Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in Gwalior on 25 December 1924, to Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, a school teacher. He had his early education in Gwalior, and graduated from the Victoria College in the same city. He completed his post-graduation in political science from the DAV College in Kanpur.

An activist from an early age, Vajpayee became a part of the youth wing of the Arya Samaj, and later came to be associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). His association with the journals run by one of the founders of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Deendayal Upadhyaya, enabled him to hone his talents as a writer. Both the leaders were later deputed by the RSS to the fledgling Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Vajpayee was influenced by another senior leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, after whose demise he took over as the President of the BJS.

Vajpayee was one of the opposition leaders who was arrested by the Indira Gandhi government after Emergency was declared in 1975. After Emergency was lifted and Indira Gandhi was voted out of power, a hotch-potch coalition calling itself the Janata Party took over the government, with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister (PM). Vajpayee became the External Affairs minister and created history delivering an address at the United Nations General Assembly, in chaste Hindi. The government however was shortlived. This set the stage for the formation of a new political outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which replaced the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, and was registered in 1980, with Vajpayee taking over as its first President. The BJP managed to win just two seats in the 1984 polls to the Lok Sabha, but since then, its rise has been meteoric.

Vajpayee’s first stint as PM lasted just 13 days after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which had emerged as the largest coalition party in Parliament, failed to prove its majority in the house. A powerful orator, Vajpayee`s address after submitting the resignation of his government in May 1996 still resounds in the corridors of the Lower House. The NDA was again voted to power in 1998, and this time Vajpayee’s tenure as PM lasted 13 months. It was during this time that India joined the nuclear club when it carried out the Pokhran tests.

Vajpayee once again assumed office as the PM after the NDA won a decisive mandate, winning as many as 303 seats in the 543-member house in the 1999 polls. Several epochal events took place in the country during the five years from 1999-2004 that Vajpayee was PM. A firm votary of peace with Pakistan, Vajpayee was always ready to walk the extra mile. He travelled by bus to Lahore in Pakistan to meet the Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif. Even after the Kargil war, he was willing to extend the olive branch to the then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

Two other events of great significance were the attack on the Indian Parliament by terrorists which was foiled, and the Gujarat riots, which erupted in 2002 as an aftermath of the Godhra train incident, where two bogies of a train carrying ‘kar sevaks’ from Ayodhya were set on fire.

The ten time Lok Sabha MP and two time Rajya Sabha MP, dogged with ill-health, hung up his boots in 2009, and did not contest elections thereafter. The NDA lost in 2004, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) ruled for two successive terms with Dr. Manmohan Singh of the Indian National Congress as PM. Hailed as the ‘Bhishma Pitamah’ of Indian politics by Dr. Manmohan Singh, Vajpayee finally succumbed to the various age related ailments on 16 August 2018.

Vajpayee was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1992, and the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2015. He was not only a gifted orator, but was also an accomplished poet and writer, with several anthologies and books to his credit. The present Narendra Modi government announced that Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday on 25 December would be observed as ‘Good Governance Day’.

C.V. Aravind