Atal Bihari Vajpayee – a giant amongst Indian politicians, whose efforts led to resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan

Former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on Thursday at the age of 93.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with the Indian Cricket Team | Getty Images

Former India Prime Minister (1998-2004) and Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the giants of the Indian politics scene. Born on December 25, 1924, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the founding members of Bhartiya Jan Sangh and was the head of the party from 1968-1972.

A.B. Vajpayee thrice served as the Prime Minister of India, first for a term of 13 days in 1996, for a period of eleven months from 1998 to 1999, and then from 1998 to 2004. He was the Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. In his capacity as the Minister of External Affairs, he became the first Indian politician to give a speech in Hindi at the United Nations General Assembly in 1977.

It was during his term as PM, that a conscious effort was made to better the relations between India and its neighbor Pakistan. In 1999, in accordance to the Lahore agreement, PM Vajpayee visited Pakistan as part of the inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service.

It was the same year, when Pakistan toured India for two Test matches. This series took place after a decade of the last time India and Pakistan played Test matches in 1989, a series that gave the cricketing world legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Waqar Younis.

Pakistan toured India in January-February of 1999 and played two historic Tests at Chennai and Delhi.

The first Test at the Chepauk in Chennai between India and Pakistan is seen as one of the greatest Test matches ever played. Pakistan scrapped home by 13 runs, despite a valiant 136 from Sachin Tendulkar, who defied a bad back to take India to the brink of victory. However, Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq took 10 wickets in the match to clinch a thriller for the visitors.

The most respectful thing between the two countries happened, when the Pakistani team was cheered and clapped by the Chennai crowd after they won the Test and took a victory lap.

The next Test match at Delhi saw PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee visiting the ground to have a photo session with both teams and the match saw history being created after Anil Kumble picked up all the ten Pakistani wickets to fall in the second innings and India won the match to equalize the series.

This resumption of cricketing ties was seen as historic for many reasons. Both the nations were clashing bilaterally after a decade and many of the players who had had taken part in the 1989 series, had gone on to have successful careers and were once again facing each other. Seeing the resumption of one of the most heated Test rivalries between two arch rivals was thrilling for the cricketing world.

Though the relations soured after Pakistani soldiers disguised as Kashmiri militants infiltrated the Kargil sector of India and a full on battle between the nations happened, with India coming out on top after Vajpayee led amicably, as both nations were nuclear powers and possibility of usage of nuclear weapons was real.

It is said that Vajpayee sent a "secret letter" to US President Bill Clinton that if Pakistani infiltrators did not withdraw from the Indian territory, “we will get them out, one way or the other” - meaning he did not rule out crossing the Line of Control (LoC), or was the use of nuclear weapons.

Though Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not directly responsible for the India vs. Pakistan series in 1999, it was thanks to his efforts to bring peace with neighbors Pakistan with the Lahore agreement and the bus service to Lahore that both sides thought of resuming the cricketing ties after a decade.

Sourav Ganguly with Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Getty Images

When the Indian team under Sourav Ganguly toured Pakistan in 2004 for a full tour for the first time since 1989; PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee called the team for a visit. He gave a cricket bat to Sourav Ganguly and signed it with a beautiful message on it "Khel hi nahi, dil bhi jeetiye - shubhkamnaye" (win not only the game, but hearts also - best wishes).


By Jatin Sharma - 16 Aug, 2018

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