Vision and leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee recalled at Memorial Lecture

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Venkat Raman

Venkat Raman

Auckland, December 26, 2021

Australian foreign policy expert warns of bipolar competition in the Indo-Pacific


                                    India’s External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar inaugurating the Second Annual 

                                    Atal Bihari Vajpayee Lecture in New Delhi on December 24, 2021 (Screen Grab)

The leadership qualities of former Prime Minister of India the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his diplomacy were recalled at an annual gathering in New Delhi on December 24, 2021, on the eve of his birth anniversary.

Inaugurating the Second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture organised virtually by his Ministry, External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that the leadership that Mr Vajpayee provided to India and the rest of the world needs little reminder.

“Orthodox politics, including territorial differences are in sharper play, side-by-side with currencies of power like connectivity and technology. The objective of the Memorial Lecture is to focus on his particular contributions to foreign policy that he made over many decades as a Parliamentarian, as a Foreign Minister and of course, as Prime Minister,” he said.

Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Sydney based Lowy Institute for the Guest Speaker. A detailed report on his Lecture will appear on our website and on various social media platforms shortly.

Effective response to changes

Dr Jaishankar said that there is a correlation between specific policies and particular events and that perceiving the essence of Mr Vajpayee’s approach to international relations will provide evidence that the focus was on responding effectively to global changes.

“Not surprisingly, that is exactly what he sought to do in respect of key relationships and issues. It is important to recognise and appreciate because foreign policy debates often tend to become dogmatic and cliché-ridden,” he said.

Dr Jaishankar said that in relation to the United States of America, Mr Vajpayee introduced policy corrections that reflected the end of the Cold War and the new global balance.

“At the same time, he kept India’s course steady vis-à-vis Russia despite the turbulence of that era. With China, whether as Foreign Minister or as Prime Minister, he sought a modus vivendi that was based as much on mutual respect as on mutual interest,” he said.

On relationship with Pakistan, Dr Jaishankar said that Mr Vajpayee strenuously tried to dissuade them from their path of sponsoring cross-border terrorism.

The later Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee (25.12.1924-16.08.2018) PTI Photo

 The nuclear option

“All this, of course, was underpinned by his belief that India must develop deeper strengths at home. This found expression in the exercise of the nuclear option as it did in the economic modernisation that he presided over,” he said.

Speaking about the winds of change blowing across the world, Dr Jaishankar said that they were the most apparent in the Indo-Pacific.

“The region is witnessing both multipolarity and rebalancing. It is there that the diplomatic creativity he inspires should be most strongly applied. We are looking at a complex set of transformations that are simultaneously underway. The Indo-Pacific is witnessing both multipolarity and rebalancing. It is witnessing great power competition as well as ‘Middle Power Plus’ activities,” he said.

According to him, orthodox politics, including territorial differences are in sharper play, side-by-side with currencies of power like connectivity and technology.

About Atal Bihari Vajpayee

This Reporter recalls with pleasure his association with Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his tenure as India’s Foreign Minister (he was close to the late Satya Sai Baba), later as the Leader of the Indian Delegation appointed by Congress Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to the Special Session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where a Pakistan-sponsored Resolution to censure India on its Human Rights record in Jammu and Kashmir was successfully thwarted. He visited Bahrain during that Mission and granted an interview to this Reporter in Manama.

Mr Vajpayee was one of the greatest leaders of India.

He passed away in New Delhi on August 16, 2018 after a prolonged illness, aged 93.

He was a member of the Indian Parliament for over four decades, having been elected to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House, ten times, and twice to the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House. He served as the Member of Parliament for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh until 2009 when he retired from active politics due to health concerns.

Mr Vajpayee was among the founding members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), of which he was the President from 1968 to 1972. The BJS merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party, which won the 1977 general election.

Mr Vajpayee became External Affairs Minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. He resigned in 1979, and the Janata alliance collapsed soon after. The erstwhile members of the BJS formed the BJP in 1980, with Mr Vajpayee as its first President.

Lowy Institute (Sydney) Executive Director Dr Michael Fullilove

Nuclear Tests

During his tenure as Prime Minister, India carried out the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. Mr Vajpayee sought to improve diplomatic relations with Pakistan, travelling to Lahore by bus to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

After the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan, he sought to restore relations through engaging with President Pervez Musharraf, inviting him to India for a summit at Agra.

He was conferred India’s highest civilian honour, the ’Bharat Ratna,’ by President of India, Pranab Mukherjee in 2015. 

The administration of Narendra Modi declared in 2014 that Vajpayee’s birthday, December 25, 2018, would be marked as ’Good Governance Day.’

The External Affairs Ministry launched the Annual Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture in 2020, with the first Lecture delivered by Nisha Desai Biswal, former Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US Department of State under President Barack Obama. She is the President of the US-India Business Council and Senior Vice-President for South Asia at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

About the Lowy Institute

The Lowy Institute is at the centre of Australia’s foreign policy and national security debates. Since the Institute was established in 2003, every Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia has spoken at its event. The annual poll of Australian public opinion conducted by Lowy Institute is cited around the world and its experts are sought by the Australian media for commentary on breaking events, while its research, including the flagship Lowy Institute Papers, published by Penguin help set the national agenda.

About Dr Michael Fullilove

As the Executive Director of the Lowy Institute, Dr Michael Fullilove focuses on Australian Foreign Policy, US Politics and Foreign Policy, Asia and the Pacific and Global Institutions.

Dr Jaishankar said that no other landscape illustrates better the widening of our definition of national security.

“Given these trends, it is understandable that we have chosen Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute (a Sydney-based Australian think-tank) to deliver the Memorial Lecture this year,” he said.

A very distinguished scholar of international relations, Mr Fullilove has been Executive Director of the Institute for the past decade.

“Indeed, given the times that we live in, there are few better equipped to address the trends and challenges unfolding than Dr Fullilove. Issues like the need for strategic imagination or the tension between economics and politics of the day are right up his street. That makes him just the appropriate choice to also address the debate on the emergence and consolidation of the Quad,” Dr Jaishankar said.

“For Indians, I should add that hearing and appreciating an Australian viewpoint is more necessary than ever before. The intellectual world cannot lag behind the policy one.”

Raging bipolar competition

In his Lecture, Dr Fullilove extensively dealt with several issues of global, regional and bilateral importance. Likening foreign policy to Cricket (obviously because the Third Test in the Ashes series began in Melbourne on that day), he said that both are a long-time game.

He paid rich tributes to the leadership of Mr Vajpayee and said that the Australian economy is interconnected with those in Asia.

“The changes in China and India, as well as in South-East Asia, create tremendous opportunities. But if the economic outlook in Asia is positive, the security outlook is not. We are heading towards a prolonged period of bipolar competition in the Indo-Pacific,” he warned.

Coming up: Australian expert warns of bipolar competition in the Indo-Pacific

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