Afternoon Voice

Nation loses its statesman

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, after being critically ill for the last few days, has breathed his last at 5.05 pm on Thursday at the age of 93 in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. According to the team of doctors under the supervision of AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria, who were treating the veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader, he was admitted to AIIMS on June 11 following complaints of a lower respiratory tract infection and kidney issues and was informed to be stable for these nine weeks. However, his situation deteriorated to be critical since Wednesday afternoon after which he was shifted on the life support system.

A diabetic, Vajpayee had only one functional kidney. In 2009, he suffered a stroke, which had weakened his cognitive abilities. Subsequently, he had developed dementia.

BJP National Vice President and MP Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said, “I feel that everyone is deeply saddened due to the demise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His demise has left a political vacuum in BJP. Atal ji was a writer, thinker, orator, journalist, poet, statesman apart from a politician. He possessed good oratory skills. Indians will cherish his memories; seek inspiration and motivation for the work done by him for this great nation.”

Various political leaders across various party lines had been rushing to the AIIMS to inquire about the health of the former prime minister after AIIMS issued a statement about the news of former PM being in a critical stage came into light.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee expressed, “Deeply saddened at the passing away of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A reasoned critique in opposition and a seeker of consensus as PM, Atal ji was a democrat to the core. In his passing away, India has lost a great son and an era has come to an end. My deepest condolences.”

A poet-politician Vajpayee, a three-time Prime Minister, who was born in a school teacher’s family on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), entered politics during the Quit India Movement in 1942. The veteran politician completed his graduation and post graduation in Political Science from Victoria College in Gwalior.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde said, “We lost a great politician and thinker. He was leader who always gave respect to the opposition. He used to give respect to all parties. His demise is a big loss for the country because nowadays we cannot see any Prime Minister like him who can accept the policies and philosophies of others too. He was a part of the era of great leaders like Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. I express my deep condolence to him.”

After the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma invited the then single largest party BJP to form the government, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minister for the first time on May 16, 1996, but his tenure lasted only for 13 days as BJP found no new allies to support them. His next tenancy for 11 months, from March 19, 1998 to April 17, 1999, too, ended abruptly when the Vajpayee government lost the vote of confidence by one vote. This is the only instance when the central government failed to stand strong in a no-confidence motion. Marking his longest stint ever, the Vajpayee-led NDA won 303 Lok Sabha seats in 1999, and he took the oath for the third time as the Prime Minister and his tenure till May 2004 is brightly marked in the history of the Indian politics. He was the first and the only non-Congress Prime Minister to serve a full five-year term as the PM.

Criminal lawyer and NCP leader Majeed Memon said, “The passing away of Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a big loss to the country. He was a rational, balanced and nationalist leader who had a great quality of endearing himself even to his rivals. He was an outstanding orator and poet. Vajpayee had taken steps to improve India’s bilateral ties with Pakistan.”

He was first elected to Parliament in 1962 as a member of Rajya Sabha. In 1971, he won his first Lok Sabha seat. He was elected to the Lok Sabha seven times and twice to the Rajya Sabha. His birthday, December 25, was also declared as the Good Governance Day by the Narendra Modi government.

Vajpayee is credited with the successful nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan, in May 1998, within two months of coming to power. The tests were called Pokhran-2.

Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said, “I am deeply saddened by Vajpayee’s demise. I had joined Shiv Sena on February 22, 1998, at a rally in Shivaji Park where Bal Thackeray had addressed the public and Atal ji too had attended it. It was a memorable day for me. Atal ji had worked for social causes and empowerment of women. Uddhav Thackeray had stated that Atalji had played a vital role to strengthen NDA to bring several parties on a single platform.” 

It was also during his rule that India wrested back its territory occupied by Pakistan-supported intruders in Kargil in 1999. The former prime minister was in 2014 conferred with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

Vajpayee is remembered for his par excellence oratory skills and his efforts to build better relations with neighbour Pakistan through initiatives like the Agra summit and the Lahore summit and starting a bus service between Lahore and New Delhi.

The veteran BJP leader is well-known for his many welfare projects — he launched important road projects like Golden Quadrilateral and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a social scheme to provide access to free elementary education for children aged 6-14 is considered as one of his remarkable schemes. This notable politician will also be remembered for his contribution behind the telecom revolution in India with a new Telecom Policy which replaced fixed license fees for telecom firms with a revenue-sharing arrangement.

“It was due to the perseverance and struggles of Atal Ji that the BJP was built brick by brick. He travelled across the length and breadth of India to spread the BJP’s message, which led to the BJP becoming a strong force in our national polity and in several states,” Prime Minister Modi took to Twitter.

The mortal remains of Vajpayee will be kept at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Friday for people to pay their last tributes. His last rites will be performed at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal at 4 pm on Friday.