1999 Lok Sabha polls saw emergence of Vajpayee, a seasoned politician since the time of Nehru, arrive on center stage. Nehru once quipped Atalji will become PM one day. He emerged as the undisputed leader of BJP ahead of peer Advani. Though it was the first right of center government which lasted full term, Vajpayee was seen as a soft leader compared to the hardliner Advani.
Vajpayee’s image helped in drawing many regional parties into NDA fold. The era also witnessed many non-Congress governments being installed across states in India – Madhya Pradesh (2003), Karnataka (2004), Rajasthan (2003), Goa (1999), Chhattisgarh (2003), Jharkhand and Maharashtra (1999).
The era is also known for bold economic reforms after Manmohan introduced policy of liberalization in early 1990s.
- GDP Growth – “Narasimha Rao may have cut the ceremonial ribbon in 1991, but it was Vajpayee’s 6 year rule which did the gruelling groundwork to truly liberalize the economy and lay the foundations for the 8% growth that even the UPA benefitted from.” – Praful Shankar, Turning Vajpayee into Nehru, Swarajyamag, 02 April, 2015.
- Disinvestment – Vajpayee govt. started the privatization of public sector units under the guidance of “minimum government, maximum governance”. Companies such as VSNL, Hindustan Zinc, CMC and Balco were privatized and funds raised were used to retire debt, for infrastructure projects and meeting social sector obligations. Total funds raised during the period 200-04 under Vajpayee tenure was Rs. 21,163 crores against a target of Rs. 38,500 crores (55%). During the decade 1990-2000 only 37% of the disinvestment target was met.
- Inflation – Vajpayee was able to control inflation which was in double digits when he assumed office (10%+ during 1990-98). During his entire tenure he brought down inflation to sub 5% levels.
- National Highways – Vajpayee launched two ambitious projects National Highway Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana to connect four metros and every village of the nation. During 1997-2002 (ninth five-year plan), when the NDA was in power, 23,814 km of national highways was added to the existing NH network, or nearly 50% of the total length of national highways constructed in three decades from 1980-2010. This remains the largest construction of national highways during any five-year period since independence.
- New Telecom Policy – Vajpayee is also credited with ushering in telecom revolution which led to significant drop in ISD / STD charges, free incoming calls on mobiles and increase of mobile penetration in the country.
- Job Creation – During the 5 years of NDA rule, 58 million jobs were created as per NSSO (with some spill-over effect). This was one of the greatest achievements as the successor UPA government could generate only 15 million jobs during its first seven years of rule.
A true statesman, India will miss him forever!