While P.V. Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh are credited as being the architects of India's economic reforms, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who rolled out the economic template and policies that would be followed by prime ministers who succeeded him.
While Vajpayee is known for his dignity, his unfailing courtesy, his wit and oratorical skills and ability to take opposition parties along, the economic contribution of his government is often overlooked. He attracted some brilliant, committed and highly educated followers, gave them critical portfolios and set about fixing many of India's long standing problems. So you had Arun Shourie rolling up his sleeves and chalking out a blue print for selling off ailing PSUs, which the government should never have been running. You had Yashwant Sinha moving to simplify taxes and free up businesses even further and creating an atmosphere conducive for attracting more foreign direct investment (and later on Jaswant Singh carrying on the path of liberalisation after taking over as finance minister). You had Major General B.C. Khanduri connecting India through the highway projects. And you had Pramod Mahajan changing the telecom policy that would allow mobile penetration at affordable rates, making India the cheapest country for mobile telephony.
In between, a change in the Budget had allowed IT services companies to charge all expenditure on their Y2K business as revenue expenditure, which led them to grow at breakneck speed. Finally, the Vajpayee government brought in Asset Reconstruction Companies , the first move to help banks deal with bad loans, and the credit bureau.
None of these was easy. Vajpayee was running a coalition government with attendant pulls and pushes. The RSS was reportedly not very happy with him either because they saw him as too liberal and too welcoming of foreign direct investment. And, post Pokhran, many developed countries tried to stymie India's economy in big and small ways.
In the diplomatic arena, Vajpayee was soft-spoken, suave and not frightened of extending an olive branch to Pakistan. But he had enough steel - which Musharraf found out in the Kargil war. Equally, Pokhran showed theworld that India was not just a nuclear power, but perfectly comfortable in showing off its capabilities on the nuclear front.
Vajpayee is no more, but no one can doubt his contribution on economic, political and diplomatic fronts.