The country has still not come out from the loss of a great leader in Atal Bihari Vajpayee; and this has left a big void in the political system, which is hard to fill, and so, it is important to reflect on his legacy and to take it forward with more zeal.
Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister and a statesman; the finest politician and a noble soul; a great party builder and a matchless coalition builder; a great poet cum orator. If ‘Sardar Patel United India, Vajpayee connected India’. Vajpayee knew the power of connectivity, so, that was a great unifier. He connected with all hues of people and politicians and laid the foundation of connected India through his initiatives like the golden quadrilateral, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, Optic fibre network, setting the nodal ministry for North East amongst others. He connected India to the world for peace and development and took along Russia, China and USA together that too, after doing a Pokhran, and raising the stature of India as a nuclear power.
But there is another big contribution that Vajpayee made to the Indian political system, and that is bringing the ‘common man’ to the forefront of Indian politics, and he can be rightly credited for ushering in a new paradigm in the political system through the Bhartiya Janata Party founded in 1980. In less than two decades, the party had a Prime Minister. This exemplifies his vision and hard work of building a political party, which is not easy, and building a party which can have its Prime Minister in less than two decades is a tough ask. Considering his contributions, the time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the party and the nation to glory can be rightly termed as ‘Atal Yug’ and Atal Bihari Vajpayee deserves a place in history as a ‘Yug Purush’!
I distinctly remember, on 18th February, 2018, when the BJP inaugurated its new swanky office at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg, and while I was returning back from the inauguration with Dr. M.M. Joshi, I asked him about his memory from the days when the Bhartiya Janata Party was formed. Dr. Joshi reminisced, that BJP started at his residence at 39, Meena Bagh, and that used to be the first office of the BJP. I was curious to know ‘Why did BJP not have a formal office then? To which, he answered ‘That the party did not have enough money to start its own office and hence, it was founded at his residence, as he was the Lok Sabha MP and had a house in Delhi, also served as the founder General Secretary of the party. '
But there is important facet attached to these humble beginnings. This was also the time when triumvirate (Atal, Advani & Joshi) effectively built the party from nothing; Vajpayee, the orator; Advani, the charioteer and Joshi, the scholar. All these people were first timers with no family history of politicians or money bags with them. The only wealth they had, was the ideology and commitment, and they brought a freshness in approach to Indian politics. It was about ideology and principles and it did not matter how long and arduous the journey would be, but the goal was clear, firm and was set early on.
The party has withered many storms but has grown stronger with time and today, it commands an absolute majority. One thing that the triumvirate did to the political system and that is hard to repeat; BJP became a party of the common man. If we look at the current leadership in BJP and how it has made a party with the difference, one thing stands out that ordinary people joined the movement called BJP and rose to power with no political backing or money bags and these were the ‘aam aadmi’ in a real sense. Even if one looks at the key ministers in BJP, they are first timers in politics. They bring freshness of approach and an innate desire to do something great and leave their mark. So, if I were to sum up the biggest contribution of Vajpayee to the country’s party politics, it is building a party of, for and by a common man, and this was precisely the reason why the party drew people from all walks of life and gave it the fastest rise in national politics and today. The party has over 110 million registered workers.
Vajpayee understood it clearly that it’s the workers who make a party and not the other way around. The biggest tribute to Vajpayee would be to maintain that legacy and ensure that the BJP remains a common man’s party where the ordinary worker is heard, and has the opportunity to rise to the top.
(Prof Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a public policy expert, and played an important role in drafting the election manifesto of BJP in 2014. Views are personal.)