What is Atal Bihari Vajpayee remembered for?
Although Atal Bihari Vajpayee had earlier been praised for his conciliatory gestures toward India’s Muslim minority, in 2002 his government was criticized for its slowness in reacting to riots in Gujarat in which some 1,000 people (primarily Muslims) died. In 2003 Vajpayee made an effort to resolve India’s feud with Pakistan over the Kashmir region.
What did Atal Bihari Vajpayee accomplish?
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and twice served as prime minister of India (1996 and 1998–2004). Under his leadership India achieved steady economic growth, and the country became a world leader in information technology.
His speeches may have been eloquent, he would have spoken very seriously. But some anecdotes show what a simple person he was. One day when journalists were sitting with Pramod Mahajan, his PMO minister, he got a call from the Prime Minister. Mahajan was heard responding to him: “I will come soon.” He was about to hang up, but heard Vajpayee saying something else. After a few seconds, a smiling Mahajan told journalists: “He was telling me I should eat lunch at home, because at Prime Minister’s residence, it is Tinda for lunch today.”Advertisement
I have also seen how calmly he handled an angry Sonia Gandhi, who was the Opposition leader then. It was one of those days, where the Bofors and the allegations against the Gandhi family had resurfaced and the treasury benches created pandemonium over the issue in the Lok Sabha. The house was adjourned. But Sonia Gandhi remained seated there, red faced. As the members started walking out, she started fuming and shouting “how long you would keep raising this against me and family? Why are you not able to find anything? You keep raising it to humiliate my late husband.” A shocked Mahajan ran to Sonia Gandhi to calm her down. Vajpayee kept watching for a few minutes and went to her and said something. Gandhi, still angry, but picked her bag and walked out. Vajpayee was seen discussing something intensely with Mahajan then.
Vajpayee was one of those rarest of rare politicians who would exude warmth. You get angry at him, his policies, the position of his party – but the moment you stand before him, it melts away. He was so charming that you never feel anything bad about him. The numerous tales, journalists who used to cover BJP, share tell you about the amazing capacity he had to charm anyone. Be it Opposition leaders or be it hostile journalists.
As usual, when the Prime Minister entered the hall, it was mayhem. The journos jostled with each other to get him to talk to them. Myself, a young reporter, along with another one were pushed behind. I shouted “Vajpayee ji, Vajpayeeji”. He heard me and asked another journalist standing near him “Who is that girl, call her here.” There I was standing in front of him, after being pushed by others to the front row. “What happened,” he asked me with that warm smile. As always what I saw on his face was those smiling, shining eyes. Yes, Vajpayee used to smile through his eyes too.
Late CPI leader A B Bardhan often narrated an incident in which the Prime Minister convened a meeting of Opposition leaders and asked them to intensify their protests inside Parliament against Indian government’s move to send troops to Iraq to assist the US in 2003. The US had hoped that India would send an army division to Iraq’s Kurdistan region around Mosul. Vajpayee, who apparently did not want to break India’s usual equal distance policy, called Bardhan and CPI-M general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet for tea. According to Bardhan, Vajpayee asked them what did they think about giving a commitment to the Bush administration. Both Communist leaders outrightly rejected the idea. “Then why dont you say it loudly inside the House?” asked the Prime Minister. The Communist veterans got the message and their parties disrupted the proceedings of the house protesting against Indian government’s move and “under domestic pressure” the government had to drop the idea.