Though my earliest memories of India’s Prime Minister goes back to PV Narsimha Rao, the Prime Minister I became fan of later on was Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Still in school in the late 1990s, Atal’s poetry and parliament speeches left the lasting impressions. Whereas for a lot of students, Atal ji was just a General Knowledge question, for me he was someone who I liked a lot among the politicians. When BJP and its alliance became the single largest party in Parliament in the 1996 general election, Indian president Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Atal ji to form the government.

Short lived Prime Ministership of 1996

As a teenage fan boy of Atalji I was happy that he had become the prime minister of the country as he was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India; however, little I knew that this was not going to last for long. A secular politician like him had to face a difficult time gathering support from the regional parties. Since he could not muster a majority among members of the Lok Sabha, had to resign just after twee weeks. Thus, it was the first stint as the PM of India for him that did a great favor for him as during this period in parliament he was able to leave a lasting impression among the people of India that he could lead the country for sure.

When he seized the Moment

After 1996 General Elections, Parliament sat to elect the Prime Minister, since Vajpayee was already invited by the President Shankar Dayal Sharma to form the government, the earlier had already formed a cabinet. However, more than the invitation to form the government it is the gathering of the required MPs that matters in parliamentary government system. Since it was known since the beginning that BJP did not have the required number, it was just a matter of the days when Vajpayee was going to resign.

The summer of 1996 will always be etched in my memories when I was in my summer vacation and saw Atal ji speaking in the parliament. That was also the time when Loksabha had started live telecasting of the proceedings for the people of India, it was a great decision to bring transparency as the temple of democracy and its activities were taking place in the full public view.

Thus Spoke the Statesman!

When everything seemed lost, something that came from Vajpayee made a great impact which later on also contributed in the success of the party as won in the subsequent two parliament elections. As an experienced politician, he knew everything was not lost as he started “Respected Speaker, I have been in Parliament for 40 years… I have seen governments form and fall… But India’s democracy has emerged stronger from all such moments.”

Since pauses were his stronghold and great tool for bringing impact while he spoke, he used them well even on that day in May, 1996 as he spoke, “Today, I have been accused of lusting after power and of doing whatever it takes to be in power… But, I have been in power before and I have never done anything immoral for power. If breaking up political parities is the only way to form a coalition that stays in power, then I do not want to touch such a coalition with a barge pole.”

Then came the famous words from Atal ji, “Adhyaksh mahoday, mein apna tyag patra rashtrapati ko dene jaa raha hun.” The whole nation saw all BJP parliament members thumping the treasury benches, rendering the scheduled trust vote unnecessary.

After that day the nation realized Atal was a true statesman and he did not want power for the heck of it. The nation also realized that he would not compromise with the ideology to form the government and in no way he would seek power unless the people of India bestowed it on him. He was also able to convince the citizens that he could wait for so long, he would still wait for few more years to come with a stronger mandate but would not compromise on ethics.

Came with Stronger mandate

After Atal’s resignation in 1996, HD Deve Gowda and then Inder Gujaral became short term prime minister, the regimes were forgettable at the best. The difficult times of coalition government where Congress played spoilsport as it always did. People were fed up and then came the 1998 General elections where Vajpayee came with better numbers than the earlier and formed the government for another 13 months. However, this also could not survive for long as Subramanian Swamy hatched a conspiracy to fell ABV government. However, this was a blessing in disguise as Atal came a winner in the general elections held in the winters of 1999.  

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