Reading Atal Bihari Vajpayee through his Independence Day speeches

Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday evening. File photo
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave six speeches from the Red Fort in the period between 1998 and 2003. His stint as the first full-term non-Congress head of India's executive was characterised by a multitude of extreme socio-political happenings, vestiges of which are visible even today. 

The nuclear test in Pokhran, which he candidly attributed as a succession of efforts initiated by Indira Gandhi, was followed by a victory in the Kargil war in the following year. The Parliament was attacked by terrorists in 2001, and a year later, Gujarat boiled in communal riots. 

Gujarat was rocked by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake on the Republic Day in 2001, while the Indian Ocean tsunami wiped a swathe of villages on the eastern coast of India. The year 2002 witnessed one of the worst nation-wide droughts in the history of independent India.  

Looking in the annals of history, Vajpayee, in his Independence Day speeches to be specific, took due cognisance of these events.    

All of his six speeches started with an unfettered praise to the Indian Army, and a sublime touch to the Kashmir issue. He initiated the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister Rural Roads Scheme) and vowed to complete a major portion of it by 2007. At present, about 8 per cent habitations are yet to be connected.  

Here are a few quotes that are reflective of his approach to India's development.   

August 15, 1998

"Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan"

Carrying Lal Bahadur Shastri's message forward, he added science to it and gave a call to respect the scientists of the country at par with the soldiers and farmers, to mark the changing times.  

"The boundaries of this country extend from Ladakh to Nicobar, from Garo Hills to Gilgit"

Vajpayee did not mince words when it came to the political boundaries of India.   

"I have not even left out the Prime Minister from the ambit of the Lok Pal Bill"

The public debate on Lok Pal, the national watchdog in making for two decades, rocked the UPA–II government. It was Vajpayee who brought the prime minister into the ambit of the Bill.  

ALSO READ: How Vajpayee met foreign policy challenges, made India a nuclear power

August 15, 1999 

"The government was brought down, but the country was not. It continued to march ahead, fulfilling the mantra of Charaiveti, Charaiveti (Move on, Move on)" 

Economic sanctions post the Pokhran nuclear test and the ripples after the Southeast Asian currency crisis had put the Indian economy in a precarious condition. Vajpayee had said then that we should move on.  

"...Sending not just one, but three satellites on a single rocket far out into space, and placing each of them at the precise point in space...has been a magnificent achievement."

The space programme got a fillip under his tenure, which ushered in private competition in the telecom sector. Call rates on mobile phones plummeted during his regime, from exorbitant to affordable, and became one of the cheapest in the world.

"I would like to see early passage of the legislation to reserve seats for women in Parliament and State Assemblies"

The proposed reservation in political representation to women has not seen the light of day yet.  

ALSO READ: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, more than a rare 'Ajatshatru' in Indian politics

August 15, 2000

"Nearly seventy per cent of our population is less than the age of 35"

Understanding the power and potential of the booming demographic dividend was the first step in formulating policies to encash the dividend. 

"The 21st century does not permit the redrawing of borders either in the name of religion or on the strength of the sword"

Though India went full-headed in Kargil, Vajpayee's words a year later reflected a peaceful approach. 

"I would like to express my special appreciation to all the central trade unions" 

Trade unions, mostly affiliated to the Communist parties, were taken on board by Vajpayee with ease. 

"The government will announce an Integrated National Health Policy, the aim of which will be to quickly achieve Health for All"

The last line of PM Modi in his latest speech on August 15 reverberated exactly the same goal in terms of public health. 

"India is a Union of States...We are committed to decentralisation of power"

In addition to disinvestment, which was started as a separate department under the finance ministry in his term, Vajpayee was committed to a more advanced and independent federal structure. 

August 15, 2001

"Scarcity of foodgrains has become a thing of the past now. Earlier, we used to import food. Now, we are an exporter"

During his tenure, India experienced a more pronounced shift from traditional crops like millets to wheat and soyabean, and food exports started an upward journey.  

"Nearly one billion (one hundred crore) man-days of employment are expected to be generated through the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (Rural Employment Scheme)"

This scheme formed a pre-cursor to the biggest employment scheme on earth, the MGNREGA. 

"Over the next three years, all public-sector banks will lend five per cent of the net bank credit to women entrepreneurs"

The government observed 2001 as the Women's Empowerment Year. 

"Kashmiriyat is a fine example of Sarva Dharma Samabhava (secularism). It completely negates the Two-Nation theory"

He equated "Kashmiriyat" (the ethos of Kashmir) to secularism in two of his speeches, in stark contrast to the polarization between leading political narratives on the lines of hardline Hindutva on one side, and secularism on the other. 

August 15, 2002

"We will have to draw a Lakshman Rekha in our political conduct"

Calling the hunger for power in a multi-party democracy natural, he yearned that the race should remain within the limits of "nation first". 

"People want the experiment of coalition governance to succeed."

His NDA government was the first non-Congress government about to complete a full five-year term at that time. 

"Could anyone have even imagined that one day, India would earn Rs 400 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) in computer software exports?"

The early 2000s were the foundation to the boom in the IT-ITES service industry in late 2000s. 

August 15, 2003

"I am pleased to announce that India will send her own spacecraft to the moon by 2008. It is being named Chandrayaan-I"

India's much-lauded moon mission was conceptualised and the basics worked upon under Vajpayee's tenure.

"Now India needs a new revolution: the Food Chain Revolution. Its aim is to achieve a doubling of the average income of the Indian farmer by 2010"

The importance of post-harvest infrastructure was underlined by him in his last I-Day speech.  


/> Source: