(This article has been republished to mark Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 96th birth anniversary. It was originally published in August 2018.)
One of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s greatest achievements was to encourage and foster friendly relations with Pakistan by first, launching the daily Delhi to Lahore bus service, second, visiting the Minar-e-Pakistan and third, by speaking about the “common heritage” of the two nations, The Indian Express, quoting Kingshuk Nag’s book Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Man for All Seasons, reported.
His charm and persona were so infectious, that his antics led to his Pakistani counterpart, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to remark: “Vajpayee sahab ab toh Pakistan mein bhi election jeet sakte hain.” (Mr Vajpayee can now win elections even in Pakistan), the report adds.
When Vajpayee passed away on Thursday, 16 August at AIIMS Hospital, Delhi, condolences from political leaders from across the world, even across the border from Pakistan, poured in, with the latter recalling his attempts to carry out “friendly commercial and cultural relationships”.
Delhi to Lahore Bus Service
Responding to an invitation by Nawaz Sharif to visit Pakistan, Vajpayee “responded wholeheartedly” and crossed the Attari–Wagah border in Punjab by taking a bus from Delhi to Lahore, on the afternoon of 19 February, 1999.
He was accompanied by several Indian dignitaries, which included journalists like Kuldeep Nayar, cultural personalities like Mallika Sarabhai and celebrities like Dev Anand and Javed Akhtar, the report adds.
According to Nag, Vajpayee had launched the Delhi to Lahore bus service, in an attempt to foster better relations between the two nations and also, so that people with relatives living in these regions, could meet each other.
On being received by Nawaz Sharif, Vajpayee had reportedly said:
This is a defining moment in South Asian history and we will have to rise to the challenge.Atal Bihari Vajpayee, The Indian Express, quoting Nag’s book said
Lahore Declaration & Visit to Minar-e-Pakistan
Vajpayee’s discussions with Nawaz Sharif, led to the Lahore Declaration of 1999, where both countries pledged to a peaceful resolution of bilateral disputes.
This included Kashmir, as well as promises that the two sides would engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts, nuclear doctrines, and avoidance of conflicts, the report adds.
Vajpayee had visited the Minar-e-Pakistan during the trip, a monument which was set up post-independence, in 1947, to commemorate the birth of Pakistan.
Although he was accused of having given a “stamp of approval” to the creation of Pakistan, an issue which was still highly unresolved then, he had diplomatically stated:
...Pakistan does not require my stamp for its entity. Pakistan has its own entity. If somebody back home asks this question, this will be my answer there too.Atal Bihari Vajpayee, The Indian Express, quoting Nag’s book said
Common Heritage Between Two Nations
Vajpayee was felicitated at Lahore Fort where, in his speech, he had hinted at the common heritage of India and Pakistan, pointing out at how Shah Jahan was born in the fort and Akbar had spent close to a decade there, the report states.
When Nawaz Sharif saw how taken the audience was with Vajpayee’s speech, he had said that Vajpayee would be able to win elections in Pakistan as well.
(With inputs from The Indian Express)
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)