I was 12 when it happened. I was in Sitamarhi, Bihar when I saw Dadajee talking excitedly to his friends. He was obviously happy. And soon I got to know why. India had become a Nuclear power.
Later Dadajee told me how it meant that we were only the 6th country to have a nuclear bomb and now anybody will have to think twice before attacking us. There was a visible excitement in the air. After 5 decades of being the third world spokesperson, India had finally graduated and started to think big.
Today, on his 89th birthday, we miss him for he was a true people’s politician. One who knew how to hold his own while being polite.
On 25th May 1998, Outlook published an article asking-
“Several questions remain: Does India have the guts to take on everyone at the same time? The sanctions, heightened tensions with China, not to speak of Pakistan? Are we opening too many fronts at the same time? Could the complaint against China have been tackled more diplomatically? The BJP’s own supporters are asking these questions. The cited threat assessment is not new. It has existed for years. What has changed in the last six weeks?”
The opposition was already making undertones of attacking the BJP led NDA govt. in the parliament. News of widespread sanctions had already started flowing in.
The nexus of USA-Pak and Pak-China was worried and created as much noise as it could on the international forum. There was tremendous pressure on India to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).
But, we made it. Credit goes to the NDA government under the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee personally wrote to 177 world leaders, assigned 10 MEA joint secretaries to ensure these letters were delivered within 24 hours of the tests. In addition, he was personally in touch with several key world leaders to explain India’s stand.
Today, we can see and see the fruits of the hardships faced in those few months. This was not Atal Ji’s first moment of glory. He started young. At the age of 18, he was jailed for 23 days during the Quit India Movement. Later on, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and in 1951 he joined Bhartiya Jan Sangh.
There, under the guidance of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, he prospered until Dr. Mukherjee was killed in a J&K jail while protesting against the special status given to Kashmir. Atal Ji was jailed again in 1975-77 by Indira Gandhi during the emergency.
After the Emergency, Ram Manohar Lohia gave a call for all the opposition parties to unite and fight against Congress. Jan Sangh was readily dissolved into Janta Party which came into power in the next elections.
Atal Ji was made the Miniter of External affairs (same position Salman Khurshid holds today) in Morarji Desai’s cabinet. He became the first politician to address the United Nations in Hindi. In 1980, he joined Advani, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for BJP.
The following quote was said for the USA-
No state should be allowed to profess partnership with the global coalition against terror while continuing to aid, abet, and sponsor terrorism.
For me, he will always be the best Prime Minister India produced after Shastri jee. We saw unprecedented growth, the benefits of which were also reaped by UPA-I, growth in International stature, affluence, and proactive foreign policy. I will not bore you with details but use a few graphs which I borrowed from India Facts.
Under Atal Ji, the government pushed economic reforms, and the country’s GDP growth accelerated at record levels, exceeding 6-7%. Increasing foreign investment, modernization of public and industrial infrastructure, the creation of jobs, a rising high-tech and IT industry, and urban modernization and expansion improved the nation’s national image.
Good crop harvests and strong industrial expansion also helped the economy. The Government reformed the tax system increased the pace of reforms and pro-business initiatives, major irrigation and housing schemes, and so on.
Today, when there is so much vitriol in politics, I miss Atal Ji, the poet, PM, and the parliamentarian. He was a man of action, one who never shied away from his responsibilities. May he be healthy soon.