Atal Bihari Vajpayee led the Bharatiya Janata Party to power at the Centre for the first time.
Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of the BJP’s founding members and a moderate face of the RSS, has died at the age of 93 after a prolonged illness. Vajpayee breathed his last at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.
The former prime minister passed away at 5.05 pm on Thursday, the hospital said in a statement.
A string of leaders, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Amit Shah, former deputy prime minister LK Advani, among others, visited the hospital to pay their respects to the departed leader.
As prime minister, Vajpayee will be remembered for unleashing a string of economic reforms during the NDA’s five-year term between 1999 and 2004, and his deft handling of both the troubled relationship with Pakistan and his handling of demanding allies in a complex ruling alliance.
An excellent orator and a statesman, Vajpayee retreated from public life after the NDA’s loss in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. He suffered a stroke in 2009, which left him speech impaired. Vajpayee is survived by his adopted daughter, Namita.
The BJP veteran served as India’s prime minister from May 16, 1996 to June 1, 1996, then between 1998 and 1999 and lastly a full term from 1999 to 2004. He remains the only non-Congress prime minister to successfully complete a full term in office.
Under Vajpayee, India in May 1998 conducted its second nuclear test at Pokhran.
In 1999, the former PM undertook a famous bus journey to Lahore, Pakistan, where he signed the landmark Lahore Declaration with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Lahore Declaration, however, was soon followed by the Kargil conflict, in which the Indian army thwarted attempts by the Pakistani army to make incursions into Indian territory.
Vajpayee then followed up with the Agra summit in 2001 which was attended by then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Vajpayee’s NDA government was known for its bold economic agenda: selling off loss-making public sector units, carrying out electricity reforms and investing in highways. GDP growth too saw a lift during the period, with the Indian economy expanding at 8.4 percent in the year Vajpayee left office.
That, however, wasn’t enough as the NDA surprisingly lost the 2004 election despite its high-decibel India Shining campaign, with critics saying the rural class did not view the government’s policies favourably.
In 2014, the NDA government led by PM Modi declared December 25 — Vajpayee’s birthday — as ‘Good Governance Day’.
Vajpayee’s political ideology was right-of-centre but he was liked and respected by leaders across party lines, thanks to his statesman-like demeanour and consensus-based approach to policies.
Early life and politics
Vajpayee was born into a middle-class family in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh to father Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, who was a school teacher and poet, and mother Krishna Devi. He attended the Saraswati Shishu Mandir before going to Victoria College, where he graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit.
He was awarded Master of Arts in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur.
Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1939. He attended the Officers Training Camp of the RSS and became a pracharak in 1947.
Vajpayee was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time from Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh in 1957.
Vajpayee became the national president of the Jana Sangh, the BJP’s forerunner, in 1968 following the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya. In 1977, the Jana Sangh united with the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) and the Socialist Party to form the Janata Party. He was the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s cabinet after the Janata Party came to power.
In 1980, Vajpayee in collaboration with Lal Krishna Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat formed the BJP in 1980 and also became the party’s first national president.In 1993, he became the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and was declared as the saffron party’s prime ministerial candidate in 1995.