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Poorer in nine days

(From above) Vajpayee with former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi who died on August 7; Vajpayee with literature Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul who passed away on August 11; Vajpayee with former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee who breathed his last on August 13

Hot seat: BJP the single-largest party in the May 1996 polls and Vajpayee becomes Prime Minister. Quits after 13 days, unable to stitch together a majority

PM again: Image as a moderate helps Vajpayee form a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which wins the March 1998 election. He is PM again

Big bang: In May 1998, India conducts five nuclear tests, stunning the world and bringing sanctions. Two weeks later, Pakistan responds with six tests

Peace push: Visits Pakistan in February 1999 in a diplomatic offensive for peace, inaugurates Delhi-Lahore bus service

Kargil: Government loses trust motion by one vote in May 1999. As “caretaker” PM, Vajpayee faces his greatest crisis as terrorists and Pakistani soldiers in mufti capture Indian peaks in Kashmir’s Kargil sector. But India wins both the diplomatic and military wars, throwing out the intruders

Third-time PM: NDA wins September 1999 polls and Vajpayee stays PM till May 2004, heading the only non-Congress government to last five years

To market: Core Hindutva issues take a back seat as the economy is aggressively liberalised and growth rates gain pace. Launches an ambitious road scheme and the reasonably successful Sarva Shiksha (Education for All) Abhiyan

Policy shift: Delhi starts moving away from its non-alignment policy. Ties with Washington deepen and India opens up to Israel for the first time

Agra flop: Ice broken with Pakistan with invite to its military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, for talks in Agra in July 2001. The talks fail, for which home minister L.K. Advani is widely blamed

Terror torment: An Indian plane is hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1999 and the government buckles, freeing three Pakistani militants from jail. Gunmen attack Parliament in December 2001, almost causing a war with Pakistan. Government passes the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act amid vigorous opposition and fears of rights abuse

Asleep? His poor health — wobbly knees, single kidney and problems with his bladder — compounded with his style —  long silences and sometimes rambling speech — prompts Time magazine to carry an article titled “Asleep at the Wheel?” Writer Alex Perry — unfairly in the opinion of many — asks if it’s too dangerous to leave a nuclear arsenal in Vajpayee’s hands

Rival: Home minister and deputy PM Advani is spoken of as a rival, a hardline Loh Purush (Iron Man) to Vajpayee’s Vikas Purush (Development Man). Vajpayee, adept at puzzling and frightening the party by clever wordplay, holds his own

Big blot: Mobs massacre hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat in February-March 2002, allegedly with the connivance of the state’s BJP government. President K.R. Narayanan apparently writes to Vajpayee censuring his government for failing to protect the victims. In Goa, Vajpayee aims a barb at Muslims

Shine lost: Buoyed by the “feel-good factor” of high growth rates, BJP persuades Vajpayee to call early polls in May 2004. Rural voters strike back at the NDA’s overconfident “India Shining” campaign and a Congress-led coalition comes to power

Gracious in defeat: Vajpayee attends swearing-in despite BJP decision to boycott it. Gives up position of leader of the Opposition to Advani. In 2009, it becomes clear Vajpayee has retired from active politics

Parting shot: Describes loyalist Pramod Mahajan as a “Lakshman” to Advani’s “Ram” in a typically enigmatic statement that leaves a flummoxed party looking for hidden meanings

Thousand moons: In January 2006, Vajpayee is said to have “witnessed” his 1,000th full moon, achieving, in the BJP’s words, a “Sahasra Chandra Darshan”

His last bow: In March 2015, Vajpayee received the Bharat Ratna at his home. The award was conferred on him personally by then President Pranab Mukherjee. The announcement for a Bharat Ratna for Vajpayee came on December 24, 2014, a day before the former PM turned 90. 

Opinion

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