A leader for the ages, he was ahead of the times

Published By : Admin | August 17, 2018 | 08:54 IST

In times of turbulence and disruption, a nation is blessed to have a leader who rises to become its moral compass and guiding spirit, providing vision, cohesion and direction to his people. And, in such a moment at the turn of the century, India found one in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was gifted in spirit, heart and mind.

For those of us who knew him, he was, first, the rarest of human beings, who touched and inspired everyone he met. He was compassionate to the core, generous in spirit, warm beyond measure and kind to a fault. He was deeply respectful of others and gifted with a rare sense of humour that he often turned upon himself.

Orator without parallel, he could switch from disarming humour to a lofty vision with ease, with a rare ability to connect with people naturally, to stir them to self-belief and to a higher cause. Sharply perceptive, he could summarize the most complex issues and discussions in a single sentence or question.

Born into a family of modest means and high ideals, he hailed from a small town in MP. His youth was defined by academic excellence and quest for public service during the gathering momentum of freedom struggle. Starting as an ordinary Karyakarta in the Jana Sangh, he organized the only truly national-level party to be formed in independent India – the BJP – and helmed its organization work after the passing away of Shri Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Through the four decades of leadership in Parliament, the struggle against Emergency (who can forget that memorable rally in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan when his speech became the roar of the nation), the clarity to represent his party with passion but always speak for the nation, he defined the spirit of democracy in India. Firm in his political beliefs, but always accommodating and respectful of other points of view, he set the standards of debate in Parliament. In his simplicity and integrity, in his dignity and empathy, and a sense of personal non-attachment to the office, he became an inspiration for a nation of youth.

He rescued the economy from the morass of the mid-1990s, when political instability at home and an uncertain global environment had threatened to derail a still incipient economic reforms process. He sowed the seeds of much of the economic success that we have experienced over the past two decades. For him, growth was a means to empower the weakest and mainstream the marginalized. It’s that vision that continues to drive our government’s policy.

It was Atalji who prepared the foundations of an India that is ready to take on the mantle of global leadership in the 21st century. The futuristic economic policies and reforms of his government ensured prosperity for several Indians. His thrust on next-generation infrastructure particularly roads and telecom contributed to our country’s economic as well as social empowerment.

Atalji irreversibly changed India’s place in the world. He overcame the hesitation of our nation, the resistance of the world and threat of isolation to make India a nuclear weapons power. It was not a decision he took lightly, but one he knew was of paramount importance in the face of mounting challenges to India’s security. No longer would India’s security be vulnerable. At that moment of surge in national pride, his was a voice of restraint and responsibility. And, the world listened to the wisdom of the man of peace. Equally important, he then brought to bear his extraordinary understanding of world affairs and formidable diplomatic skills to gain global acceptance of new realities. Indeed, it is the combination of his legacies of creating strategic capabilities, promoting stronger economic growth, undertaking multi-directional diplomacy and harnessing of diaspora energies that is today the basis for the respect we command across the world.

He transformed five decades of estrangement with USA into an enduring strategic partnership in the course of five years. He also steered India to deep friendship with a new post-Soviet Russia through a strategic partnership in 2000. I had the privilege of accompanying him on a visit to Russia in November 2001 when we concluded a sister province agreement between Gujarat and Astrakhan.

With China, he made the boldest move for peace in an effort to overcome the burdens of a difficult past by establishing the mechanism of Special Representatives for boundary talks. Atal Ji’s conviction that these two ancient civilisations – which are rising powers – can work together to shape the global future continues to guide my thinking.

A person of grassroots, our neighbours were his priority. In many ways, he was the inspiration for, and even pioneer of, our Neighbourhood First policy. He was unwavering in his support as an opposition leader towards Bangladesh’s liberation. He went to Lahore in search of peace. With persistence and optimism that was his nature, he continued to search for peace and heal the wounds in J&K. But, he was resolute in winning the Kargil War. And, when our Parliament was struck, he made the world recognize the true nature and source of cross-border terrorism against India.

Personally, Atalji was an ideal, a guru, and role model who inspired me deeply. It was he who entrusted me with responsibilities both in Gujarat as well as at the national level. It was he who called me one evening in October 2001, and told me to go to Gujarat as the chief minister. When I told him that I had always worked in the organization, he said he was confident I would fulfill the people’s expectations. The faith he had in me was humbling.

Today, we are a self-assured nation, brimming with the energy of our youth and resolve of our people, eager for change and confident of achieving it, striving for clean and responsive governance, building future of inclusion and opportunity for all Indians. We engage the world as equals and in peace, and we speak for principles and support the aspirations of others. We are on the path that Atalji wanted us to take. He was ahead of the times, because he had a deep sense of history, and he could peer into the soul of India from his grasp of our civilizational ethos.

A life is to be judged not just by the extent of grief that follows when its light goes out. It is also to be measured by the lasting impact on the lives of people and the course of time. For that reason, Atalji was a true Ratna of Bharat. His spirit will continue to guide us as we build the New India of his dreams.

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Today, India’s former Vice President and respected statesman Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu Garu turns 75. I wish him a long and healthy life and also extend my greetings to all his well-wishers and supporters. This is an occasion to celebrate a leader whose life journey showcases dedication, adaptability and an unwavering commitment to public service. From his early days in the political arena to his tenure as Vice President, Venkaiah Garu’s career exemplifies his unique ability to navigate the complexities of Indian politics with ease and humility. His eloquence, wit and steadfast focus on developmental issues have earned him respect across party lines.

Venkaiah Garu and I have been associated with each other for decades. We have worked together and I have also learnt a lot from him. If there is one thing that has remained common in his life, it is the love for people. His brush with activism and politics began in Andhra Pradesh with student politics as a student leader. Considering his talent, oratory and organisational skills, he would have been welcomed in any political party but he preferred to work with the Sangh Parivar because he was inspired by the vision of Nation First. He was associated with the RSS, ABVP and then strengthened the Jana Sangh and the BJP.

When the Emergency was imposed almost 50 years ago, young Venkaiah Garu immersed himself in the anti-Emergency movement. He was imprisoned and that too for inviting Loknayak JP to Andhra Pradesh. This commitment to democracy would be seen time and again in his political career. In the mid-1980s, when the great NTR’s Government was unceremoniously dismissed by the Congress, he was again at the forefront of the movement to protect democratic principles.

Venkaiah Garu has always been comfortable swimming even against the most formidable tides. In 1978, Andhra Pradesh voted for the Congress but he beat the trend and was elected as a young MLA. Five years later, when the NTR Tsunami swept the state, he got elected as a BJP MLA, thus paving the way for the BJP’s growth across the state.

All those who have heard Venkaiah Garu speak will vouch for his oratory skills. He is certainly a wordsmith but he is as much a worksmith. Since his days as a young MLA, he began to be respected for the rigour he put in to legislative affairs and speaking for people of his constituency. No less than a stalwart like NTR noted his talent and even wanted him to join his Party but Venkaiah Garu refused to deviate from his core ideology. He went on to play a big role in strengthening the BJP in Andhra Pradesh, going across the villages and connecting with people from all walks of life. He led the Party on the floor of the Assembly and even became the AP BJP President.

It was in the 1990s that the BJP central leadership took note of Venkaiah Garu’s efforts and thus in 1993 began his stint in national politics when he was appointed the Party’s All India General Secretary. It was truly a remarkable moment for a man, who as a teenager would go around announcing the visits of Atal Ji and Advani Ji, to be working directly with them. As the General Secretary, he was focused on how to bring our Party to power and ensure that the nation get their first ever BJP Prime Minister. After the move to Delhi, there was no looking back and he rose to become the National President of the Party.

In 2000, when Atal Ji was keen to induct Venkaiah Garu in the government as a Minister, Venkaiah Garu instantly conveyed his preference for the Rural Development Ministry. This left everyone including Atal Ji puzzled. After all, here was a leader who was being asked which portfolio he wants and his first choice was Rural Development. But, Venkaiah Garu was clear- he was a Kisan Putra, he had spent his early days in the villages and thus, if there was one area he wished to work, it was rural development. As Minister, he was closely associated with the conception and rolling out of the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana.’ Years later, when the NDA Government of 2014 assumed office, he handled the crucial portfolios of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation. It was during his tenure that we launched the important Swachh Bharat Mission and important urban development related schemes. Perhaps, he is one of the only leaders to have worked for both rural and urban development for such an extensive period.

When I came to Delhi in 2014, I was an outsider to the national capital, having worked in Gujarat for the previous decade and a half. In such times, Venkaiah Garu’s insights were very handy. He was an effective Parliamentary Affairs Minister - he knew the essence of bipartisanship but at the same time he drew a line when it came to Parliamentary norms and rules.

In 2017, our Alliance nominated him as our Vice-Presidential candidate. We faced a dilemma – we thought about how the big shoes of Venkaiah Garu would be impossible to fill, but at the same time, we also knew there was no better candidate for the Vice Presidency than him. I can never forget one of the speeches he gave when he resigned as Minister and MP. He could not control his tears when he recalled his association with the Party and efforts to build it. It gave a glimpse of his deep-rooted commitment and passion. Upon becoming the Vice President, he undertook various steps that also enhanced the dignity of the office. He was an outstanding Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, ensuring that young MPs, women MPs and first time MPs get the opportunity to speak. He put great emphasis on attendance, making the Committees more effective and also raising the level of debate in the House.

When the decision to remove Articles 370 and 35(A) were placed on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, it was Venkaiah Garu who was on the Chair. I am sure it was such an emotional moment for him- the young boy who was drawn to Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s dream of a united India was on the Chair when this was finally achieved.

Apart from work and politics, Venkaiah Garu is a voracious reader and writer too. For the people in Delhi, he is known as the person who brought the glorious Telugu culture to the city. His Ugadi and Sankranti programmes are clearly among the most cherished gatherings in town. I have always known Venkaiah Garu as someone who loves food and also hosting people. But, off late, his self-control has also been visible to everyone. His commitment to fitness is seen in how he still plays badminton and enjoys his brisk walk.

Even after the Vice Presidency, Venkaiah Garu has led an active public life. On the issues that he is passionate about or on various developments that take place across the nation, he calls me and asks me about it. I met him most recently when our government returned to office for the third term. He was delighted and conveyed his best wishes to me and our team. I wish him once again on this milestone. I hope young Karyakartas, elected representatives and all those who have a passion to serve learn from his life and imbibe those values. It is people like him who make our nation better and more vibrant.