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TOI EDIT-Atal, Farewell Vajpayee led BJP to government and may have given India its best years ever

August 17, 2018 07:01 AM


Atal, Farewell
Vajpayee led BJP to government and may have given India its best years ever
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who could bid fair to have been India’s best prime minister, has passed into the ages. Vajpayee led India in an era of fickle coalitions and provided a stable government, bringing into question Congress claims of being India’s natural party of government. In retrospect, the two biggest reasons why Vajpayee’s time at the helm will go down in history were his decision to conduct nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998, and a series of economic reform measures from 2001.

The Pokhran tests meant that India had arrived as a world power and owned a strategic deterrent. For the wisdom of that move, just consider where India would have been without a deterrent during the current phase of Chinese muscle flexing under President Xi Jinping: it would have had to succumb to anything Beijing demanded. Of course, India had to weather a period of international sanctions. But Vajpayee eventually reversed decades-old US antipathy and paved the way for dramatically improved relations with Western powers in the 21st century.

Vajpayee enabled Indian optimism in the 21st century in another sense. By launching trailblazing economic reforms that included boosting public spending in infrastructure especially highway development, unveiling telecom reforms that spurred competition, pursuing power sector revamp and disinvestment, Vajpayee deserves credit for India’s bull run that lasted the best part of the last decade. While economic momentum may have slowed this decade, India’s best boom years ever reset expectations and remain as a benchmark of what the country can achieve if its policymakers put their minds to it.

Another front on which Vajpayee’s imprint is indelible is his consistent efforts to make peace with Pakistan despite provocations from the latter. Thus his Lahore outreach was followed by the Kargil war and attack on Indian Parliament, but Vajpayee leveraged Operation Parakram to cool tensions. No less significant was his outreach to Kashmir and evocation of insaniyat and kashmiriyat, which the Valley hails even today as a talismanic moment. The terrible Gujarat riots of 2002 happened on Vajpayee’s watch, but arguably law and order is a state subject and the prime minister cannot be held entirely responsible for it. Apart from that episode Vajpayee did well to hold virulent Hindutva in check – we did not have, for example, today’s epidemic of lynchings and intolerance. That Vajpayee’s extraordinary achievements came amid coalition compulsions is a tribute to his personality and leadership abilities.

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