Atal Bihari Vajpayee 'moderate face of BJP', 'statesman of international stature': Roundup of foreign media obituaries

A day after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died in New Delhi at the age of 93, media outlets across the globe put out glowing obituaries praising his three terms in office and the policies put in place by his governments.

Here are a few of the obituaries from the international media:

Pakistani channel Aaj News spoke of India's nuclear mission undertaken under Vajpayee. In an obituary titled 'Nukes and nationalism: Former Indian PM Vajpayee', the writer Yasir Kaneria said, "His ambition to be recognised as a statesman of international stature led him to put his political neck on the line in seeking peace with rival Pakistan. But he also brought India out of the nuclear closet with successful weapons tests in 1998 that radically upped the ante following tests deemed peaceful in 1974."

It also spoke about "persistent peace efforts" made by Vajpayee regarding Pakistan. "Vajpayee's persistent peace initiatives came despite him declaring India a nuclear-armed State in possession of advanced weapons following the 1998 tests that drew sanctions from the West.... After his party lost office, Vajpayee said peace with Pakistan would remain a 'lifelong wish' for him," it said.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee died on Thursday at the age of 93. PTI file image

Atal Bihari Vajpayee died on Thursday at the age of 93. PTI file image

The Pokhran nuclear tests were also the subject of an obituary in Britain's The Guardian. Titled 'Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Indian prime minister, dies at 93', the obituary wrote, "In 1998 he ordered nuclear tests, stoking fears of atomic war between India and Pakistan, then, a few years later, he made the first moves toward peace. In early 1999, Vajpayee embarked on a historic bus ride to the Pakistani city of Lahore and met then-premier Nawaz Sharif in a bid to ease tensions. But his peacemaker image was shattered later that year when Pakistan-backed forces pressed over the disputed Kashmir border, sparking a deadly conflict."

The BBC, meanwhile, looked at the political and economic principles of Vajpayee. "A free marketeer by inclination, he was criticised by unions and civil servants for his policy of privatising some of India's government-owned corporations. But his support for new hi-tech industries made India a global IT player and fuelled the country's economic expansion," it said.

"Like many Indian leaders before him, Vajpayee found himself having to hold together a sometimes fractious coalition to wield power. But he was seen by many as a unifying force when divisions threatened Indian society and as a staunch defender of his country's borders," it added.

Over in Asia, Asian Sentinel also spoke of Vajpayee as the "moderate face" of the BJP. In an editorial titled, "Atal Bihari Vajpayee, BJP‘s Moderate Face Dies', "Vajpayee's death brings into sharp focus the contrast with the harsh and strident version of that ideology which the party now exercises with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah."

It spoke at length at the contrasting styles of Vajpayee's administration and Modi's. "Freedom of expression is being curtailed and dissenting voices silenced. Vajpayee knew how to manage such tensions before they became destructive in a way that does not seem to interest the current government and party leadership," it added.

The New York Times also spoke of Vajpayee's secular credentials in its obituary titled 'Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India, Dies at 93'. "Vajpayee supported equal rights for Muslims, Christians and others in his overwhelmingly Hindu nation. His Bharatiya Janata Party had long tried to undermine India's secular identity to create a Hindu state. Vajpayee, a moderate, pushed back at militants in his own coalition. He also championed women’s rights and the eradication of castes," it wrote.

"He shared its (BJP's) view that India should enshrine Hindu culture, but he passionately opposed discrimination against other religions. Critics called it contradictory, but voters did not agree, and in the 1990s he became one of India’s most popular figures," it added.

But it was the nuclear tests for which Vajpayee is best remembered for, at least within the international media. Britain's Independent wrote on Vajpayee, in an obituary titled 'Vajpayee death: Three-time Indian prime minister dies at age 93', in which it said, "Within a month of taking the premiership for a second time in 1998, Vajpayee ordered nuclear weapons tests that shocked the world and stoked fears of atomic war with India’s long-time rival. But he regained support just months later after Pakistan sent troops across the border through disputed Kashmir, and Vajpayee resisted pressure to launch a counter attack. The restraint earned Vajpayee international praise for his caution."

"His peace efforts then began with a groundbreaking bus ride to Lahore, Pakistan, in February 1999, where he met with then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The diplomatic journey inaugurated the first regular bus service between the two nations. Then, just before leaving office in 2004, he launched a peace process that, while often rocky, remains the basis of ongoing negotiations," the Independent added.

The Washington Post too wrote about the issue in its obituary on the 93-year-old. "Weeks into his second stint as prime minister, Vajpayee shocked the world in May 1998 with five underground nuclear tests, prompting international sanctions, rattling neighbors and setting off an arms race with archrival Pakistan.... (US) president Bill Clinton denounced India for undermining the stability of South Asia and directly challenging 'the firm international consensus to stop nuclear proliferation'," the article wrote. "But Vajpayee worked discreet diplomacy behind closed doors and set in motion a friendly dialogue with Clinton, who went to India in 2000, the first visit by a US president to the country in more than two decades."

It also wrote about Vajpayee's political ability to bring together a rainbow coalition of allies. "Vajpayee's personal charisma and moderate image that helped the BJP stitch together a broad-based coalition of smaller, disparate regional parties. Between 1999 and 2004, he deftly managed the unwieldy coalition government of fractious partners," it added.

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Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 10:41:02 IST

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