Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and BJP stalwart passed away at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in the national capital on Thursday. He was 93. The premier institute, where a stream of leaders across party lines visited Vajpayee since morning, announced his death at 5:05 pm. The iconic BJP leader was admitted to the AIIMS in June and had been ailing for long. He was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.
He retreated from active public life over the last decade following the deterioration of his health and remained restricted to his residence. In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion. In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.
He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.
He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into the public limelight. He became the Prime Minister of India thrice. It was during his tenure that India successfully conducted nuclear tests at Pokhran and renewed hopes for peace between India and Pakistan emerged with the start of the New Delhi-Lahore bus service. His government has been till date the only non-Congress government to stay in power for five years. Besides being a seasoned politician and outstanding parliamentarian, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also a renowned poet and a highly popular personality across the political spectrum.
Vajpayee was awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in March 2015. During his second term as prime minister, Vajpayee ordered nuclear tests in May 1998 in a strategic masterstroke to blunt Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions. He followed this up with peace overtures to Pakistan, riding on the first direct bus from India to Pakistan in February 1999.