Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had an intuitive understanding that the post Cold-war world required India to drastically rework its relationships and this vision led to a new beginning in ties with the United States, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.
Paying rich tribute to Vajpayee on his 96th birth anniversary, Jaishankar said the eminent leader warmly reached out to various regions and continents that laid ground for expansion of India's overall external engagements, particularly with Europe, Africa, Latin America and countries in the ASEAN region.
He said India's principled approach of engaging China on the basis of mutual respect and mutual sensitivity also reflects Vajpayee's thinking. In the neighbourhood, Jaishankar said, Vajpayee "radiated goodwill and friendship" while being clear that terrorism and trust would not co-exist.
The external affairs minister described Vajpayee's decision to carry out the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998 as his "most enduring" contribution. Born on December 25, 1924, in the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior, Vajpayee was the first leader from the BJP to become prime minister. He served as prime minister thrice — first for a term of 13 days in 1996, then for a period of 13 months from 1998 to 1999 and then for a full term between 1999 and 2004.
"Looking back at Atalji's life and legacy, there is no question that he was the transformational leader when it came to Indian foreign policy. He had an intuitive understanding that the post Cold-war world required India to drastically rework its relationships and interests," Jaishankar said.
"This vision led to a new beginning with the United States that has since been developed by successive governments on both sides. It required us as a nation to overcome difficult moments and continuing concerns," he said.
The external affairs minister said only someone with Vajpayee's self assurance could in the early days have visualised how natural this partnership would become. He said Vajpayee introduced corrections, some bold, others perhaps nuanced, on a whole range of national security and foreign policy issues.
"His 1998 exercise of the nuclear option will remain his most enduring contribution. If our Russian relationship remains steady to this day, it is partly to his endeavours." Jaishankar said India's ties with the ASEAN were visibly strengthened by Vajpayee and the country continues to take that further.
"Those with Europe, Africa and Latin America started gaining substance and profile, a process that we are also taking forward. His visit to the United Nations always generated their own unique buzz and most notably, he embraced the Indian diaspora in a way that had no parallel till then," said Jaishankar. Vajpayee died on August 16, 2018.