PATH-BREAKER

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 18 Aug 2018 10:57:38

THE most important contribution of Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee as a national leader was in the field of external affairs. As Mr. Morarji Desai assumed prime ministership in 1977, he made one of the most signal and natural choices while allotting portfolios to his colleagues in the Council of Ministers. And that involved Mr. Vajpayee to whom he assigned the Ministry of External Affairs. Approximately twenty years later, when Mr. Vajpayee became Prime Minister, he renewed his emphasis on external affairs management that finally led India into an elite club of nations that the world took seriously. This is the most important contribution which Mr. Vajpayee made. For, it was from then on that the world leaders started noticing what India stood for, no matter what other Prime Ministers had done previously. What made Mr. Vajpayee’s contribution special was the manner in which he led the Indian diplomatic cause -- with aplomb and confidence that was not so abundantly available previously. Mr. Vajpayee led the Indian journey into an elite zone of foreign policy management.

At the moment of the sad demise of Mr. Vajpayee, this aspect of his contribution to the national cause comes to fore in memory bank because, fortunately, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, too, has tried to travel along the same path, giving India a much-needed fillip to its growing foreign engagement. It was Mr. Vajpayee who initiated the process of active Indian engagement in global affairs. He went out into the global arena promoting Indian interests, helping the world leaders acknowledge that they could not ignore the Indian standpoint. As his philosophical successor, Mr. Modi is doing exactly the same now -- seeking a rightful place for India in world affairs.

It must be noted that all Prime Ministers of India have made critical contributions to foreign policy issues. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mr. Morarji Desai, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao led the Indian diplomatic endeavour with much elan. Yet, those who observed Indian diplomacy carefully over time could not avoid an impression that there was certain sheepishness in the effort. That might have come out of an embarrassing awareness that Indian economic and military mights did not support much deeper forays into foreign affairs. True, Mrs. Indira Gandhi gave a great push to the Indian diplomacy, as also did Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao and Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. Yet, their efforts seemed to give an impression of punch-pulling. Mr. Vajpayee proved himself different, making visibly proactive efforts to push the Indian interests in the global arena like none had done before.

Way back in the late 1970s when Pakistan conferred upon Prime Minister Mr. Morarji Desai the coveted Nishaan-e-Pakistan, it was a success of Mr. Vajpayee’s diplomacy. And when he led the bus trip into Lahore twenty years later, it was regarded as one of the boldest diplomatic endeavours the world had seen in some time, almost in the league of US President Mr. Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing to break the ice. That those efforts did not bring the desired results did not mean that Mr. Vajpayee was wrong or he failed. Much to the contrary, his bold endeavours did prove to the world India’s sublime intentions against the hooliganism of Pakistan in sharp contrast. Mr. Modi, too, is following in Mr. Vajpayee’s footprints as regards Pakistan and China.

Prime Minister Mr. Modi has admitted with a sense of pride that walking the line drawn by Mr. Vajpayee has made a critically positive difference to Indian diplomacy of late. The ‘Look-East’ policy, the conscious and continuous engagement with apparent adversaries, the willingness to concede the legitimate interests of other countries, demonstrating clear respect for the need of the other parties were the key operative points of Mr. Vajpayee’s approach to diplomacy. Mr. Modi is following that line drawn by his Guru in every which the way.

When Mr. Vajpayee ordered Pokharan II, his sole motive was clear -- to demonstrate to the world India’s prowess, and also its willingness to rough it out in the economic arena as well (following severe sanctions). The idea is now clear in retrospect, but when Mr. Vajpayee took the step, nobody could predict what the outcome could exactly be. For, just a while earlier, Prime Minister Mr. Narasimha Rao had held back the testing of Prithvi Missile at the behest of the US just before his visit to Washington. Mr. Vajpayee’s signal contribution was that he defied similar pressures, and ordered nuclear tests by hoodwinking the Americans.

Of course, India’s nuclear policy has been supported by the political element all along. As an astute leader, Mr. Narasimha Rao kept pushing for nuclear-readiness of the nation even in military terms. But it was Mr. Vajpayee who started giving defence-preparedness a modern vision based on technological evolution. And in order to make those efforts fruitful, he offered the country a very mature handling of external affairs. This wise and discreet departure from Nehruvian approach to foreign policy management was the terrific gift of Mr. Vajpayee to the India of future. Thankfully, Mr. Modi, too, is journeying along the same path, giving India a definitive leadership in the diplomatic arena. So critical is Mr. Modi’s engagement in world affairs now that it may almost look disproportionately larger than the actual size of India’s global presence.

Factually, however, that is hardly the case. Over time, India has grown to a greater stature, thanks to good efforts by successive Prime Ministers. But even as we look back on that chain, we realise that Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee stands taller and much apart because of his vision and his capability to carry it out despite constraints of the most serious nature. One of the constraints was the limited time at his disposal. Despite that, he pushed on with his ideas and gave India an advantage which it is still reaping. At the moment of his demise, these thoughts crowd the mind, making the head bow in utmost respect and tribute to this son of India who gave every breath of his to the motherland.