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The oratory of Vajpayee led to rise of BJP and govt formation

Updated by admin on Thursday, August 16, 2018 11:46 PM IST

New Delhi: Former Prime Minister of India and veteran BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose oratory enabled his party to form government at the Centre in 1996, 1998 and 1999 general elections, died at AIIMS hospital in New Delhi on August 16, 2018. Born on 25 December 1924, he was the 10th Prime Minister of India, first term for 13 days in 1996 and then from 1998 to 2004.

A senior leader of the BJP, he was the first non-Congress Prime Minister to serve a full five-year term. Vajpayee was a parliamentarian for over four decades. He was elected to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament)) ten times, and twice to the Rajya Sabha (upper house). He also served as MP for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, until 2009, when ill-health forced his retirement.

Vajpayee was one of the founder members of erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He was also the  Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of  Morarji Desai. When the Janata Government collapsed, Vajpayee relaunched the Jana Sangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.

The President of India conferred Bharat Ratna on Vajpayee at his residence on 27 March 2015.

Vajpayee was born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior. Vajpayee did his schooling from the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Gorkhi, Bara, Gwalior. Vajpayee attended Gwalior's Victoria College (now Laxmi Bai College) and graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. He completed his post-graduation with an M.A. in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur, and was awarded a first-class degree.

His activism began with Arya Kumar Sabha of Gwalior, the youth wing of the Arya Samaj, of which he became the general secretary in 1944. He also joined the RSS as a Swayamsevak in 1939. Influenced by Babasaheb Apte, he attended the Officers Training Camp of the RSS during 1940–44 and became a "full-time worker" in 1947, technically a pracharak. Vajpayee never married and has remained a bachelor his entire life.

Vajpayee is said to have been released during British rule after giving a written undertaking, expressly declaring that he would not participate in the anti-British struggle, a promise that he kept.

In 1948, the RSS was banned for its alleged role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. 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 became a follower and aide of party leader  Syama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1957, Vajpayee lost to  Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of  Parliament, but was elected from Balrampur. There, his oratorial skills so impressed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that he predicted that Vajpayee would someday become India's Prime Minister.

After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the mantle of the leadership of Jana Sangh fell on the shoulders of a young Vajpayee. He became the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968 and, along with Nanaji Deshmukh, Balraj Madhok and L K Advani, led the Jana Sangh to national prominence.

Vajpayee was arrested along with several other opposition leaders during the Emergency. In 1977, heeding the call of social reformer Jayaprakash Narayan for opposition unity, Vajpayee merged the Jana Sangh into the newly formed grand-alliance, the Janata Party..

As foreign minister in 1977, Vajpayee became the first person to deliver a speech to the UN General Assembly in Hindi. Though the Janata government fell in 1979, Vajpayee established himself as an experienced statesman and a respected political leader.

The Janata Party was dissolved soon after Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister in 1979. The Jana Sangh had devoted its political organisation to sustain the coalition and was left exhausted by the internecine political wars within the Janata Party.

Vajpayee, along with L. K. Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat formed the BJP in 1980, and  became the BJP's first President.

While the BJP opposed the Silk militancy that was rising in the state of Punjab, it also blamed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her policies. The BJP won two Lok Sabha seats in the 1984 elections. During this period, Vajpayee remained at the centre-stage as party President and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

The BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which was led by activists of the VHP and the RSS, and which sought to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama in Ayodhya.

First term: May 1996

In the 1996 general elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. The then president Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Vajpayee to form the government. Vajpayee was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India, but the BJP failed to muster enough support from other parties to obtain a majority. He resigned after 13 days, when it became clear that he could not garner a majority.

Second term: 1998–1999

After the fall of the two United Front governments between 1996 and 1998, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and fresh elections were held. The 1998 general elections again put the BJP ahead of others. This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties joined the BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister.
The NDA proved its majority in the parliament. The government lasted 13 months until mid-1999 when the AIADMK under J Jayalalithaa withdrew its support to the government. The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a single vote on 17 April 1999. As the Opposition was unable to come up with the numbers to form the new government, the Lok Sabha was again dissolved and fresh elections were held. Vajpayee remaining the Prime Minister until the elections were held.
Nuclear tests
In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, 24 yrs after India conducted its first nuclear test  in 1974. This test is called Pokhran II. The tests were held just a month after the government had been in power. Two weeks later, Pakistan responded with its own nuclear tests making it the newest declared nation with nuclear weapons.

While some nations, such as Russia and France, endorsed India's right to defensive nuclear power, others including the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain and the European Union imposed sanctions on information, resources and technology to India. In spite of the intense international criticism and the steady decline in foreign investment and trade, the nuclear tests were popular domestically. Effectively the international sanctions failed completely in swaying India's decision to weaponize their nuclear capability (especially as US sanctions against India and Pakistan were lifted after just six months), something that was planned for and anticipated by the Vajpayee administration.

The Lahore summit
In late 1998 and early 1999, Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan. With the historic inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, Vajpayee initiated a new peace process aimed towards permanently resolving the Kashmir dispute and other conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and mutual friendship and envisaged a goal of denuclearised South Asia. This eased the tension created by the 1998 nuclear tests, not only within the two nations but also in South Asia and the rest of the world.

The Vajpayee-led government was faced with two crises in mid-1999. The AIADMK had continually threatened to withdraw from the coalition and national leaders repeatedly flew down from Delhi to Chennai to pacify the AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha. However, in May 1999, the AIADMK did pull the plug on the NDA, and the Vajpayee administration was reduced to a caretaker status pending fresh elections scheduled for October 1999..
Kargil War
It was revealed that militants and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers (many with official identifications and Pakistan Army’s custom weaponry) had infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley and captured control of border hilltops, unmanned border posts and were spreading out fast. The incursion was centred around the town of Kargil, but also included the Batalik and Akhnoor sectors and artillery exchanges at the Siachen Glacier.

Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the three-month-long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600-4,000 Pakistani militants and soldiers died as well. India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infrantry soldiers.

Third term: 1999–2004
In the 1999 general elections, the BJP-led NDA won 303 seats out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, in the aftermath of the Kargil operations, thereby securing a comfortable and stable majority. On 13 October 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took oath as Prime Minister of India for the third time.

Indian Airlines hijack
A national crisis emerged in December 1999, when Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked by five terrorists and flown to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The hijackers made several demands including the release of certain terrorists like Masood Azhar from prison. Under extreme pressure, the government ultimately caved in. Jaswant Singh, the Minister for External Affairs at the time, flew with the terrorists to Afghanistan and exchanged them for the passengers.
 
National highway project, foreign policy and economic reforms
During his administration, Vajpayee introduced many domestic economic and infrastructural reforms, including encouraging the private sector and foreign investments, reducing governmental waste, encouraging research and development and privatisation of some government owned corporations. Vajpayee's pet projects were the National Highways Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.

Domestically, the BJP-led government was under constant pressure from its ideological mentor, the RSS, and the hard-line VHP to enact the Hindutva agenda. But owing to its dependence on coalition support, it was impossible for the BJP to push items like building the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, repealing Article 370 which gave a special status to the state of Kashmir, or enacting a uniform civil code applicable to adherents of all religions. On 17 January 2000, there were reports of the RSS and some BJP hard-liners threatening to restart the Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP, because of their unhappiness over Vajpayee rule. Former president of the Jan Sangh, Balraj Madhok, had written a letter to the then RSS chief, Rajendra Singh for support. The BJP was, however, accused of saffronising (saffron being the colour of the flag of the RSS, symbol of the Hindu nationalism movement) the official state education curriculum and apparatus. Also, Home Minister L.K. Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi were indicted in the 1992 Babri Mossque demolition case for inciting a mob of activists. Vajpayee himself came under public scrutiny owing to his controversial speech one day prior to the mosque demolition. The RSS also routinely criticised the government for free-market policies which introduced foreign goods and competition at the expense of 'swadeshi'  industries and products.

Vajpayee's administration earned the ire of many trade unions and government workers for its aggressive campaign to privatise government owned corporations. Vajpayee promoted pro-business, free market reforms to reinvigorate India's economic transformation and expansion that were started by the former PM Narasimha Rao but stalled after 1996 due to unstable governments and the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
 
Couple of years of reform however were accompanied by infighting in the administration and confusion regarding the direction of government. Vajpayee's weakening health was also a subject of public interest, and he underwent a major knee-replacement surgery at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai to relieve great pressure on his legs.
In March 2001, the Tehelka group released the sting operation video named Operation West End showing videos of the BJP President Bangaru Laxman, senior army officers and NDA members accepting bribes from journalists posing as agents and businessmen. The Defence Minister George Fernandes was forced to resign following the Barak Missile scandal, another scandal involving the botched supplies of coffins for the soldiers killed in Kargil, and the findings of an inquiry commission that the Government could have prevented the Kargil invasion.

Vajpayee again broke the ice in the Indo-Pak relations by inviting Pakistani President Pervez to Delhi and Agra for a joint summit and peace talks. His second major attempt to move beyond the stalemate involved inviting the man who had planned the Kargil invasions. But accepting him as the President of Pakistan, Vajpayee chose to move forward. But after three days of much fanfare, which included Musharraf visiting his birthplace in Delhi, the summit failed to achieve a breakthrough as President Musharraf declined to set aside the issue of Kashmir.

On 13 December 2001, a group of masked, armed men with fake IDs stormed the Parliament House in Delhi. The terrorists managed to kill several security guards, but the building was sealed off swiftly and security forces cornered and killed the men, who were later proven to be Pakistan nationals. Coming just three months after the September 11 attacks upon the United States, this fresh escalation instantly enraged the nation. Although the Government of Pakistan officially condemned the attack, Indian intelligence reports pointed to a conspiracy rooted in Pakistan. The security lapse was roundly criticized by the opposition.

The Vajpayee administration also passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act against vigorous opposition of non-NDA parties. Human rights groups have condemned the act which gives wide authority to the government to crack down and hold anybody. Its repeal was advocated by human rights organisations.

But the biggest political disaster hit his government between December 2001 and March 2002: the VHP held the Government hostage in a major standoff in Ayodhya over the Ram temple. At the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Babri mosque, the VHP wanted to perform a shila daan, or a ceremony laying the foundation stone of the cherished temple at the disputed site. Tens of thousands of VHP activists amassed and threatened to overrun the site and forcibly build the temple. A grave threat of not only communal violence, but an outright breakdown of law and order owing to the defiance of the government by a religious organisation hung over the nation. But to the relief of Vajpayee, his government was able to tide over the crisis.

In 2002, Hindu-Muslim violence in the state Gujarat killed more than 1,000 people. Vajpayee officially condemned the violence.

Later, Vajpayee made controversial remarks: "Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace." The remarks were clarified by the Prime Minister’s Office as being taken out of context.

Vajpayee was accused of doing nothing to stop the violence, and later admitted mistakes in handling the events. K R Narayanan, then President of India, also blamed Vajpayee's government for failing to quell the violence.

He faced stiff opposition from organisations in the Sangh Parivar such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh to continue an aggressive economic reform policy.

He recognised Tibet as a part of China, which was welcomed by the Chinese leadership, who in the following year, recognised Sikkim, as a part of India.
In November–December 2003, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won three major state elections, fought mainly on development issues, without ideological campaigns. A major public relations campaign was launched to reach out to Muslims and stop the 2002 communal riots controversy from haunting the party's future. But the attention of the media and of millions now moved from Vajpayee to his more possible successor, L. K. Advani, although the question was never directly raised or contested in any way. Vajpayee's age, failing health and diminished physical and mental vigour were obvious factors in such speculation.

Advani assumed greater responsibilities in the party, and although no perceivable conflict has been known to arise between the longtime friends and political colleagues, several embarrassing statements were made. Once Vajpayee said "Advani would lead the BJP in the elections," prompting Advani to clarify that he would merely lead the election campaign, not the party. And then the BJP President Venkaiah Naidu used mythological references to depict Vajpayee as Vikas Purush (Man of Progress) and Advani as Loh Purush(Iron Man).

As the BJP prepared for general elections in 2004, Vajpayee was still the choice of the BJP and of the wider NDA, for the Prime Minister's job.

The NDA was widely expected to retain power after the 2004 general elections. The 13th Lok Sabha had been dissolved before the completion of its term to capitalise on the perceived 'feel-good factor' and BJP's recent successes in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. The BJP hoped to capitalise on the slogan "India Shining" and released many ads touting the economic growth of the nation.

However, the coalition lost almost half of its seats, with several prominent cabinet ministers being defeated. The Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, became the single largest party and, along with many minor parties, formed the United Progressive Alliance. With the conditional support of the leftist parties from the outside, the UPA formed a government under Manmohan Singh. Vajpayee, accepting moral responsibility for the defeat, decided not to take up the position of the Leader of the Opposition and passed on the leadership mantle to Advani. However, he retained his post as Chairman of the NDA.

In December 2005, Vajpayee announced his retirement from active politics, declaring that he would not contest in the next general election. In a famous statement at the BJP's silver Jubilee rally at Mumbai's historic Shivaji Park, Vajpayee announced that "Henceforth, Lal Krishna Advani and Pramod Mahajan will be the Ram-Laxman (the two godly brothers much revered and worshipped by Hindus) of the BJP."

Vajpayee is a bachelor and has an adopted daughter, Namita. He is fond of Indian music and dance. He loves nature and one of his favourite retreats is Manali in Himachal Pradesh.

Vajpayee has said about his poetry, "My poetry is a declaration of war, not an exordium to defeat. It is not the defeated soldier's drumbeat of despair, but the fighting warrior's will to win. It is not the despirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory."

Vajpayee underwent knee replacement surgery at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai in 2001. He suffered a stroke in 2009 which impaired his speech. His health has been a major source of concern and those in the know say he is often confined to a wheelchair and fails to recognise people. He is said to be suffering from dementia and long-term diabetes. He is not known to have attended any public event in recent years. He rarely ventures out of the house, except for checkups at the AIIMS. On 11 June 2018, Vajpayee was admitted to a hospital in critical condition. The end came on August 16, 2018, evening.

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