By Rajesh Ghosh
The 1999 General Elections took place under some sort of a national security crisis as the Indian Army had only a month ago claimed victory over the Pakistani army. Earlier that year one vote proved too much for the Vajpayee-led government as it lost the confidence vote just by that margin.
The elections, therefore, were a test of the robustness of the Indian democracy. Under such tremendous upheaval, the BJP-led NDA came out victorious.
The following five years under the leadership of Vajpayee was, in many ways, monumental for India not only economically but also politically.
In view of his achievements and widely appreciated statesmanship, the Modi-led government declared, last year, that December 25 (Vajpayee’s birthday), would be observed as ‘Good Governance Day.’
Having taken into cognizance the relevance of the day, let us walk back into the intrigue of history and discover the major achievements of Vajpayee, the statesman.
On the economic front, the Vajpayee government continued with the economic liberalization initiated by the Narasimha Rao government a decade back. The unprecedented economic growth witnessed in India from 2004, after the end of his term, is on many accounts a result of the major structural changes brought about his government.
The process of privatization saw a major boost during his period, especially in the telecom sector with spectrums being sold, for the first time, to private players with the aim of improving quality. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL), then a major public sector telecom company, was privatized, opening the sector to competition.
Other major achievements included information technology, industrial parks and special economic zones (SEZ) across the country which have since bore major fruits for the country.
His vision went beyond India as he saw the importance of bringing on board the Indian diaspora, for they were a major source of investment and economic growth. To realize this, he launched the ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Saman’ in honor of the diaspora.
But his major economic achievements, which were also his pet projects, were the National Development Highway Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Accepting this achievement, the UPA in 2013 admitted before the Supreme Court that in the five years under Vajpayee nearly 50% of the total length of National Highway in 32 years was constructed.
On the foreign policy front, his work was cut out by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the freshly concluded three-month war with Pakistan. But it’s during these adverse times the statesmanship of a leader is truly tested. And he passed these with flying colors.
In early 2000 he welcomed President Bill Clinton in a first bilateral engagement at the highest level in 22 years. It also came close at the heels of the Pokhran nuclear test in 1998, which was strongly condemned by the US.
This was seen by many as a major achievement by Vajpayee as it symbolically represented the gradually changing US foreign policy, which till then had isolated India. It brought about major breakthroughs in the economic and trade ties between the two nations. Further engagement with the US in his term laid the foundations for the milestone nuclear agreement which was later, in 2008, inked by Dr Manmohan Singh.
But his foreign policy highlight was his initiation in the thawing of the frozen Indo-Pak relations after Kargil. His gesture of inviting Parvez Musharraf, who presided over the Kargil war and had subsequently become Prime Minister after orchestrating a coup, was hailed within the foreign policy circles. The visit, however, achieved little in concrete outcomes.
His second term as Prime Minister also saw a raft of crises in foreign affairs ranging from the hijacking of an Air India aircraft in 1999 to the Parliament attack in 2001. Both these events brought India perilously close to a military expedition. But his statesmanlike acumen handled these crises with impeccable resilience.
Vajpayee the politician also had another side to him which molded him into a unique political leader. He was also a renowned poet. In Vajpayee’s words – “My poetry is a declaration of war, not an exordium to defeat. It is not the defeated soldier’s drumbeat of despair, but the fighting warrior’s will to win. It is not the dispirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory.”
On this spirited note as we remember the good governance of Vajpayee, the statesman and poet, let us strive to learn and adapt his policies to suit the contemporary challenges. (image courtesy: mptravelogue.com)