New Delhi: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been India's "greatest orator" since Independence and he realised the virtues of both consensus and harmony, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Wednesday.
In an article "Atalji - the gentle giant" posted on the Bharatiya Janata Party website on the eve of Vajpayee's 90th birthday, Jaitley said the nation has honoured the former prime minister and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya with the Bharat Ratna.
"He was unquestionably the greatest orator India has heard, since Independence. He could play with words but he was always measured. He was a wordsmith. He never fell into temptation of committing an impropriety. He realised virtues of social harmony. His ability to rise above the party for a larger national cause was significant."
"Today, as we are celebrating the 90th year of his birth as 'Good Governance Day', we wish a very good health and long life to this 'Gentle Giant'," Jaitley said.
Vajpayee has been suffering from frail health for the past several years.
Jaitley said he first heard Vajpayee's speech in 1967 when he was a school student.
"He already enjoyed a formidable reputation as a great orator. He was on his way to becoming an iconic political leader. Many youngsters used to repeat the sentences that they heard in his speech. They imitated his style," Jaitley said.
Jaitley, who became an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in 1970, said Vajpayee was a familiar face in parliament.
Jaitley said Vajpayee and senior party leader L.K. Advani were detained in Bangalore when Emergency was proclaimed in 1975.
He said Vajpayee was shifted to house detention following a health problem and later spent a significant part of the Emergency period at the AIIMS, where he was rushed for surgery.
Jaitley said they received a poem from Vajpayee which he had written from his hospital bed.
"The context of that poem was relevant. The doctor at AIIMS asked Atalji if he had bent a bit too much - 'Aap jyada jhuk gaye honge' (you may have bent more), to which he replied - 'Doctor saheb, jhuk to sakte nahi, yun kahiye mur gaye honge' (Doctor, I cannot bend, say that I would have had a twist)".
Jaitley said Vajpayee penned a poem, which was very often heard during the 1977 election.
The opening line read - "Toot sakte hain magar hum jhuk nahi sakte (We can break but cannot bend)".
Recalling Vajpayee's years as India's external affairs minister, an opposition MP and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Jaitley said the leader went on to become one of the outstanding prime ministers.
"Atalji is the product of a democratic system, and trained in parliamentary values. He realised the virtues of both consensus and harmony. His conduct at the cabinet meetings was never tense. If any of us raised any point, or even contradicted a point, he encouraged discussion. The last word, of course, belonged to him," Jaitley said.
He said Vajpayee was liberal in his economic thinking and was committed to normalising relations with neighbouring countries.
He said the 'bus initiative' with Pakistan was undertaken at a great political risk and a new chapter of India-US relationship was authored during Vajpayee's tenure.