After the fall of the two United Front governments between 1996 and 1998, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and fresh elections were held. The 1998 general elections again put the BJP ahead of others. This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties joined the BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister. The NDA proved its majority in the parliament. The government lasted 13 months until mid-1999 when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) under Jayalalithaa withdrew its support to the government. The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a single vote on 17 April 1999.
BJP had only two parliamentary seats in the 1984 elections. During this period, Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained at the center-stage as party President and Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament. The BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which was led by activists of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the RSS, and which sought to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama in Ayodhya. Victory in the assembly elections in Gujarat and Maharashtra in March 1995, and a good performance in the elections to the Karnataka assembly in December 1994, propelled the BJP to greater political prominence. During a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995, BJP President L. K. Advani declared that Vajpayee would become the Prime Minister of India. The BJP won in the May 1996 parliamentary elections. Vajpayee served as the Prime Minister of India between 1996 and 2004 in three non-consecutive terms.
In 1951, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was seconded by the RSS, along with Deendayal Upadhyaya, to work for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh a political party associated with the RSS. He was appointed as a national secretary of the party in charge of the Northern region, based in Delhi. He soon became a follower and aide of party leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mookerjee when he went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir to protest against perceived inferior treatment of non-Kashmiri Indian visitors to the state. Mookerjee died in prison during this strike. In 1957, Vajpayee lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India, but was elected from Balrampur. There, his oratorical skills so impressed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that he predicted that Vajpayee would someday become India’s Prime Minister.
In June 1991, India’s Prime Minister at the time, P. V. Narasimha Rao, chose Manmohan Singh to be his Finance Minister. Manmohan Singh in one of the interview said “On the day (Rao) was formulating his cabinet, he sent his Principal Secretary to me saying, ‘The PM would like you to become the Minister of Finance’. I didn’t take it seriously. He eventually tracked me down the next morning, rather angry, and demanded that I get dressed up and come to Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing in. So that’s how I started in politics”.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s gave an interview to media and described this as “At (Cambridge) university I first became conscious of the creative role of politics in shaping human affairs, and I owe that mostly to my teachers Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor. Joan Robinson was a brilliant teacher, but she also sought to awaken the inner conscience of her students in a manner that very few others were able to achieve. She questioned me a great deal and made me think the unthinkable. She propounded the left wing interpretation of Keynes, maintaining that the state has to play more of a role if you really want to combine development with social equity. Kaldor influenced me even more; I found him pragmatic, scintillating, stimulating. Joan Robinson was a great admirer of what was going on in China, but Kaldor used the Keynesian analysis to demonstrate that capitalism could be made to work.”
Dr Manmohan Singh was born to Gurmukh Singh and Amrit Kaur on 26 September 1932, in Gah, Punjab, British India, into a Sikh family. He lost his mother when he was very young and was raised by his paternal grandmother, to whom he was very close. After the Partition of India, his family migrated to Amritsar, India, where he studied at Hindu College. He attended Panjab University, then in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, studying Economics and got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1952 and 1954, respectively, standing first throughout his academic career. He completed his Economics Tripos at University of Cambridge as he was a member of St John’s College in 1957.
In 1991, as India faced a severe economic crisis, newly elected Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao surprisingly inducted the apolitical Singh into his cabinet as Finance Minister. Over the next few years, despite strong opposition, he as a Finance Minister carried out several structural reforms that liberalised India’s economy. Although these measures proved successful in averting the crisis, and enhanced Singh’s reputation globally as a leading reform-minded economist, the incumbent Congress party fared poorly in the 1996 general election. Subsequently, Singh served as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament of India) during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of 1998–2004.
Although Lal Bahadur Shastri had been a cabinet minister for many years in the 1950s, he was poor when he died. All he owned at the end was an old car, which he had bought in installments from the government and for which he still owed money. He was a member of Servants of India society which asked all its members to shun accumulation of private property and remain in public life as servants of people. He was the first railway minister who resigned from office following a major train accident as he felt moral responsibility.
During the Quit India Movement, his daughter was ill and he was released on parole from jail. However, he could not save her life because doctors had prescribed costly drugs. Later on in 1963, on the day when he was dropped from the cabinet, he was sitting in his home in the dark, without a light. When asked about the reason, he said as he no longer is a minister, all expenses will have to be paid by himself and that as a MP and minister he didn’t earn enough to save for time of need.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Shastri visited many countries. Incidentally while returning from the Non Alliance Conference in Cairo on the invitation of then President of the Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan to have lunch with him, Shastri made a stop over at Karachi Airport for few hours and breaking from the protocol Ayub Khan personally received him at the Airport and had an informal meeting during October 1964. After the declaration of ceasefire with Pakistan in 1965, Shastri and Ayub Khan attended a summit in Tashkent (former USSR, now in modern Uzbekistan), organized by Alexei Kosygin. On 10 January 1966, Shastri and Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Declaration. Shastri died in Tashkent, at 02:00 on the day after signing the Tashkent Declaration, reportedly due to a heart attack, but people allege conspiracy behind the death. He was the first Prime Minister of India to die overseas. Shastri’s sudden death immediately after signing the Tashkent Pact with Pakistan raised many questions in the minds of Indian citizens. The Prime Minister of India going to Tashkent for a pact and never coming back has not been accepted easily by Indian citizens. His health was fit according to his doctor, R. N. Chugh, and he had no sign of heart trouble before. Shastri’s sudden death has led to persistent conspiracy theories that he was poisoned. It was maintained that Shastri had died of cardiac arrest but his family insisted he was poisoned. After Shastri’s death, his wife Lalita Shastri had alleged he was poisoned. His son, Sunil Shastri, asked the government to unravel the mystery behind Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death. Raising doubts about the dark blue spots and cut marks on the abdomen of his father’s body after his death in 1966, Sunil asked how the cut marks appeared if a post-mortem had not been conducted. When Shastri went to the USSR for the Tashkent talks, he wanted a promise from Ayub Khan that Pakistan would never use force in the future. But the talks did not proceed and followed Shastri’s death on the next day. Later, Gregory Douglas, a journalist who interviewed former CIA operative Robert Crowley over a period of 4 years, recorded their telephone conversations and published a transcription in a book titled Conversations with the Crow. In the book, Crowley claimed that the CIA was responsible for eliminating Homi Bhabha, an Indian nuclear scientist whose plane crashed into Alps, when he was going to attend a conference in Vienna; and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Crowley said that the USA was wary of India’s rigid stand on nuclear policy and of then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who wanted to go ahead with nuclear tests. He also said that the agency was worried about collective domination by India and Russia over the region, for which a strong deterrent was required.