Atal Bihari Vajpayee
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Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee
The Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivering his speech at the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 4, 2004 (1) (cropped).jpg
10th Prime Minister of India

19 March 1998 - 22 May 2004
DeputyL. K. Advani
I. K. Gujral
Manmohan Singh

16 May 1996 - 1 June 1996
PresidentShankar Dayal Sharma
P. V. Narasimha Rao
H. D. Deve Gowda
Minister of External Affairs

26 March 1977 - 28 July 1979
Morarji Desai
Yashwantrao Chavan
Shyam Nandan Prasad Mishra
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha

Mandhata Singh
Lalji Tandon

Mukul Banerji
K. C. Pant
ConstituencyNew Delhi

Ram Awtar Sharma
Narain Krishna Rao Shejwalker

Subhadra Joshi
Chandra Bhal Mani Tiwari

Subhadra Joshi
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

ConstituencyUttar Pradesh

ConstituencyMadhya Pradesh
Personal details
Born(1924-12-25)25 December 1924
Gwalior, Gwalior State, British India (present-day Madhya Pradesh, India)
Died16 August 2018(2018-08-16) (aged 93)
New Delhi, India
Political partyBharatiya Janata Party
Other political
Janata Party
Bharatiya Jana Sangh
Alma materMaharani Laxmi Bai Govt. College of Excellence (1946)
DAV College, Kanpur (1947)
(at the time of graduation, both were affiliated with Agra University)
ProfessionWriter, politician, poet
AwardsBharat Ratna (2015)
Padma Vibhushan (1992)

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Hindustani pronunciation: [l b?ha:?ia:d?pai]; 25 December 1924[1] - 16 August 2018[2]) was an Indian politician, statesman and a poet who served three terms as the Prime Minister of India, first for a term of 13 days in 1996, then for a period of 13 months from 1998 to 1999, and finally, for a full term from 1999 to 2004. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he was the first Indian prime minister who was not a member of the Indian National Congress party to have served a full five-year term in office.

He was a member of the Indian Parliament for over five decades, having been elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house, ten times, and twice to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. He served as the Member of Parliament for Lucknow[3] until 2009 when he retired from active politics due to health concerns. Vajpayee was among the founding members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), of which he was the president from 1968 to 1972. The BJS merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party, which won the 1977 general election. Vajpayee became the Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of Prime Minister Morarji Desai. He resigned in 1979, and the Janata alliance collapsed soon after. The erstwhile members of the BJS formed the BJP in 1980, with Vajpayee as its first president.

During his tenure as prime minister, India carried out the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998. Vajpayee sought to improve diplomatic relations with Pakistan, travelling to Lahore by bus to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. After the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan, he sought to restore relations through engaging with President Pervez Musharraf, inviting him to India for a summit at Agra.

He was conferred India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee in 2015.[4] The administration of Narendra Modi declared in 2014 that Vajpayee's birthday, 25 December, would be marked as Good Governance Day.[5][6] He died on 16 August 2018 due to an age-related illness.[7]

Early life and education

Vajpayee was born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee in a Brahmin family on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior.[8] His grandfather, Pandit Shyam Lal Vajpayee, had migrated to Morena, Gwalior from his ancestral village of Bateshwar, Uttar Pradesh.[8] His father, Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, was a school teacher in his hometown.[9] Vajpayee did his schooling at the Saraswati Shishu Mandir in Gwalior. In 1934, Atal Bihari was admitted to AVM School Barnagar District Ujjain after his father joined as headmaster. He spoke about his 'lifechanging moment' at a public rally on the 1996 Lok Sabha election trail. He said "But I learned a lesson that changed my life. I took a pledge I'd never rote-learn a speech. It was my first speech at AVM (Anglo Vernacular Middle) School,". He subsequently attended Gwalior's Victoria College (now Maharani Laxmi Bai Govt. College of Excellence) for BA in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. He completed his post-graduation with an MA in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur.[1][10]

His activism started 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 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a swayamsevak, or volunteer, in 1939. Influenced by Babasaheb Apte, he attended the Officers Training Camp of the RSS during 1940-44 and became a pracharak, RSS terminology for a full-time worker, in 1947. He gave up studying law due to the partition riots. He was sent as a vistarak, a probationary pracharak, to Uttar Pradesh and quickly began working for the newspapers of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Rashtradharma (a Hindi monthly), Panchjanya (a Hindi weekly) and the dailies Swadesh and Veer Arjun.[10][11][12]

Early political career (1942-1975)

By 1942, at the age of 16 years, Vajpayee became an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In August 1942, he and his elder brother Prem were arrested for 24 days during the Quit India Movement. He was released after giving a written undertaking stating that while he was a part of the crowd, he did not participate in the militant events in Bateshwar on 27 August 1942.[13]

In 1951, Vajpayee 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 was appointed as a national secretary of the party in charge of the Northern region, based in Delhi. He soon became a follower and aide of party leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mukherjee when the latter went on a hunger strike in Kashmir to protest the perceived inferior treatment of non-Kashmiri Indian visitors to the state.[] Mookerjee died in prison during this strike. In the 1957 Indian general election, Vajpayee contested elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament. He lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura, but was elected from Balrampur. In the Lok Sabha his oratorial skills so impressed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that he predicted that Vajpayee would someday become the Prime Minister of India.[14][15][16]

Vajpayee's oratorial skills won him the reputation of being the most eloquent defender of the Jana Sangh's policies.[17] After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the leadership of the Jana Sangh passed to Vajpayee.[18] He became the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968,[19] running the party along with Nanaji Deshmukh, Balraj Madhok, and L. K. Advani.[18]

Janata and the BJP (1975-1995)

Foreign Minister Vajpayee (far right) and Prime Minister Morarji Desai (third from right, front row) with US President Jimmy Carter during his 1978 visit to India.

In 1975, Vajpayee was arrested along with several other opposition leaders during the Internal Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress party.[9][20] Initially interned in Bangalore, Vajpayee appealed his imprisonment on the grounds of bad health, and was moved to a hospital in Delhi.[21] Gandhi ended the state of emergency in 1977. A coalition of parties, including the BJS, came together to form the Janata Party, which won the subsequent general elections.[22]Morarji Desai, the chosen leader of the alliance, became the prime minister. Vajpayee served as the Minister of External Affairs, or foreign minister, in Desai's cabinet.[23] As foreign minister, Vajpayee became the first person in 1977 to deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi.[23]

Vajpayee resigned from his post in 1979.[21] The Janata Party collapsed soon after Desai resigned as Prime Minister in 1979.[21][24] The erstwhile members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh came together to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980, with Vajpayee as its first President.[25]

The 1984 general elections were held in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. While he had won the 1977 and the 1980 elections from New Delhi, Vajpayee shifted to his home town Gwalior for the election.[26] Vidya Razdan was initially tipped to be the Congress (I) candidate. Instead, Madhavrao Scindia, scion of the Gwalior royal family, was brought in on the last day of filing nominations.[27] Vajpayee lost to Scindia, managing to secure only 29% of the votes.[26]

Under Vajpayee, the BJP moderated the Hindu-nationalist position of the Jana Sangh, emphasising its connection to the Janata Party and expressing support for Gandhian Socialism.[28] The ideological shift did not bring it success: Gandhi's assassination generated sympathy for the Congress, leading to a massive victory at the polls. The BJP won only two seats in parliament.[28][29][30] Vajpayee offered to quit as party president following BJP's dismal performance in the election,[31] but stayed in the post until 1986.[32][33][34] He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1986 from Madhya Pradesh,[35] and was briefly the leader of the BJP in parliament.[36]

In 1986 L. K. Advani took office as president of the BJP.[29] Under him, the BJP returned to a policy of hardline Hindu nationalism.[28] It became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which sought to build a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Rama in Ayodhya. The temple would be built at a site believed to be the birthplace of Rama after demolishing a 16th-century mosque, called the Babri Masjid, which then stood there.[37] The strategy paid off for the BJP; it won 86 seats in the Lok Sabha in the 1989 general election, making its support crucial to the government of V. P. Singh.[28] In December 1992, a group of religious volunteers led by members of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), tore down the mosque.[38] The BJP's role in the movement led to major political gains.[17]

Terms as Prime Minister (1996-2004)

First term: May 1996

During a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995, BJP President Advani declared that Vajpayee would be the party's Prime Ministerial candidate in the forthcoming elections. Vajpayee himself was reported to be unhappy with the announcement, responding by saying that the party needed to win the election first.[39] The BJP became the single largest party in parliament in the 1996 general election, helped by religious polarisation across the country as a result of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.[40][41] Indian president Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Vajpayee to form the government.[42] Vajpayee was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India,[43] but the BJP failed to muster a majority among members of the Lok Sabha. Vajpayee resigned after 16 days when it became clear that he did not have enough support to form a government.[43][44]

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. A number of political parties joined the BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister.[45] The coalition was an uneasy one,[22] as apart from the Shiv Sena, none of the other parties espoused the BJP's Hindu-nationalist ideology.[46] Vajpayee has been credited for managing this coalition successfully, while facing ideological pressure from the hardline wing of the party and from the RSS.[21] Vajpayee's government lasted 13 months until mid-1999 when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) under Jayalalithaa withdrew its support.[47] The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a single vote on 17 April 1999.[48] 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.[49]

Nuclear tests

In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, 24 years after its first nuclear test (Smiling Buddha) in 1974. Two weeks later, Pakistan responded with its own nuclear tests making it the newest nation with declared nuclear capability.[50] While some nations, such as France, endorsed India's right to defensive nuclear power,[51] others including the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain and the European Union imposed sanctions on information, resources and technology to India. In spite of intense international criticism and steady decline in foreign investment and trade, the nuclear tests were popular domestically. In effect, the international sanctions imposed failed to sway India from weaponising its nuclear capability. US sanctions against India and Pakistan were eventually lifted after just six months.[52]

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.[53][54]

AIADMK's withdrawal from coalition

The Vajpayee-led government was faced with two crises in mid-1999.[clarification needed] 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.[55]

Kargil War

In May 1999 some Kashmiri shepherds discovered the presence of militants and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers (many with official identifications and Pakistan Army's custom weaponry) in the Kashmir Valley, where they had taken control of border hilltops and unmanned border posts. The incursion was centred around the town of Kargil, but also included the Batalik and Akhnoor sectors and artillery exchanges at the Siachen Glacier.[56][57]

The Indian army responded with Operation Vijay, which launched on 26 May 1999. This saw the Indian military fighting thousands of militants and soldiers in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and while facing extremely cold weather, snow and treacherous terrain at the high altitude.[58] 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.[59][60][61][62] India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infantry soldiers. Almost 70% of the territory was recaptured by India.[58] Vajpayee sent a "secret letter" to U.S. President Bill Clinton that if Pakistani infiltrators did not withdraw from the Indian territory, "we will get them out, one way or the other" - meaning he did not rule out crossing the Line of Control (LoC), or was the use of nuclear weapons.[63]

After Pakistan suffered heavy losses, and with both the United States and China refusing to condone the incursion or threaten India to stop its military operations, General Musharraf was recalcitrant and Nawaz Sharif asked the remaining militants to stop and withdraw to positions along the LoC.[64] The militants were not willing to accept orders from Sharif but the NLI soldiers withdrew.[64] The militants were killed by the army or forced to withdraw in skirmishes which went beyond the announcement of withdrawal by Pakistan.[64]

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,[65] thereby securing a comfortable and stable majority. On 13 October 1999, Vajpayee took oath as Prime Minister of India for the third time.[66]

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.[67] 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 of External Affairs at the time, flew with the terrorists to Afghanistan and exchanged them for the passengers.[68]

Vajpayee meeting President Bush in the White House, circa 2001.

In March 2000, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, paid a state visit to India.[69] This was the first state visit to India by a U.S. President in 22 years since President Jimmy Carter's visit in 1978.[70] President Clinton's visit was hailed as a significant milestone in relations between the two nations.[69] Vajpayee and Clinton had wide-ranging discussions on bilateral, regional and international developments.[71] The visit led to expansion in trade and economic ties between India and the United States.[72] A vision document on the future course of Indo-U.S. relations was signed during the visit.[73]

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 discontent over Vajpayee's rule. Former president of the Jan Sangh Balraj Madhok had written a letter to the then-RSS chief Rajendra Singh for support.[74] The BJP was, however, accused of saffronising the official state education curriculum and apparatus, saffron being the colour of the RSS flag of the RSS, and a symbol of the Hindu nationalism movement.[75] Home Minister L. K. Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi were indicted in the 1992 Babri Mosque 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.[76]

Vajpayee with Russian president Vladimir Putin, circa 6 November 2001.

These years were accompanied by infighting in the administration and confusion regarding the direction of government.[77][78] 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 intense pressure upon his legs.[79]

In March 2001, the Tehelka group released a sting operation video named Operation West End which showed BJP president Bangaru Laxman, senior army officers and NDA members accepting bribes from journalists posing as agents and businessmen.[80][81] The Defence Minister George Fernandes was forced to resign following the Barak Missile 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.[82]

Vajpayee initiated talks with Pakistan, and invited Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to Agra for a joint summit, the Agra summit. President Musharraf was believed in India to be the principal architect of the Kargil War.[83] By 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 leave aside the issue of Kashmir.[84]

2001 attack on Parliament

On 13 December 2001, a group of masked, armed men with fake IDs stormed the Parliament House in Delhi.[85] 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.[86] Vajpayee ordered Indian troops to mobilise for war, leading to an estimated 500,000[87] to 750,000[88] Indian soldiers positioned along the international border between India and Pakistan. Pakistan responded by mobilising its own troops along the border.[87] A terrorist attack on an army garrison in Kashmir in May 2002 further escalated the situation. As the threat of war between two nuclear capable countries, and the consequent possibility of a nuclear exchange, loomed large, international diplomatic mediation focused on defusing the situation.[89] In October 2002, both India and Pakistan announced that they would withdraw their troops from the border.[88]

The Vajpayee administration brought in the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 2002. The act was aimed at curbing terrorist threats by strengthening powers of government authorities to investigate and act against suspects.[90][91] It was passed in a joint session of the parliament, amidst concerns that the law would be misused.[92]

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.[93] Thousands of VHP activists amassed and threatened to overrun the site and forcibly perform the shila daan.[94][95] 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, the incident ended peacefully with a symbolic handover of a stone at a different location 1 km away from the disputed site.[96]

2002 Gujarat violence

In February 2002, a train filled with Hindu pilgrims returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya stopped in the town of Godhra. A scuffle broke out between Hindu activists and Muslim residents, and amidst uncertain circumstance, the train was set on fire leading to the deaths of 59 people. The charred bodies of the victims were displayed in public in the city of Ahmedabad, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a statewide strike in Gujarat. These decisions stoked anti-Muslim sentiments.[97] Blaming Muslims for the deaths, rampaging Hindu mobs killed thousands of Muslim men and women, destroying Muslim homes and places of worship. The violence raged for more than two months, and more than 1,000 people died.[98] Gujarat was being ruled by a BJP government, with Narendra Modi as the chief minister. The state government was criticised for mishandling the situation.[99] It was accused of doing little to stop the violence, and even being complicit in encouraging it.[100][98]

Vajpayee reportedly wanted to remove Modi, but was eventually prevailed upon by party members to not act against him.[101][102] He traveled to Gujarat, visiting Godhra, and Ahmedabad, the site of the most violent riots. He announced financial aid for victims, and urged an end to the violence.[103] While he condemned the violence,[104] he did not chastise Modi directly in public. When asked as to what would be his message to the chief minister in the event of the riots having taking place, Vajpayee responded that Modi must follow raj dharma, Hindi for ethical governance.[103]

At the meeting of the BJP national executive in Goa in April 2002, Vajpayee's speech generated controversy for its contents which included him saying: "Wherever Muslims live, they don't like to live in co-existence with others."[105][106] The Prime Minister's Office stated that these remarks had been taken out of context.[107] Vajpayee was accused of doing nothing to stop the violence, and later admitted mistakes in handling the events.[108]K. R. Narayanan, then president of India, also blamed Vajpayee's government for failing to quell the violence.[109] After the BJP's defeat in the 2004 general elections, Vajpayee admitted that not removing Modi had been a mistake.[110]


In late 2002 and 2003 the government pushed through economic reforms.[111] The country's GDP growth exceeded 7% every year from 2003 to 2007, following three years of sub-5% growth.[112] Increasing foreign investment,[111] modernisation of public and industrial infrastructure, the creation of jobs, a rising high-tech and IT industry and urban modernisation and expansion improved the nation's international image. Good crop harvests and strong industrial expansion also helped the economy.[113]

The government reformed the tax system, increased the pace of reforms and pro-business initiatives, major irrigation and housing schemes and so on.[114] The political energies of the BJP shifted to the rising urban middle-class and young people, who were positive and enthusiastic about the major economic expansion and future of the country. He faced stiff opposition from other equally strong organisations in the Sangh Parivar such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.[114] However, he continued with his aggressive economic reform policy.[114]

In May 2003, he announced before the parliament that he would make one last effort to achieve peace with Pakistan. The announcement ended a period of 16 months, following the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, during which India had severed diplomatic ties with Pakistan.[115] Although diplomatic relations did not pick up immediately, visits were exchanged by high-level officials and the military standoff ended. The Pakistani President and Pakistani politicians, civil and religious leaders hailed this initiative as did the leaders of the United States, Europe and much of the world. In July 2003, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited China, and met with various Chinese leaders. He recognised Tibet as a part of China, which was welcomed by the Chinese leadership, and which, in the following year, recognised Sikkim, as part of India. China-India relations improved greatly in the following years.[116][117]


Vajpayee's government 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.[118] Among Vajpayee's projects were the National Highways Development Project and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.[119][120] In 2001, the Vajpayee government launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan campaign, aimed at improving the quality of education in primary and secondary schools.[121][122]

2004 general election

In 2003, news reports suggested a tussle within the BJP with regard to sharing of leadership between Vajpayee and deputy prime LK Advani.[123][124] BJP president Venkaiah Naidu had suggested that Advani must lead the party politically at the 2004 general elections, referring to Vajpayee as vikas purush, Hindi for development man, and Advani as loh purush, iron man.[125] When Vajpayee subsequently threatened retirement, Naidu backtracked announcing that the party would contest the elections under the twin leadership of Vajpayee and Advani.[126]

The NDA was widely expected to retain power after the 2004 general election. It announced elections six months ahead of schedule, hoping to capitalise on economic growth, and Vajpayee's peace initiative with Pakistan.[127][128] The 13th Lok Sabha was dissolved before the completion of its term. The BJP hoped to capitalise on a perceived 'feel-good factor' and BJP's recent successes in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Under the "India Shining" campaign, it released ads proclaiming the economic growth of the nation under the government.[129][130]

However, the BJP could only win 138 seats in the 543-seat parliament,[131] with several prominent cabinet ministers being defeated.[128] The NDA coalition won 185 seats. The Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, emerged as the single largest party, wining 145 seats in the election. The Congress and its allies, comprising many smaller parties, formed the United Progressive Alliance, accounting for 220 seats in the parliament.[131] Vajpayee resigned as Prime Minister.[132] The UPA, with the outside support of communist parties, formed the next government with Manmohan Singh as the prime minister.[133]


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 Shivaji Park, Vajpayee announced that "Henceforth, Lal Krishna Advani and Pramod Mahajan will be the Ram-Lakshman [the two godly brothers much revered and worshipped by Hindus] of the BJP."[134]

Vajpayee was referred to as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a speech in the Rajya Sabha, a reference to the character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata who was held in respect by two warring sides.[135]

Vajpayee was hospitalised at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi (AIIMS) for a chest infection and fever on 6 February 2009. He was put on ventilator support as his condition worsened but he eventually recuperated and was later discharged.[136] Unable to participate in the campaign for the 2009 general election due to his poor health, he wrote a letter urging voters to back the BJP.[137] His protege Lalji Tandon was able to retain the Lucknow seat in that election even though the NDA suffered electoral reverses all over the country. It was speculated that Vajpayee's non-partisan appeal contributed to Lalji's success in Lucknow in contrast to that BJP's poor performance elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh.[138]

Personal life

Vajpayee remained a bachelor his entire life.[139] He adopted and raised Namita Bhattacharya as his own child, the daughter of longtime friend Rajkumari Kaul and BN Kaul. His adopted family lived with him.[140]

Unlike purist Brahmins who shun meat and alcohol, Vajpayee was known to be fond of whisky and meat.[141][142] He was a noted poet, writing in Hindi. His published works include Kaidi kavirai ki kundalian, a collection of poems written when he was imprisoned during the 1975-77 emergency, and Amar aag hai.[143] With regard to his poetry he wrote, "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."[144]


Vajpayee's funeral procession moving to Smriti Sthal near Raj Ghat for last rites.

Vajpayee suffered a stroke in 2009 which impaired his speech.[145] His health had been a major source of concern; reports said he was confined to a wheelchair and failed to recognise people. He also suffered from dementia and long-term diabetes. For many years, he had not attended any public engagements and rarely ventured out of the house, except for checkups at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences.[145][146]

On 11 June 2018, Vajpayee was admitted to AIIMS in critical condition following a kidney infection.[147][148][149][150] He was officially declared dead there at 5:05 pm IST on 16 August 2018 at the age of 93.[7] However some sources claim that he had died on the previous day.[151][152] On the morning of 17 August, Vajpayee's body draped with the Indian flag was taken to the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters where party workers paid their tributes until 1 pm. Later that afternoon at 4 pm, Vajpayee was cremated with full state honours at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal near Raj Ghat, his pyre was lit by his foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya.[153][154] Thousands of people and many dignitaries attended his funeral procession including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind.[155][156] On 19 August, his ashes were immersed in Ganga river at Haridwar by his daughter Namita.[157][158]

Reactions and tributes on his death

India reacted to Vajpayee's death with grief and thousands of tributes poured in through social media platforms. Thousands of people paid their respects during his funeral procession.[159] A seven-day state mourning was announced by the central government throughout India. The national flag flew half-mast during this period.[160]

  •  Afghanistan: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was among several foreign dignitaries present at former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's funeral in New Delhi. He recalled that the departed leader was "the first to offer us civilian planes, Airbuses at the time we were starting out".[161]
  •  Bangladesh: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed "deep shock" at the demise of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and said it is a day of great sadness for the people of Bangladesh. Paying tribute to Vajpayee, Hasina termed him as "one of the most famous sons of India" and a highly respected person in Bangladesh.[162]
  •  Bhutan: Bhutan king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck attended the funeral ceremony in New Delhi.[163]
  •  China: In a statement, the ministry of foreign affairs said the Indian leader was an "outstanding Indian statesman and had made outstanding contributions to the development of Sino-Indian relations"."China expresses its deep condolences on his death and sincere condolences to the Indian government and people and the relatives of Mr Vajpayee. Premier Li Keqiang has sent a condolence message to the leaders of India," the statement said.[164]
  •  Japan: Remembering Vajpayee's visit to Japan in 2001, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinz? Abe said, "On behalf of the Government and people of Japan, I would like to convey my sincerest condolences to the Government and people of India and the bereaved family. His Excellency Vajpayee visited Japan in 2001 as the then-Prime Minister and made significant contributions to the friendship between our two countries as a good friend of Japan. It is him who established the cornerstone of Japan-India relations today". Terming Vajpayee as an eminent leader of India, Abe added, "I pray from the bottom of my heart that his soul may rest in peace".[165]
  •  Mauritius: On 17 August, the government of Mauritius announced that both Mauritian and Indian flags would fly at half mast in the honour of Vajpayee.[166][167] During the World Hindi Conference in Mauritius, PM Pravind Jugnauth announced that the cyber tower towards which Vajpayee contributed to be set up in Mauritius would be henceforth named as Atal Bihari Vajpayee tower.[168]
  •  Pakistan: Pakistan's interim Minister for Law and Information Syed Ali Zafar met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and extended Pakistan's condolence on the death of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Zafar was among the foreign dignitaries who attended Vajpayee's funeral in New Delhi.[169] Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf mourned the demise of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, calling him a great man. He said that Vajpayee's demise was a great loss for both India as well as Pakistan.[170]
  •  Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolences to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the demise of Vajpayee. Putin termed the former prime minister as "outstanding statesman". "Atal Bihari Vajpayee rightly commanded great respect around the world. He will be remembered as a politician who made a major personal contribution to the friendly relations and privileged strategic partnership between our countries. The President of Russia conveyed words of sincere sympathy and support to the family of the deceased, the Government and the people of India", the message read.[171]
  •  Sri Lanka: Various Sri Lanka leaders paid rich tribute to the three-time PM, hailing him as a "friend of Sri Lanka". In a tweet President Maithripala Sirisena said: "Today, we have lost a great humanist and a true friend of Sri Lanka. Former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a visionary leader and an ardent defender of democracy. My condolences to his family and millions of his admirers around the world". Leader of Opposition R. Sampanthan said India has lost one of its "most regarded intellectual and statesman". "He served the great country of India with humility and honesty, and he was much loved and respected by millions of people across the world. Former three-time Prime Minister Vajpayee is also an exceptional orator and a leader with a great sense of humour, his speeches within the Indian parliament and outside will always be remembered", he said in a statement, extending his condolences on behalf of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.[172]
  •  United States: U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Vajpayee recognised early on that the US-India partnership would contribute to the world's economic prosperity and security and the two democracies continue to benefit from his vision. "On behalf of the people of the United States of America, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the people of India on the recent passing of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee", Pompeo said in a statement yesterday. He recalled Vajpayee's address to the Congress in 2000, when he had famously characterised US-India ties as a "natural partnership of shared endeavours". "Today, our two countries and our bilateral relationship continue to benefit from Prime Minister Vajpayee vision, which helped promote expanded cooperation", Pompeo said. He said the American people stand with the people of India "as we mourn Prime Minister Vajpayee's passing".[173]




Vajpayee authored several works of both prose and poetry. Some of his major publications are listed below. In addition to these, various collections were made of his speeches, articles, and slogans.[178][179][178][180]


  • National Integration (1961)[181]
  • New Dimensions of India's Foreign Policy (1979)[178]
  • Gathbandhan Ki Rajneeti[182]
  • Kucha Lekha, Kucha Bhashana (1996)[183]
  • Bindu-Bindu Vicara (1997)[184]
  • Decisive Days (1999)[185]
  • Sankalp-Kaal (1999)[186]
  • Vicara-Bindu (Hindi Edition, 2000)[178]
  • India's Perspectives on ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific Region (2003)[187]
  • Na Dainyam Na Palayanam[188]
  • Nayi Chunouti : Naya Avasar[189]


  • Kaidi Kaviraj Ki Kundalian[178]
  • Amar Aag Hai (1994)[178]
  • Meri Ikyavana Kavitaem (1995).[190] Some of these poems were set to music by Jagjit Singh for his album Samvedna.[191]
  • Kya Khoya Kya Paya: Atal Bihari Vajapeyi, Vyaktitva Aur Kavitaem (1999)[192]
  • Values, Vision & Verses of Vajpayee: India's Man of Destiny (2001)[193]
  • Twenty-One Poems (2003)[194]
  • Chuni Hui Kavitayein (2012)[195]

An English translation of a selection of some of Vajpayee's Hindi poetry was published in 2013.[196]

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