Atal Bihari Vajpayee was, perhaps, one of the most important political leaders of India. He was the 10th Prime Minister of India; first serving a term for just 13 days before resigning in 1996, then for period of 11 months between 1998 and 1999, and finally for full term in 1999 up until 2004. He is the only non-Congress Prime Minister to have served a full term in office.
Vajpayee’s tenure in politics began before India got its independence. By 1942, he had become an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). While participating in the ‘Quit India Movement’, he was arrested along with his brother, Prem, for 24 days. He joined the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951, and became its national president in 1968.
During the Indira Gandhi government’s emergency of 1975, Vajpayee was arrested along with several opposition leaders. However, during the Jan Sangh’s victory in the 1977 general elections, he became the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Morarji Desai‘s cabinet. He became the first person, as foreign minister, to deliver a speech to he United Nations General Assembly in Hindi.
However, in 1979, Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister leading to the dissolution of the Janata Sangh. Vajpayee, along with many of his colleagues from the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh came together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980. He was the party’s first president, and emerged as a strong critic of the Congress (R) government that followed the Janata Sangh.
Vajpayee was a member of the Indian Parliament for over four decades, having been elected ten times to the Lok Sabha, and twice to the Rajya Sabha. He served as MP for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh until 2009. He suffered from a stroke in 2009 which saw the ageing leader retire from active politics. Post his political career, he did not attend any public engagements and only stepped out of the house for checkups at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
On 11th June 2018, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s health was in critical condition, and was subsequently admitted to AIIMS. On 16th August 2018, he passed away at 5:05 p.m. (IST), due to age related ailments.
Here are a list of significant achievements of the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
- I. Economic Expansion
- II. Infrastructure Developments
- III. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
- IV. New Telecom Policy 1999
- V. Operation Shakti – Pokhran-II
- VI. Chandrayaan-I
- VII. The Lahore Declaration
- VIII. Operation Vijay – The Kargil War, 1999
I. Economic Expansion
The Vajpayee government saw significant expansions in India’s economy; from IT Minister Arun Shourie drawing up a blue print for selling off ailing Public Sector Undertakings (PSU), to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha promoting policies for simplifying taxes to free up businesses in a bid to create a conducive atmosphere for foreign investments.
Between 1999 and 2004, when the BJP-led NDA government was in power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the average GDP growth rate was at 6% per year. However, upon leaving the office, the GDP rate was recorded at 8% under the Vajpayee government. The rate of inflation at this period was at 4.8% but remained relatively stable at that number.
a. Fiscal Responsibility Act 2003
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, under the leadership of the then Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, introduced the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill (FRBM) to eliminate revenue deficit. The bill was first drawn up by the Finance Minister in December 2000.
The Bill raised the concern in regards to the terrible state of government finances in India, both at the Union and the state levels. It also sought to introduce the concept of ‘fiscal discipline’ at various levels of the government. The reaction to this Bill was that of mixed opinions among economists, giving rise to political debates in the country.
The Bill was approved by the Union government’s Cabinet ministry in February 2003. Following due exactment process in the Parliament, it was approved by President of India on 26th August 2003. The Bill became effective on 5th July 2004.
b. Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARC)
In a bid to eliminate failing Public Sector Undertakings, the then Finance Minister Jaswant Singh introduced the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act 2002; enacted in December 2002. The total worth of non-performing assets (NPA) ratios crossed 10%.
The Act was introduced with the aim of reconstructing bad assets without the intervention of courts. Since then, a large number of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARC) were formed and registered with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which also became the regulatory authority for the ARCs.
An Asset Reconstruction Company is a specialised financial institution that buys the NPAs or bad assets from banks and financial institutions in a bid to help them clean up their balance sheets. This helps the banks to concentrate on normal banking activities. Rather than going after defaulters, banks can sell bad assets to the ARCs at a mutually agreed value.
Under the Vajpayee government, a Department of Disinvestments was created to process privatisation candidates, along with the creation of a Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment for regulating expeditious approvals.
The Vajpayee government’s drive towards privatisation began with the sale of Modern Food Industries to Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in 2000. Following this, his government facilitated the sale of Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (BALCO) and Hindustan Zinc Ltd to Anil Agarwal’s Sterlite Industries. The IT companies, CMC Ltd and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL), were sold to Tata. Fuel retailers IBP Co. Ltd was sold to Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd (IPCL).
II. Infrastructure Developments
In what was the continuation of economic policies, the Vajpayee government also facilitated the growth of infrastructure in India. Prime Minister Vajpayee’s main focus was on building connectivity through road networks throughout India.
His government was responsible in building India’s most famous highway project, the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) to connect the major metropolitan cities of India. The government under Vajpayee also launched the Pradhan Mantri Gramim Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), a scheme launched to build roads in villages and provide connectivity between them.
a. National Highways Development Project (NHDP)
The National Highways Development Project (NHDP) project is managed by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways. This project represents 49,260 kilometres of roads and highway networks, to boost economic development of the country.
Phase I of NHDP is known as the Golden Quadrilateral, spanning 5,846 kilometres, connecting the four major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. The four-lane GQ highway was declared complete in January 2012.
Phase II comprised of highway networks connecting the North-South and East-West corridors; connecting the four extreme points of the country. The project’s total length is 7,142 kilometres, connecting Srinagar in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, and Silchar in the east to Porbandar in the west. As of October 2016, 90.99% of the project had been completed; 3.52% of the total length is to be finished while 5.47% is under implementation.
b. Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY)
The Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) is a centrally sponsored scheme that was introduced in 2000 by the BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The scheme is a nationwide plan to provide effective, all-weather road connectivity to, and between, villages. The PMGSY is under the authority of the Ministry of Rural Development, and work began on 25th December 2000.
As of December 2017; 82 % of about 1.7 lakh villages with a population above 500 in the plains and 250 in hilly areas, were connected.
III. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a programme for Universal Elementary Education. This programme is mandated by the 86th Amendment to the Constitution of India, making free and compulsory education children between the ages of 6 and 14, a fundamental right.
The programme is an attempt at providing opportunities for improving human capabilities to all children through provision of community-owned quality education in a mission mode.
The objective of this program are; to provide useful and elementary education to all children from ages 6 to 14, to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, to foster active participation of community in the management of schools, to allow children to learn about their natural environment in order to develop material and spiritual potential, to inculcate a value-based learning system, and to realise the importance of early childhood care with ages 0 to 14 being the continuum.
IV. New Telecom Policy 1999
In 1999, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government launched the New Telecom Policy on the basis of a report by a group on telecommunications. A high-level Group on Telecommunications (GoT) was constituted by the government to review the then existing National Telecom Policy of 1994.
The reason for the enactment of the new policy was the fact that the goals of the existing policy of 1994 were not achieved within the stipulated time period, while immense growth was being recorded in information and communication technology.
Under the New Telecom Policy of 1999, the objectives were; to provide affordable and effective means of telecommunications for all citizens, to encourage the development of telecommunication facilities in remote, hilly and tribal areas of the country, to form modern and efficient telecommunications systems based on the IT convergence with media and consumer electronics, and to strike a balance in providing universal services to all uncovered areas with the help of high level services.
V. Operation Shakti – Pokhran-II
Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, India gained the status of ‘full-fledged nuclear state’. Pokhran-II was the second Indian nuclear test, the first being ‘Operation Smiling Buddha’ conducted in May 1974.
Pokhran-II was a series of five nuclear bomb test explosions conducted by the Indian Army at the Pokhran Test Range (PTR), located in Rajasthan‘s Jaisalmer district in May 1998. The test consisted of five detonations, the first was a fusion bomb while the remaining four were fission bombs.
The project was titled ‘Operation Shakti‘; and on 11th May 1998, the project was initiated with the detonation of one fusion and two fission bombs. Subsequently, on 13th May 1998, two more fission bombs were detonated.
A variety of sanctions were issued to India by a number of major states, including the US and Japan.
On 15th August 2003, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced ‘Chandrayaan-I‘ as part of his Independence Day address. The idea of a scientific mission to the moon was first pitched in 1999, during a meeting at the Indian Academy of Sciences. The idea was carried forward in 2000, by the Astronomical Society of India.
Soon after, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) set up the National Lunar Mission Task Force. Over a hundred imminent scientists from various fields of planetary and space sciences, met in April 2003, and discussed and approved the Task Force recommendation to launch an Indian probe to the moon. The mission was approved by the Indian government in November 2003.
Chandrayaan-I was the first lunar probe, designed and launched by India. The probe was launched by ISRO in October 2008, and operated until August 2009. The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor. India launched the space craft on 22nd October 2008 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, located about 80 kilometres from Chennai. The vehicle was inserted into orbit on 8th November 2008. The mission was a major boost to India’s space programme. India also became the fourth country to place its flag on the moon.
VII. The Lahore Declaration
The period after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War was characterised by long periods of relatively few armed conflicts involving the armies of India and Pakistan. During the 1990s, there were escalating tensions between the two nations due to separatist activities in Kashmir, some perpetrated by Pakistan. The conducting of nuclear tests by both countries in 1998, led to an increasingly fragile atmostphere.
In a bid to diffuse the situation, India and Pakistan signed the Lahore Declaration in February 1999.
The Lahore Declaration was a bilateral agreement and governance treaty signed on 21st February 1999, at the conclusion of a historic summit in Lahore. The summit was consented to, by the parliaments of both the nations.
The terms of the treated called for reaching a mutual understanding in regards to development of atomic arsenals and to avoid accidental and/or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons. The treaty was signed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a widely-covered televised press conference in both countries.
VIII. Operation Vijay – The Kargil War, 1999
In a move that almost marred the progress presumably achieved by the Lahore Declaration, Pakistani soldiers infiltrated the Indian border disguised at Kashmiri militants and assimilated themselves into positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC).
The armed conflict is a significant example of high-altitude warfare in mountainous terrain. It is also an example of the direct confrontation of armed forced between nuclear states.
During the initial stages of the War, Pakistan completely deflected blame towards Kashmiri insurgents. However, documents left behind by casualties and later statements made by Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff suggested the involvement of Pakistani paramilitary forces, led by General Ashraf Rashid.
India managed to recapture a majority of its position on the Indian side of the LOC infiltrated by Pakistani troops and militants, with the help of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force.
On 11 July, after extensive fighting, and on being prompted by the US to withdraw its troops from the remaining Indian positions along the LOC, Pakistan withdrew its troops from the area completely.
The casualties accounted for 527 Indian soldiers being killed, while 1,363 soldiers were wounded.
The Kargil War came at a time when India witnessed the explosive growth of eletronic journalism. News stories on the Kargil War, as well as footages were telecast on live television, while many websites provided an in-depth analysis of the events. The conflict became the first ‘live’ war in South Asia.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the most influential leaders of modern India, with his tenure and experience in politics extending from pre-independent India to modern India (1942 to 2009). He is remembered by his peers, and others alike, as being a soft spoken yet powerful orator.
Described by many as poet, Vajpayee was known to extend the courtesy of opinions to his critics and members of the opposition parties.
By building on India’s economy, infrastructure and education, he laid the foundations for a resurgent Indian economy.
In regards to foreign policy, Vajpayee boosted trade and bilateral relations with the US, resulting in the historic summit of 2000 where President Bill Clinton became the second American President to visit India after Jimmy Carter in 1978. He also strengthened India’s ties with its neighbouring China, where his government initiated a structured mechanism for high-level dialogue to resolve border disputes between the two nations. Under Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership, India’s ties improved with South Asian and East Asian countries.
Vajpayee is also remembered for his efforts to normalise ties with Pakistan, where in February 1999, he inaugurated the Delhi-Lahore bus service and traveled in it to meet the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Shariff.
He was presented with India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna in 2015, by the then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. The Modi government declared, in 2014, that Vajpayee’s birthday on 25th December would be observed as ‘Good Governance Day’.