Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1996; 1st time) & (1998–2004; 2nd time)

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bihari also spelled Behari, (born December 25, 1924, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India—died August 16, 2018, New Delhi, Delhi), leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and twice prime minister of India (1996; 1998–2004).TOP QUESTIONS

Vajpayee was first elected to parliament in 1957 as a member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a forerunner of the BJP. In 1977 the BJS joined three other parties to form the Janata Party, which led a government that lasted until July 1979. As foreign minister in the Janata government, Vajpayee earned a reputation for improving relations with Pakistan and China. In 1980, following a split in the Janata Party, Vajpayee helped the BJS to reorganize itself as the BJP. In 1992 he was one of the few Hindu leaders to speak out against the destruction of the historic mosque at Ayodhya by anti-Muslim extremists.

Vajpayee was sworn in as prime minister in May 1996 but was in office only 13 days, after failing to attract support from other parties. In early 1998 he again became prime minister, in elections in which the BJP won a record number of seats, but he was forced to make a shaky alliance with regional parties. In 1999 the BJP increased its seats in parliament and consolidated its hold on government.

Although considered a pragmatist, Vajpayee assumed a defiant posture in the face of Western criticism of India’s testing of several nuclear weapons in 1998. He had earlier been praised for his conciliatory gestures toward India’s Muslim minority. In 2000 his government began an extensive program of divestment of public funds from several key state-run industries. In 2002 Vajpayee’s government was criticized for its slowness in reacting to riots in Gujarat in which some 1,000 people (primarily Muslims) died. Nevertheless, in 2003 Vajpayee made a concerted effort to resolve India’s long-running feud with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Under his leadership, India achieved steady economic growth, and the country became a world leader in information technology, though the poorer elements of Indian society often felt left out of the economic prosperity. In 2004 his coalition was defeated in the parliamentary election, and he resigned from office.

Major Achievements of Atal jee as Prime Minister

1. He took a courageous and strategically vital decision in May 1998 to make India a nuclear power and conducted Nuclear Tests despite the opposition of several world powers. Under his leadership, India successfully overcame sanctions imposed by certain super powers.

2. He made earnest efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan, beginning with his historic Bus Yatra to Lahore in February 1999. However, when Pakistan betrayed his trust. India’s Armed Forces, under his resolute leadership, defeated Pakistan in the Kargil War in 1999.

3. His government undertook the most comprehensive review of the system of managing India’s national security (both external security and internal security) and initiated corrective measures. This included firm measures to combat cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. The combination of his strong security policy and farsighted foreign policy forced Islamabad’s rulers to commit for the first time (in January 2004) that Pakistan would not allow its soil (or territory controlled by it) to be used for terrorist activities in India. Under the NDA regime, for the first time, a separate Border Management Department was established and a Defence Intelligence Unit created.

4. He made sincere and successful efforts to marginalise militancy and separatism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and bring peace and normalcy in the state. Under his leadership of the central government, free and fair elections were held in J&K for the first time after many decades.

5. He unveiled the National Highway Development Project (NHDP) to construct world-class highways in India, connecting the four metros (‘Golden Quadrilateral’) and also the four corners of the country through the North-South and East-West Corridors. NHDP is one of the most ambitious infrastructure project since India’s independence, and at that time it was also the greatest road construction project after the Grand Trunk Road (from Kolkata to Kabul), which was initiated by the Maurya empire in the 3rd century BC and renovated by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century.

6. He also initiated the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), with the goal of connecting all the villages and hamlets in India with good all-weather roads. It is the largest project of rural connectivity since independence.

7. Besides physical connectivity, his government took bold steps to build digital connectivity in the country. It ushered in a reform-oriented telecom sector and IT policies which boosted mobile and internet services in India and also helped make India a ‘software superpower’. He is also the architect of the pioneering efforts towards exploring the possibility of linking rivers, for which he established a dedicated working group.

8. His government started the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which is India’s flagship programme for achieving universal Elementary Education.

9. Harmony remains the hallmark of the Good Governance regime of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As Prime Minister, he ensured harmonious relations between the Centre and the States through a carefully cultivated mutuality of confidence. This stands in stark contrast to the approach of the Congress or Congress-led governments at the Centre (before and after Ataljee) frequently inviting fairly substantiated allegations of crass discriminatory approach towards state governments run by opposition parties.

10. He not only coined the phrase ‘Coalition Dharma’ (proper ethos to conduct coalition politics in a cohesive manner, with commitment to an agreed programme, and in an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding among alliance partners) but also left behind an exemplary model of how to practice it. He thereby greatly strengthened the emergence of bi-polarity in Indian polity through cultivation of healthy interpersonal and inter-party relationships.

11. Under his leadership, India promoted friendship and cooperation with all the major power blocks and nations in the world, especially in the immediate neighbourhood. India’s relations with the USA and other Western nations became deeper and broader. Our traditionally friendly relations with Russia became stronger. Besides promoting mutually beneficial economic ties between India and China, his government also initiated a structured mechanism for high-level dialogue to resolve the border dispute between our two countries. Besides elevating India’s relations with Japan to a strategic level, he gave a new impetus to India’s ‘Look East Policy’ to build closer ties with countries in South-East Asia and East Asia.

12. All these forward-looking foreign policy initiatives, combined with Shri Vajapyee’s visionary steps to strengthen India’s national security and development, contributed to an immense rise in India’s global profile and prestige.

13. Besides all these, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government at the centre needs to be credited for creation of new departments like Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Department of North-East Region and converting the Social Welfare Ministry into the Ministry of Social Justice. Besides, under his leadership: for the first time in the post-independence history of India, the process of long overdue creation of three new small states ( Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand) was taken to its logical end through, what can be described as Politics of Consensus. Besides, it was under his regime that both the Houses of parliament attended an historic joint Session to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Activities Act (POTA) and thereby give a strong signal to anti-national forces. He had the remarkable ability to reach out to those who were otherwise known for being stubborn and unrelenting. In border areas like Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir he touched the hearts of the people while touring the respective states and that added immensely to the strength of the peace processes in both these States.