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Vajpayee bridged gap between Bharat and India, writes Sidharth Nath Singh

UP health minister Sidharth Nath Singh says he will remember former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 and for a series of economic reforms.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2018 16:00 IST
Atal Bihari Vajpayee,Sidharth Nath Singh,Vajpayee
Namita, daughter of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his cremation at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal in New Delhi on Friday.(PTI Photo)

In 2001, I had gone to 7, Race Course Road with a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) media team to record a speech by the prime minister, and I got the opportunity of being introduced to prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

With a straight face, Atal ji said: “He cannot be Shastriji’s grandson”. Then came the typical Atalji pause that made me more nervous. He smiled and said: “You are taller than Shastriji”. We all broke into laughter. When I met him for the second time, he remembered me and said, “You look a bit like Shastriji” and added: “Looks can come but what is important to have is Shastriji’s mild manner and strong character. He was a true son of the soil”. Those words still ring in my ears.

Shastriji’s family and nation are indebted to Atalji and his government because after Shastriji’s death in 1966, the family always wanted 1 Moti Lal Nehru Place (the house where he lived in as prime minister) to be converted into a national memorial. My grandmother, Lalita Shastri, had requested previous governments, but the request always remained confined to files. I recall reading in a national daily that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government would not convert former leaders’ residences into memorials. I informed my mother and made her speak to senior BJP leader L K Advani. On the same evening, a cabinet meeting took place and I learnt that Atalji had said an exception should be made for Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Atalji was popularly known as Baapji by many of us. In a true sense, he reflected that quality. I recall that in 2006, on an important issue, a press conference took place at 6A Krishna Menon Marg. Being the national media convenor, I had to organise the conference followed by lunch. Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha addressed the press. Later, when I went to seek permission to leave, Baapji enquired whether I had eaten. I was very busy with the media so had skipped lunch. He ensured that a hot meal was served to me and while I was eating he sat next to me.

The nation will now remember him in many ways — as an orator, statesman, poet, ambassador of coalition dharma and so on and so forth. I will always remember him for the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 and for unleashing a series of economic reforms to build a strong India. Being a visionary is one thing, but to translate your vision into reality is something Atalji knew. Imagine the way China flexes its muscle now; if the Pokharan-II tests had not taken place and the world had not known that India also possesses its own strategic deterrent, we would have succumbed to Chinese pressure.

India’s response to Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil war was another testimony to Atalji’s determination although he was then the head of only a caretaker government. The decision that Indian troops would not cross the Line of Control and trust in their ability to still push back Pakistani soldiers made the world realise that India was a responsible nation.

Three important diplomatic goals were achieved by Prime Minister Vajpayee — he made India a nuclear state, converted a foreign affairs crisis into an opportunity by building a constructive engagement with the US and the Western world, and compelled China to recognise India’s sovereignty over Sikkim.

Many economic reforms shaping India into a strong nation today are a legacy of Atalji. The monumental divide that existed between Bharat and India has started to narrow because of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s policies and programmes — for instance the Golden Quadrilateral road projects, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) and the new telecom policy that unleashed competition and employment.

Atalji will always be my inspiration — the voice that will guide me and speak to me whenever I look for answers.

(The author is health minister in the UP government)

First Published: Aug 18, 2018 14:28 IST