New Delhi : Fifteen years after he addressed the nation one last time from the ramparts of Red Fort, he bade the world a painful goodbye. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, one of the most charismatic leaders, is no more. The former prime minister breathed his last on Thursday after a prolonged illness at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS). He was 93.
Vajpayee, India's 10th Prime Minister, was admitted to the hospital on June 11 after complaints of Urinary Tract Infection, low urine output and chest congestion.
Born on December 25, 1924, in Uttar Pradesh's Gwalior, Vajpayee was an Indian politician who served as the Prime Minister of India between 1996 and 2004 in three non-consecutive terms.
He was a member of Parliament for over four decades, and was among the founding members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh which he also headed from 1968 to 1972. When the Janata government collapsed, he restructured the Jana Sangh into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980 and became the party's first president. Vajpayee was also the first ever person from the BJP to have become the Prime Minister. In fact, several years before he became India's Prime Minister, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had once commented that Vajpayee will one day become Prime Minister.
India under the governance of Vajpayee had witnessed major historic events like in May 1998, India conducted underground nuclear tests in Rajasthan's Pokhran desert. The tests were held just a month after the government had been in power. The victory of three-month-long Kargil War bolstered the image of Vajpayee and he was hailed across the country for his bold and strong leadership.
A vocal politician on the issue of Kashmir, Vajpayee made sincere efforts to normalise relations between India and Pakistan. He travelled to Pakistan on Delhi-Lahore Bus Service in its inaugural run on February 19, 1999 to attend the Lahore Summit. Vajpayee was received at Wagah by then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, the warmth and bonhomie of this was shortlived as just three months later in May, the Pakistani Army led by its then chief Pervez Musharraf, orchestrated an attack on India in Kargil sector without the knowledge of Sharif to sabotage India-Pakistan relations. In 2016, Sharif conceded that intrusion in Kargil by Pakistan was an act of 'backstabbing' Vajpayee who had extended hand for friendship.
Later, at the Agra Summit with Musharraf in 2001, Vajpayee stood firm on his position and refused to make compromises to save relations on the issue of Kashmir. His tough stand eventually saw Musharraf going back empty handed as the talks had failed.
Vajpayee was conferred the nation's highest civilian honour -- Bharat Ratna -- by the President of India in 2014. Incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi government in 2014 declared Vajpayee's birthday, 25 December, as 'Good Governance Day'.
In his personal life, Vajpayee was a versatile poet and a writer. He was fond of food, Indian music, dance and loved nature. One of his favourite retreats was Manali in Himachal Pradesh. About this, Vajpayee said: "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 dispirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory."