Today is the 96th birth anniversary of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader to successfully complete a five-year term as the country’s prime minister. Born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, Vajpayee was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1957 from Balrampur constituency as a member of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a forerunner of the BJP.
Vajpayee, who was also a poet, quickly grabbed the attention of top political leaders across the aisle with his sharp oratory skills. After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Vajpayee took over the party leadership and became the national president of Jana Sangh in 1968. He was among prominent opposition leaders who were arrested during the Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
In 1977, several opposition parties, including Jana Sangh, came together to contest the general elections by forming the Janata Party. Vajpayee served as the minister of external affairs (MEA) in Morarji Desai’s cabinet following Congress’ defeat in that election. In 1979, Desai resigned as India’s 4th prime minister, triggering a collapse of the Janata Party. The erstwhile leaders of Jana Sangh came together in 1980 to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was headed by Vajpayee.
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After years of political struggle, Vajpayee became the 10th Prime Minister of India in 1996 following the BJP’s emergence as the single-largest party. However, the BJP failed to garner enough support to prove majority on the floor of Parliament, and Vajpayee had to resign after 16 days. In 1998, several political parties formed a coalition with the BJP and Vajpayee led the government under the banner of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The government lasted 13 months as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) withdrew its support in 1999.
The 1999 Lok Sabha elections were held in the aftermath of Kargil operations and the BJP-led NDA secured a comfortable majority, helping Vajpayee to complete a full five-year term for the first time. It was during Vajpayee’s prime ministership that India carried out the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. Vajpayee resigned as the prime minister in 2004 and a year later, he announced his retirement from active politics, owing to his feeble health condition. In 2015, he was bestowed with India’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna. After a prolonged illness, the veteran leader passed away on August 16, 2018, at the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS).