A DD News report said former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died on Thursday at the age of 93 and quickly retracted the report and apologised for the error blaming it on a rumour. Vajpayee has been in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for more than a fortnight for a routine check-up. Vajpayee was the 10th prime minister of the country and the oldest surviving one. Vajpayee was elected to the Lok Sabha 10 times and twice to the Upper House. He was last the MP from Lucknow in 2009. On December 25, 2014, he was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. His birthday, December 25, has been declared Good Governance Day after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014. Apart from his political acumen, Vajpayee is known for his poetry. He first became PM in 1996 but the government lasted only 13 days as the BJP failed to prove majority in the Lok Sabha. He again became the Prime Minister in 1998 for 13 months when the AIADMK withdrew support and then after the 1999 elections, Vajpayee held the post till 2004. Vajpayee had retired from active politics in 2009 as his health deteriorated due to age-related ailments.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee death rumours on social media creating confusion in the country

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 in Gwalior. And unlike his close associate LK Advani, he remained PM in his late 70s. Advani, however, graces the margdarshak mandal with the other eminence Murli Manohar Joshi. The poet-PM or PM-poet was renowned for pausing in his speeches unlike the rat-a-tat delivery of most political speakers. Credited as the first non-Congress Prime Minister to serve a full-term and the first Indian to speak Hindi in the United Nations as foreign minister in the late 1970s and several other firsts, the easy-to-smile Vajpayee, unlike the other more serious and gaunt-looking leaders across the political spectrum, has come to occupy a Reaganesque place in Indian polity. One for the sudden prosperity that came to fruit some 7 years after the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 by the PV Narasimha Rao government. Two, for his ability to engage with the people, pause or no pause, in a direct relationship without talking down at them.

Years spent on Opposition benches moulded a moderate Parliamentarian for the BJP to turn to after the flash-and-burn of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement when power was within delicious reach after the fatigue of the United Front governments of Deve Gowda and IK Gujral in the post-Rajiv Gandhi years. Once picked by Jawaharlal Nehru as one of India’s future leaders, Vajpayee also saw Durga in Nehru’s daughter after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 that led to the birth of Bangladesh. But that didn’t help when the Emergency knocked on his door. Vajpayee was a highlight and a survivor of the Janata government. He survived the sympathy wave that swept India after the Indira Gandhi assassination of 1984.

In the BJP’s rise to ascendancy, the soft Vajpayee played the good cop to Advani’s Hindutva bad cop. Notably stitching together the anti-Rajiv coalition that saw VP Singh becoming prime minister in 1989 and introduce the Mandal commission report. Singh’s government fell by stopping the very rath that Advani rode, cleaving new lines of polarisation some 40 years after Partition, in Bihar; hailing a new OBC messiah now out on bail.

During his 6-year tenure when he helmed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, Vajpayee went forward with the nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998 that saw India being punished with sanctions. The highlights of his tenure also include the bus ride to Lahore with an entourage of journalists in an attempt to thaw the icy relations worsened by the standoff at Siachen. Though the attempts to forge peace at Lahore fell to the Kargil misadventure of Pakistan which was resolved in a bloody conflict, Vajpayee was a bold decision taker.

“You can change friends but not neighbours,” is a quote of his that Google throws up on a simple search of the word Vajpayee. But history may have a different take on the veteran leader for his inability to act against the Gujarat government for the anti-Muslim pogroms of 2002. Vajpayee had seen many epochal moments of modern Indian history right from Indian Independence. To put it in perspective, Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning UK monarch, is younger than him at 92.