7 things to know about Atal Bihari Vajpayee

7 things to know about Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Teacher’s son

Born in a humble school teacher’s family on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior Madhya Pradesh, Vajpayee entered politics during the Quit India movement in 1942. He did his graduation and post graduation in Political Science from Victoria College in Gwalior.

13 day PM

He became the Prime Minister for the first time on May 16, 1996 when then President Shankar Dayal Sharma invited BJP, which was the single largest party, to form the government. The stint, however, lasted only for 13 days as no new allies came out to support the BJP.

2nd time unlucky

On March 19, Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time. After 13 months, the Vajpayee government lost the vote of confidence by one vote on April 17, 1999. This is the only government at the Centre to have lost a confidence vote.

The Kargil ghost

His tenure saw India’s second nuclear test at Pokharan on May 11, 1998. A spate of trade and other sanctions by US and other countries followed. Despite the nuclear test, Vajpayee reached out to Pakistan through the Lahore bus diplomacy in February, 1999. However, just three months later, Pakistan attacked India in May 1999, leading to the Kargil war.

The Musharraf summit

The Vajpayee-led NDA won 303 Lok Sabha seats in 1999 and he was sworn in as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13. Vajpayee again made a tryst with peace when he invited Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf- who was the Army chief when the neighbouring country had begun the Kargil war- for a summit at Agra in July 2001. The summit ended in failure.

His relation with Modi

Vajpayee did not have very cordial relations with Modi and had asked him to follow rajdharma in the wake of the Gujarat riots of 2002. He wanted Modi to quit as chief minister but the former survived as LK Advani backed him.

Secular leader

Vajpayee was seen as a secular, moderate leader. He distanced himself from Advani’s 1991 rath yatra and was not present at Ayodhya when the Babri mosque was razed. Later he said the mosque should not have been destroyed. 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bihari also spelled Behari, (born December 25, 1924, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India), leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and twice prime minister of India (1996; 1998–2004).

Vajpayee was first elected to parliament in 1957 as a member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a forerunner of the BJP. In 1977 the BJS joined three other parties to form the Janata Party, which led a government that lasted until July 1979. As foreign minister in the Janata government, Vajpayee earned a reputation for improving relations with Pakistan and China. In 1980, following a split in the Janata Party, Vajpayee helped the BJS to reorganize itself as the BJP. In 1992 he was one of the few Hindu leaders to speak out against the destruction of the historic mosque at Ayodhya by anti-Muslim extremists.

Vajpayee was sworn in as prime minister in May 1996 but was in office only 13 days, after failing to attract support from other parties. In early 1998 he again became prime minister, in elections in which the BJP won a record number of seats, but he was forced to make a shaky alliance with regional parties. In 1999 the BJP increased its seats in parliament and consolidated its hold on government.

Although considered a pragmatist, Vajpayee assumed a defiant posture in the face of Western criticism of India’s testing of several nuclear weapons in 1998. He had earlier been praised for his conciliatory gestures toward India’s Muslim minority. In 2000 his government began an extensive program of divestment of public funds from several key state-run industries. In 2002 Vajpayee’s government was criticized for its slowness in reacting to riots in Gujarat in which some 1,000 people (primarily Muslims) died. Nevertheless, in 2003 Vajpayee made a concerted effort to resolve India’s long-running feud with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Under his leadership, India achieved steady economic growth, and the country became a world leader in information technology, though the poorer elements of Indian society often felt left out of the economic prosperity. In 2004 his coalition was defeated in the parliamentary election, and he resigned from office.

Vajpayee announced his retirement from politics at the end of 2005. In late December 2014 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

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