External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York on October 10, 1978.
Nuclear tests in May 1998, a peace-making bus ride to Lahore in February 1999, the Kargil war a couple of months later, a transformative visit to China in June 2003 and a peace deal with Pervez Musharraf in January 2004 stand out in P rime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ’s foreign and security policy calendar.
After the nuclear tests, the United States and China came together to mount unprecedented pressure on India and it took all the guile that Mr. Vajpayee and his advisers possessed to break this nexus and begin a tango with the U.S. that continues to this day.
The ensuing dialogue even led to an American request for India to send its troops to Iraq, a request that was declined after much consideration in July 2003.
With Pakistan, Mr. Vajpayee made two roller-coaster efforts at peace – one with Nawaz Sharif and the second with Pervez Musharraf. He also responded to infiltration in Kargil and ordered a massive mobilisation of Indian troops after the 2001 attack on Parliament House before agreeing to a peace deal with General Musharraf in Islamabad.
After Pakistan downed two Indian MiG aircraft during the Kargil conflict, there was enormous pressure on Mr. Vajpayee to respond in kind, which he resisted, a decision that won him much acclaim abroad. Eventually, the U.S. intervened and Pakistan had to vacate Indian positions in Kargil. The failed Agra summit in 2001 didn’t dampen his efforts for peace. In January 2004, Gen. Musharraf committed to India that he would not allow Pakistani territory to be used by terrorists.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on August 16, 2018 . He was 93.
Vajpayee, the first Prime Minister from BJP, was also the first non-Congress PM to complete full five years.
Vajpayee's political journey began with the RSS. He was arrested for participating in Quit India Movement.
Inspired by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Vajpayee joined Bharatiya Jana Sangh when the party was launched. Jana Sangh went on to become the BJP.
Vajpayee was elected to Lok Sabha from Balrampur for the first time in 1957. He served the Lok Sabha for a record 10 times.
Vajpayee, along with several leaders, were arrested for opposing Emergency in 1976.
The next year, Jana Sangh joined the mega anti-Congress coalition, Janata Party to which Indira Gandhi's Congress lost. Moraji Desai became the first non-Congress Prime Minister and Vajpayee took care of the External Affairs Ministry. Photo shows Vajpayee (2nd Left) with Moraji Desai (3rd Left) in Washington in 1978.
As the External Affairs Minister, Vajpayee made his speech in Hindi, for the first time in the United Nations General Assemby.
When the Janata Party collapsed in 1979, Vajpayee and several former RSS leaders like L.K. Advani, Bhairon Singh Shekawat and Murli Manohar Joshi formed the BJP.
In 1998, BJP headed the National Democratic Alliance government. This time Vajpayee's government lasted for 13-months. The NDA government had to resign after losing a vote of confidence by a single vote.
The 13-month Vajpayee government will be remembered for successfully conducting nuclear tests in Pokhran. Here, Vajpayee is seen in the Pokhran blast site with the then Defence Minister George Fernandes and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam.
Vajpayee's term will also be remembered for the Kargil War. The victory of Kargil war ensured a third-term to NDA with a comfortable majority.
Vajpayee re-started peace process with neighbouring Pakistan. With his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, Vajpayee launched the Delhi-Lahore bus service in 1999. The Lahore Declaration renewed trade relations and friendship between both the nations.
Vajpayee returns after paying homage to those who lost their lives in the Parliament attack. Following the Dec. 13, 2001 parliament attack, Vajpayee-led government introduced the controversial anti-terror law, POTA.
In this September 13, 2003 file photo, The Hindu's former Editor G. Kasturi greets the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on the occasion of the paper's 125th anniversary celebrations in Chennai.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee with President K. R. Narayanan during the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Septmeber 08, 2003.
Vajpayee's third term re-opened Indo-Pak talks by inviting President Pervez Musharraf to Delhi.
When the 2002 Gujarat riots broke out, not only did Vajpayee condemned the violence, but was vocal in criticising the BJP government in Gujarat.
Vajpayee, reciting his poems, at a 'Kavi Sammelan' to mark his 79th birthday in New Delhi on December 25, 2003.
In 2004 general elections, NDA failed to secure majority. Congress-led coalition United Progressive Alliance formed the government under the leadership of Manmohan Singh. Vajpayee refused to be the Leader of Opposition and passed on the reigns to L.K. Advani.
Vajpayee retired from active politics citing health issues in 2005. He did not attend any public events after his retirement.
Vajpayee was never married. He has an adopted daughter Namita. Seen here with Vajpayee is his granddaughter Niharika at his Delhi residence in 2004.
Vajpayee was conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2015.
With China, he put in place the Special Representatives’ mechanism in June 2003 on the border question and bought enough goodwill from the Chinese to make them change their maps from showing Sikkim as an “independent kingdom” to a constituent unit of India. The overall improvement in ties with China has led to major expansion of trade between the two countries – from about $6 billion in 2003 to $84 billion in 2017.
A point of interest is that Manmohan Singh, who succeeded him as Prime Minister, continued India’s engagement with China, Pakistan and the United States. The trajectory of ties with all three was strikingly similar under Dr. Singh. Mr. Vajpayee was widely travelled and enjoyed his contacts with Indians living overseas. As The Hindu ’s diplomatic correspondent, this writer accompanied him on many trips abroad and faced trying moments in reporting his Hindi speeches, which were almost always peppered with elements of ambiguity.
There was always a press conference at the end of his visits abroad – either on board his special aircraft or on the ground. Mr. Vajpayee was easy with the press despite the many crises he faced. Without doubt, his PMO was one where the press enjoyed the most access.