Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the charismatic, down-to-earth leader is no more. He expired yesterday in Delhi, after a prolonged illness.
Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee served the Parliament for record 47 years – He was a 12-terms Parliamentarian, having served Lok Sabha for 12 terms, and Rajya Sabha for 2 terms.
Between 1996 and 2004, he served the nation as Prime Minister and took several crucial economics, strategic and social decisions which altered the future of India.
Here are his top 5 decisions, which paved the way India lives today:
Diplomacy With the USA
In March 2000, then US President Bill Clinton visited India, and this single visit changed so many things for Indo-US relations. This was the first time since 1978 that a US President had visited India, and their signing of the Historic Vision Document paved the path for more economic and military ties between the two countries.
Bill Clinton’s visit, and subsequent friendship with the US which Obama continued is seen as a major diplomatic victory for India, under the helm of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
On May 11, 1998, India conducted Operation Shakti, wherein one fusion and two fission bombs were detonated. This was India’s 2nd nuclear tests after Smiling Buddha, which were conducted in 1974.
On May 13th, two additional fission devices were detonated, and then we declared to the world that we are now a nuclear power.
This decision to conduct nuclear tests is regarded as a defining moment for India. No doubt various economic sanctions were imposed on us, but it showed that we are now ready to challenge anyone, in case a need arises.
When Bill Clinton visited India two years later, it was mainly because of the Nuclear tests we conducted: India had made a mark on the global scene.
In 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became India’s PM, our telecom structure was in complete chaos: Incoming calls were charged Rs 16, and outgoing Rs 20-25. Telecom companies had just posted a loss of Rs 7000 crore, and things were in bad shape.
PM Vajpayee unleashed a new era of telecom reforms, starting with the end of BSNL’s monopoly, and introducing a revenue-share model for all private firms.
Calls became cheaper, and penetration of phones increased. Even BSNL benefitted, as it was segregated from Department of Telecom, and at its peak, it equaled Airtel’s subscriber base and had revenues of Rs 10,000 crore – a feat which is still a record for BSNL.
If we are able to enjoy free call and unlimited high-speed data, then Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an important role to play.
Taxation in India
The core idea of GST or Goods and Services Tax with One-Nation One-Tax model was mooted by then PM Vajpayee in 2003.
His basic contention was that central and state levies should be merged or unified, and a task force was created for implementing the same.
In 2004, Congress Govt. came into power, and they saw the merit in that. Then Finance Minister P Chidambaram spoke about GST in 2006, and a deadline of 2010 was set; which finally was implemented last year in July.
If not for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India wouldn’t have experienced the power of GST, and his vision changed India forever.
Education & Infrastructure
During his tenure as PM of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took several bold, and necessary steps related with India’s social and economic future.
In 2000-01, he made a decision to make education free and compulsory for all children between 6 and 14 years of age, and this changed everything for India. The rate of dropout of kids which was hovering at 40% in 2000, dropped to 10% in 2005.
The song School Chale Hum, which was used to promote this scheme was in fact penned by him.
Then the National Highway Development Project (NHDP), also known as ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ to connect Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai ushered in a new wave of progress and growth, never seen or experienced in India.
His disinvestment plans were also hailed as a major landmark in creating a sustainable business ecosystem in India, and paved paths for more startups, more businesses, and more development.
In several ways, Atal Bihari Vajpayee led India into the new millennium, both literally and figuratively.
May his soul rest in peace.