Atal Bihari Vajpayee took oath as the Prime Minister of India for the first time on this day, 24 years ago. His party, the BJP, did not have a clear majority even though it had won the most number of seats. Naturally, they could not form the government on its own. The then President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma invited the BJP to form the government as it was the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. Vajpayee took oath as the Prime Minister for the first time. He and his party hoped that regional parties would lend support to their government and it would pass the confidence vote but all efforts were in vain.
Vajpayee resigned after 13 days on 28th May after failing to secure a majority.
He later went on to rule the country for two more terms of 13 months(1998-99) and a full five-year term(1999-2004) respectively.
In 1953, Dr. Mukherjee, the founder of BJP’s predecessor Bharatiya Jan Sangh, traveled Kashmir. Vajpayee as a journalist accompanied him. They had entered Kashmir defying the state government’s ban on entering the valley without its permission. Dr. Mukerjee strongly believed that no one should be restricted to go anywhere in the country, including the Kashmir valley. He was put under house arrest after he entered the state illegally and mysteriously died while in custody. As Vajpayee accompanied Dr. Mukherjee as a journalist, he was not arrested. Before the arrest, Dr. Mukherjee had asked Vajpayee to tell the entire nation that he had entered the valley, even though as a prisoner. His death was a call to Vajpayee to join active electoral politics.
After Mukherjee’s death, Deen Dhayal Upadhya took over the reins of the party. The future leaders Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani worked under him and ultimately Vajpayee succeeded Upadhya as the President of Jan Sangh.
Deen Dayal Upadhayay loved Vajpayee’s oratory skills and he desperately wanted Vajpayee to enter the Lok Sabha and represent the party’s stance in the parliament. Vajpayee was made to contest from three constituencies. He lost from Lucknow and Mathura but won from Balrampur and entered the parliament for the first time.
Vajpayee debuted in the parliament ruled by congress and led by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He still left a mark with his exceptional oratory skills, giving speeches ranging from domestic to foreign issues. While introducing Vajpayee to a foreign delegation, Nehru rightly predicted that “this man one day will become India’s Prime Minister”.
The 1975 emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi had put all opposition leaders in jail. When the emergency period was over, various opposition parties united to form one political party to defeat Congress. It was named the Janata Party.
The Janata Party won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai was sworn in as the Prime Minister. The Jan Sangh had contributed the highest number of seats (93 seats) to the Janata Party’s victory. Vajpayee was made the Minister of External Affairs. He became the first person to address the UN gathering in Hindi.
The Janata Party government under Desai was reduced to a minority within 3 years of its formation when some members of the party broke ties and formed the Janata Party (S). The center-right members of the Janata Party had grave reservations with the Jan Sangh members for having ties with the RSS because they wanted to maintain their secular image. After it faced defeat in the 1980 elections and Indira Gandhi returned to power, the executive committee of the Janata Party put a ban on its members on dual membership of the party and of the RSS. Vajpayee and Advani, along with other former Jan Sangh resigned from the Janata Party and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).
Vajpayee was chosen to be the inaugural President of the newly born BJP. He led the party for 6 years and was later taken over by Advani after. The Babri masjid demolition in 1992 was the turning point for the BJP. The strategy of Rath Yatra by Advani paid off. The aftermath of the demolition propelled the BJP’s electoral gains.
The BJP held a national convention in Mumbai in 1995 where party leaders from all over the country assembled. The then party president Advani was among the last to address the gathering. He talked about the accomplishments of his party’s government in various states. Later he said that the country is looking for a new national leader and said the famous lines Abki Baari Atal Bihari (This is the time for Atal Bihari), thus declaring that Vajpayee will be the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in next year’s general elections.
After moments of silence, the crowd erupted with cheers and slogans. This announcement came as a surprise for not only the new PM candidate but also many senior leaders of the party and even the RSS. Vajpayee immediately suggested that the PM candidate should be Advani himself but he was adamant and declared that as the party’s president he made the decision and that no changes will be made.
The 1996 elections were a great electoral success for the BJP as it emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha with 161 seats. Vajpayee was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India. However, he could not rule for more than 13 days as no other party would lend support to a hardcore Hindu nationalist party during the confidence motion. His speech in the parliament at the end of his first tenure as PM can be considered to be one of the best in the country’s modern history. He taught us how to resign in style.
He famously said “Satta ka khel toh chalega, sarkare aayengi jayengi, partiyan banegi bigdegi. Magar yeh desh rehna chahiye. Is desh ka loktantra amar rehna chahiye” (The game of politics will go on, governments will come and go, political parties will form and dissolve. But the country should be united and its democracy should live on).
He later went on to serve a full five-year term as the country’s premier. His party has comfortably formed two consecutive governments under Narendra Modi in 2014 and 2019. He would have hoped to have a similar kind of majority his party now enjoys. Some call him the best prime minister India had, others recall him as the poet prime minister. He was undoubtedly a great leader and a true Bharat Ratan.