When he delivered a speech, you listened with every atom in your body thrumming to the force of his eloquence, passion and erudition. It mattered little that his imposing command over the language was perhaps beyond your ken. Such was the oratorical prowess of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and now, the voice that mesmerised millions has merged into an eternal silence. A three-time Prime Minister of India and arguably the last of its statesman-politicians, Vajpayee’s death creates a vacuum that eternity possesses not the ability to fill.
His contributions to India’s growth are only rivalled in their volume by the groundswell of love and respect he enjoys across the country, which includes an unparalleled unanimity of opinion among political parties of all denominations on the magnitude of his persona.
Vajpayee, who was also a poet at heart, reached this pinnacle of distinction through the stunningly simple means of being true to humanism, ethicism and a nationalism bereft of all shades of jingoism. His brand of politics was defined by pluralism, born of a sensitivity that is innate to a philosopher and which remained undaunted by the forces of divisiveness that eddied around him.
One of the founding members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Vajpayee helped restructure it into the Bharatiya Janata Party and tethered its leanings to pragmatic reformism. He polished to a shine a myriad facets of India that still burnish its growth — infrastructure reforms, economic stimuli, disinvestment, research and development, repurposing of the telecom sector (India’s telecom industry is today the second-largest in the world), to name just a few.
His term as prime minister led to resounding foreign policy successes as well as effective rebukes, including military ones, to neighbouring countries. India’s Kargil war victory over Pakistan in 1999 is owed to Vajpayee’s unequivocal prioritising of national security.
India’s current status as one of the most globally coveted markets also owes much to Vajpayee’s unstinting support for the free market reforms that were set into motion by his predecessor, prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.
With the death of Vajpayee, India mourns the loss of one of its finest visionaries. But the giants of history always leave behind a benediction in their legacy. Vajpayee’s birthday, December 25, which is marked as Good Governance Day since 2014, is a fitting reminder to India of its ultimate duty to its people and the importance of discharging it at all times.