With the demise of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today (16 August 2018) comes to an end the era of a great leader and a people’s poet, who was an embodiment of humanity and symbolised clean politics, accountability, humility, a worldview shaped by vast experience and guided by the highest principles, structured by a resolute and uncompromising mind, and an approach woven intrinsically by the warp and weft of peaceful dialogue, extreme respect for democratic values, and the larger good of all beyond narrow borders and as a statesman, he was above all that separates people and puts them on the clash course.
After Mahatma Gandhi’s leading role in the Freedom movement and “Ahimsa” or the path of non-violence that he showed to the whole world and Jawaharlal Nehru’s Panchsheel or the five principles of peaceful co-existence that helped in building the Non-Aligned Movement and moulding the fate and destiny of the third world countries that were emerging out of centuries of colonial rule in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s of the last century and carving their own place in the comity of nations that were highly polarised between the two superpowers the US and the erstwhile USSR along with their allies, India got a towering leader in Atal Bihari Vajpayee. What the world should learn from Atal Bihari Vajpayee is his spirit of accommodation, mutual respect and the over-riding yearning for brotherly and friendly relations with all.
When the entire world is facing the huge threat of terrorism, violence, large-scale radicalisation, India will be playing a great tribute to the departed leader by spreading his message across the world for solving the problems that now loom large in different parts of the world.
I vividly recall Atal Bihari’s Vajpayee’s thrust during electioneering for the 2004 Lok Sabha election after leading a stable government since 1999. At an election rally at Chindwara in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, the home turf of present Madhya Pradesh Congress President and former Union Minister Kamal Nath, he had kept away from all hype, shunned the use of harsh words that are unbecoming of any great leader and had urged the people to “honestly” judge his Government’s performance at the Centre over the last six-year period. “Is it not true that the overall atmosphere in the country is good,” he had asked while emphasising that the country’s economic condition had vastly improved under his regime.
During his election speeches in 2004, he had laid special emphasis on the need to build a peaceful atmosphere both within the country as well as on the borders.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done everything to build friendship with Pakistan. Addressing voters in the 2004 election that brought the Congress party back to power, he had told the people, “While they (Pakistanis) wanted to talk about Kashmir, we said let there be trade and resumption of cricket and flights between the two countries.” In his capacity as Prime Minister he never missed any opportunity to caution the people against political parties that were trying to spread misinformation regarding his continued efforts to build friendly relations with Pakistan.
At his election rally in the heart of India in 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the option to become a rabble-rouser or to speak like a statesman. Obviously he was not the one to deviate from his path for the sake of votes and he chose to convey the message that both India and Pakistan have to fight the scourge of poverty, hunger and unemployment. Hence why spend on weapons and arsenals when there can be peace through bilateral talks.
Imran Khan, who has emerged victorious in neighburing Pakistan and is about to be sworn-in as Prime Minister spoke with the same spirit during his maiden address to the people after the election results were announced. He has the opportunity to build peace with India and he can create history, if he chooses to follow the path shown by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who in his capacity as Prime Minister had remained undeterred by the Kargil war inflicted upon India by Pakistan in 1999 and the failed 2001 Agra Summit. The Delhi-Lahore Bus, which was started in early 1999 did not come to a halt even by Kargil but was stopped only after the 2001 attack on Parliament.