Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, admitted to New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on June 11 with kidney and urinary infection and chest congestion, passed away on Thursday. He was 93. Often described as the moderate face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vajpayee served as the country’s prime minister for 13 days in 1996, 13 months in 1998, and a little under five years from 1999. He was India's first non-Congress prime minister to last a full five-year term.
Vajpayee began his political career as a freedom fighter, with his first brush with politics as part of the Quit India movement of 1942. As a student, Vajpayee had briefly been inclined toward communism. But it was the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that appealed to him more. Later, influenced by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Vajpayee in 1951 joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. An orator par excellence, he was lauded as a statesman politician who would go far beyond his party’s core political agenda for the larger good.
His journey in electoral politics began in 1957, when he contested the Lok Sabha elections from three seats and was elected from Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur constituency.
Here's a timeline of his political journey:
Birth: December 25, 1924
Vajpayee was born in Gwalior and did his schooling from the Saraswati Shishu Mandir. He graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit from Gwalior's Victoria College. He completed his post-graduation with an MA in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur.
1942: Tryst with politics
In August 1942, Vajpayee and his elder brother were arrested for participating in the Quit India Movement. This incident is known to be his first encounter with politics.
1951: Following Syama Prasad Mookerjee
In 1951, he was seconded by the RSS, along with Deendayal Upadhyaya, to work for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a Hindu right-wing political party associated with the RSS. He was appointed the national secretary of BJS in Delhi and became a follower of party leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
1953: Mookerjee's death
In 1953, Vajpayee accompanied Mookerjee when the latter went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir to protest against 'inferior' treatment of non-Kashmiri visitors to the Valley. Mookerjee passed away in prison during this strike.
1957: Nehru predicts Vajpayee's future as India's PM
Having contested the Lok Sabha polls on three seats, Vajpayee lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura, and also in Lucknow. But he was elected to the Lok Sabha from UP’s Balrampur. Vajpayee took oath as a member of Parliament that year and impressed Jawaharlal Nehru with his excellent oratory skills. Nehru predicted that Vajpayee would someday become India's prime minister.
1968: Building the Jana Sangh
Vajpayee was made the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968 after the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya. In the years that followed, he worked with Lal Krishna Advani, Nanaji Deshmukh and Balraj Madhok to make Jana Sangh's presence prominent in Indian politics.
1973: The famous bullock cart entry
Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived at Parliament House in a bullock cart to protest against the increase in petrol and kerosene prices on November 12, 1973
1975-1977: The difficult Emergency years
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in June 1975. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s government. As foreign minister, Vajpayee that year became the first person to deliver speech at the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi.
1980: Birth of the BJP
Vajpayee, along with Lal Krishna Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat founded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980 and was appointed its first president.
1984-1989: The downfall of BJP and Vajpayee
In the 1984 elections, following the assassination of the then PM Indira Gandhi, BJP won only two seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha. This defeat hit Vajpayee particularly hard; he himself lost the polls from his birthplace Gwalior. He worked tirelessly to build the party and in the next parliamentary elections, in 1989, the BJP won 88 seats.
1991: BJP’s emergence as main Opposition party
By 1991, the BJP had emerged as the principal Opposition party, having won 120 seats in the 1991 parliamentary elections.
1992, 1994: A shining light in the middle of chaos
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan for his contribution to the country in 1992. That year, when Hindu mobs razed the Babri mosque, his was a lone voice among Hindu nationalists that didn't sound happy. He called the incident the 'worst miscalculation'. In 1994, he was awarded as the best Parliamentarian.
1996: The first prime ministership
Vajpayee's first stint as the prime minister in 1996 lasted only 13 days, from May 16 to 28. In his reply to Parliament during the no-confidence motion, Vajpayee said, "Political parties will come and go, but India's democracy must live on".
1998: Realising the nuclear dream, and the Delhi-Lahore bus service
On May 11, 1998, the world was caught unawares when India did its first official nuclear tests in Rajasthan's Pokhran. The underground tests not only demonstrated the country's scientific capacity but also reflected the courage of Vajpayee's leadership.
In the same year, he launched the Sada-e-Sarhad, a bus service between New Delhi in India and Lahore in Pakistan, and symbolic of peace initiatives that he wanted to pursue with the neighbouring country. The service was, however, suspended after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian parliament that nearly led to war between India and Pakistan.
His second term as PM ran for 13 months, from March 19, 1998.
1999: The Kargil war, and third term as PM
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power at the Centre during the time the Kargil War was fought. India's victory bolstered Vajpayee’s image, and he was praised for supporting the armed forces and clearly articulating India’s stand at the world stage. After the war, he was elected the prime minister for a third time. This term would make Vajpayee India's first non-Congress prime minister to last a full five-year term.
2002: The Gujarat riots and Vajpayee’s stand
As prime minister, he expressed his displeasure with Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat, where hundreds died in a communal conflagration in 2002. He, however, defended Modi at a party meet only days later.
2005: Vajpayee hangs up his boots
When he failed to return to power after the 2004 general elections, though he was given to believe he would, it practically marked the end of his long and eventful political career. A year later, he left active politics.
In 2015, Vajpayee was conferred the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award.