Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s roots lay with Hindu nationalist party from which India’s governing organization Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) draws its sociopolitical roots, the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
A 33-year-old Vajpayee was brought to Delhi as the RSS decided to send him to parliament in the 1950s to take on Jawaharlal Nehru’s presiding Congress government. He triumphed in 1957.
Although his arrival at Delhi had an impact on his outlook on life and made him a moderate, he continued to remain a sarcastic opponent of the government. An incident occurred once where he criticized Nehru by saying that Nehru has inverted vision because of too much standing his head during yoga practice.
Indian politics took a dramatic turn in the 1970s.
Indira Gandhi, India’s then prime minister led India in a war against the neighboring country Pakistan in 1971, which ended up with the creation of Bangladesh, formerly a part of East Pakistan. Vajpayee legendarily compared her to the Hindu goddess Durga in parliament.
Four years later in 1975 when Gandhi professed a state of emergency across India, all opposition leaders including Vajpayee were sent to jail as democracy was suspended. Citing his bad health, Vajpayee pleaded with Gandhi about his “deteriorating health” thus was moved from a prison of Bangalore to a hospital in Delhi.
Vajpayee’s opposition coalition Janata Party defeated Gandhi’s Congress party in March 1977, few months after the emergency lasted. After becoming India’s foreign minister, he realized that to get ahead in India rather than venturing to extremes, you need to take the middle path.
Reviving the Fortunes
After the assassination of Gandhi at the hands of her bodyguards in 1984, the Congress party won an epic victory in the general elections. The BJP was shrunken to barely two seats in the parliament.
Vajpayee was no longer a prominent leader or even a politician. He contemplated quitting the BJP as he faded into oblivion.
But then a series of incidents led to an unanticipated turn.
In December 1992, right-wing Hindu mobs ravaged the 16th-century Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya, averring that it was constructed on the site of a temple ravaged by Muslim sovereigns. The riots that followed claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people.
More agitation trailed with a series of bomb-blat in Mumbai wiping out nearly 257 people, ostensibly an act to even the score for killing Muslims in the riots.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a short time served as prime minister twice, before securing a five-year term in 1999.
While his term as prime minister he won many accolades for building a national ring of highways and reducing the role of government in running businesses. In 1999, under his guidance, the Indian armed forces defeated Pakistani troops in the 10-week war in Kargil, a place in Indian-administered Kashmir.
But the riots of 2002 in the western state of Gujarat came as a massive stumbling block.
The riots commenced after Muslims were blamed for the death of 60 Hindu pilgrims in a train fire. The riots were among India’s worst outbursts of turbulence, leaving more than 1,000 people, largely Muslims, dead.
India’s current prime minister and then the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi was alleged for turning a blind eye when Hindu masses went on a riot of retaliation.
Vajpayee’s name was blackened. His attempt to sack Modi failed as the hardnosed elements in the organization precluded him from doing so.