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Vajpayee: End of an era

Former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on Thursday at the age of 93. His death has been condoled across the country. Vajpayee had a series of titles to his litany. He has been described as a politician, poet, statesman and a fiery orator with great wit and control over words. He was also described as a great unifier who got together a fickle coalition and gave a strong government. Vajpayee was the first non-Congress politician to last a full term as the Prime Minister between 1999 and 2004. He also led two short-lived governments for 13 days in 1996 and 13 months in 1999. But what many people missed to say about him is that he was a core BJP man who, for the first time, led the right-wing party to power in India. Many people would call him as ‘right man in wrong party’ or a ‘secular among communalists’. With his mantra of ‘Insaniyat, ‘Jamhooriyat’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’, Vajpayee endeared himself to the people of Kashmir who finally saw a leader willing to look beyond political calculations in his attempt to solve the vexed problems of the strife-torn valley. Kashmiris vividly remembers Vajpayee as the man, who despite his Jan Sangh past, extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan and offered dialogue to the separatists in a historic speech here in April 2003. “We are again extending the hand of friendship, but hands should be extended by both sides,” Vajpayee said, the first such initiative by a prime minister of the country in many many years following the eruption of militancy in the state. The ‘hand of friendship’ to Pakistan was a complete reversal to the earlier stand of his government of not engaging with Islamabad till cross-border militancy continued.

At the same rally, Vajpayee extended an olive branch to the separatists saying dialogue was the only way to resolve issues. The sincerity of the effort immediately elevated Vajpayee’s stature in the eyes of the common Kashmiri, who bore the brunt of decades of violence in the state. Days later, Vajpayee elaborated on his Srinagar speech in the Lok Sabha. “Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaniyat (Humanity), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmiri values),” he said. The peace overture was all the more a surprise as it came just over two years after the Parliament was attacked by Jaish-e-Mohammad militants. Vajpayee had, however, made efforts to foster friendly relations with Pakistan, earlier as well. He travelled to the neighbouring country in the inaugural Delhi-Lahore bus in 1999, the efforts of which were negated by the Kargil intrusion later that year.

 Vajpayee was a great orator and a master of language. He would, on occasions, use his word power to project himself as a ‘soft and secular’. It was just because he, in Advani, had a loud-mouthed colleague by his side.  In September 2000, Vajpayee shared stage with VHP in Staten Island, and declared himself a swayamsevak first.