By Samuel Mathai
Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee, three-time Prime Minister of India and one of the country's most respected politicians, has died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi on Thursday at 5 pm. He was 93.
A diabetic and having only one functional kidney, Vajpayee was admitted to the hospital on June 11 with a kidney tract infection and chest congestion. Since 2009, the veteran politician had largely been confined to his home on Krishna Menon Marg in the heart of Delhi, away from public life due to his failing health.
Born in Gwalior on December 25, 1924, Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1939, and in 1951, was seconded to its political wing, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He steadily rose in its hierarchy and became its national president in 1968.
His debut speech in Parliament as a first-timer in 1957 was so impressed then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that he predicted, while introducing the young politician to a foreign dignitary, “This young man will one day become prime minister.”
He debuted in parliament in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha. It was only nine years later that he won an election. He was elected to the Lok Sabha seven times.
Imprisoned along with other opposition leaders during the Emergency (1975-77), he merged the Jana Sangh into the newly-formed Janata Party to fashion a common front against the Congress in the 1977 elections. He subsequently served as Minister of External Affairs in the Morarji Desai government.
In his 47 years in parliament, the former prime minister captivated the nation with his dry wit and oratory, proving that no one could work the room quite like he could. Poetry was his most preferred expression and telegraphed his message in a few well-chosen words more effectively than a one-hour speech.
Considered the gold standard of leadership in the ruling BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first politician to truly challenge the legacy of the Congress, the grand old party, as he was the first non-Congress prime minister to last a full term.
Vajpayee, who rose to spectacular heights, was no stranger to rock-bottom in his political journey. In 1984, after Indira Gandhi's assassination, the BJP that he set up with his long-time friend and colleague LK Advani managed to win just two seats in the 545-member parliament. Vajpayee also lost in Gwalior, his birthplace.
In the 1990s, the party captured the nation's attention with the "Ram Janmabhoomi movement" for a temple at the site of the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya that many Hindus believe was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram. Vajpayee was the only voice in his party who called it the "worst miscalculation" when ‘Karsewaks’ razed the mosque in 1992.
He ruled the country for 13 days in 1996, 13 months in 1998 and for five years from 1999. “The game of power will go on. Governments will come and go. Parties will be made and unmade. This country should survive, its democracy should survive,” Vajpayee said in a speech before his government faced a trust vote in May 1996.
A parliamentarian for over four decades, he was conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2015.
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