When Vajpayee left government in 2004, GDP was growing around 8 per cent, inflation was below 4% and foreign reserves were overflowing.
New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid the foundation of a resurgent Indian economy and was a bellwether policy reformer of modern India.
He built India’s most famous highway project, started privatisation to cut government’s role in running businesses and made big-ticket overseas acquisitions to secure energy supplies.
When Mr Vajpayee left government in 2004, GDP was growing around 8 per cent, inflation was below 4 per cent and foreign reserves were overflowing.
“A great economic reformer, as a Prime Minister he was always guided by a strong conviction that liberalisation would help us realise our economic potential and ultimately open the doors to becoming a globally competitive, strong and resilient economy,” said industrialist Sunil Bharti Mittal, Founder and Chairman, Bharti Group. He said that Mr Vajpayee can truly be called the Father of Modern Telecommunication in India having ushered in the National Telecom Policy in 1999, which helped the industry overcome some of its toughest early challenges. Mr Mittal said former Prime minister took great interest in the development of younger entrepreneurs in the face of the stiff competition from established businesses.
Mr Vajpayee took privatisation drive which saw 32 state-owned companies and hotels being sold to private firms in five years. For the first time ever, a Department of Disinvestment to process privatisation candidates was created and a Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment formed to accord expeditious approvals.
Beginning with sale of Modern Food Industries to Hindustan Unilever (HUL) in 1999-2000, his government went on to sell Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco) and Hindustan Zinc Ltd to mining baron Anil Agarwal’s Sterlite Industries, IT firm CMC Ltd and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) to Tatas, and Indian Petrochemicals Corp Ltd (IPCL) to Reliance Industries Ltd.
In 2001, Mr Vajpayee launched the Golden Quadrilateral and the North-South and East-West Corridor projects to build 4/6 lane highways between four top metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata as well as from Srinagar to Kanyakumari and Porbandar to Silchar.
It was modelled loosely around the National Highway System of the US, to spur development just like what was witnessed in the US.
For energy security, his government made a diplomatic push to acquire a 20 per cent stake in the gigantic Sakhalin-I oil and gas fields in far east Russia for $ 1.7 billion in 2001.
This was India’s single largest investment abroad. This was followed up with a 25 per cent stake in an oilfield in Sudan for $ 720 million.