acclaim from across the political spectrum, including from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. One may say that it is easy to speak eloquently without the responsibility of the office. But Atal ji addressed such doubts squarely as external affairs minister first and later, as prime minister of this vast country. He broke new ground improving frosty relations with our neighbours in quick time, imparting a new perspective to our diplomacy which won him wide acclaim.
As prime minister, he demonstrated a remarkable understanding of the problems plaguing the nation and an ability to address the same. He decisively demonstrated that he was not only a mere orator enjoying the liberty of the flight of imagination while in opposition, but a decisive leader when required to resolve the problems confronting the nation. He had won several battles, both as an opposition politician but even more as the prime minister. As prime minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee pioneered the ‘Mission Connect India’ by radically re-scripting the contours of various core sectors like telecom, infrastructure, including national highways, rural roads, airports and ports, private sector participation, and disinvestment. He proved to be a reformer, par excellence, of which the nation is still reaping rich dividends. Atal ji added ‘Jai Vigyan’ to Shastri ji’s slogan of ‘jai jawan-jai kisan’, underscoring his sense of importance of knowledge in the contemporary times. Vajpayee ji was a fine blend of tenderness and toughness.
While the former trait was on show for long, the latter came out when Pokhran-II was conducted and the way the aggressors were forced to retreat from the Kargil heights. The tenderness of his personality was quite evident in the way he dealt with his peers across the political spectrum and in the manner he nurtured and led coalition governments at the centre at a critical time. Owing to his personal qualities Shri Vajpayee became the first non-Congress prime minister to complete one full term besides being the head of government thrice. He provided an alternate political thought and succeeded in providing a real alternative to the ruling party. He successfully led a coalition of 23 parties proving that he was an able leader providing a stable government.
Shri Vajpayee contributed to Indian polity in multiple ways. He made a major contribution in strengthening democracy in the true spirit of the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. His name will go down in the history as synonymous with and exemplifying the essence of good governance in the country. Both the common man and the political class were won over by his charm, character and conduct. He was both the source and object of confidence of the people that made him one of the few tallest leaders of our country, post Independence. What made Shri Vajpayee endearing to all the countrymen was the way he conveyed himself to different sections of the society. It was possible for him because he saw no contradiction in his commitment to the core values he believed in and speaking for India as and when required. It was because he was, and remained, a true Indian, appealing to all the Indians.
He never compromised but also never hesitated to speak his heart out when a larger consensus was required to be articulated. It was Atal ji’s remarkable ability. In the process, he mesmerised and motivated millions like me to follow true nationalist ideology. He was a national icon and a true ‘Ajatashatru’, one who had no enemies. In our early days, we used to fondly call Atal ji as ‘taruna hriday samraat’, a leader with a young heart. He remained so till illness struck him and that infectious smile stayed with him all through. ‘Bharat Ratna’ Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s qualities of vyaktitva (personality), vaktrutva (oratory), kartrutva (devotion to duty) , mitrutva (friendliness), all combined in netrutva (leadership), will be remembered for a long time to come. He was in the mould of a ‘Philosopher King’. A King who ruled the hearts of all Indians by his words and deeds. Such statesmen and visionaries walk on this earth only once a while. Let’s resolve to carry forward his legacy as a true tribute to him.