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In 1996 Lok Sabha elections, BJP emerged as the single largest party bagging 161 seats (+41). Congress lost 104 seats compared to its 1991 tally and finished at 140. President Shankar Dayal Sharma appointed Vajpayee as PM and asked him to prove majority. With support of 3 allies (Shiv Sena, Haryana Vikas Party and Akali Dal) Vajpayee fell short of magical figure and resigned before the trust vote in 13 days.
In 1998 Lok Sabha elections, BJP led NDA a constituent of 13 parties bagged 255 seats with 37.5% vote share. BJP emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats (+21). Vajpayee won the crucial confidence vote 274-261 with help from TDP’s 12 MPs who switched sides.
However, nation was forced to have fresh elections in an year when Jayalalitha led AIADMK withdrew its support to the Vajpayee govt. Reasons attributed by Vajpayee were:
Vajpayee didn’t budge to any of these demands. Resultantly, in a vote of confidence, BJP lost the motion by 1 vote 270-271. Mayawati’s BSP which had declared would abstain voted for the motion. DMK tried to save Vajpayee’s government by voting against the motion but it was not enough.
NDA again came back to power in Lok Sabha elections held in 1999 bagging 299 (+44) seats with 40.7% vote share (+3.2%). BJP finished at the same tally of 182 which it got in 1988. Things nationally didn’t change much during one year, only some political re-alignments happened. DMK joined NDA while AIADMK joined Congress led alliance.
1999 Lok Sabha polls saw emergence of Vajpayee, a seasoned politician since the time of Nehru, arrive on center stage. Nehru once quipped Atalji will become PM one day. He emerged as the undisputed leader of BJP ahead of peer Advani. Though it was the first right of center government which lasted full term, Vajpayee was seen as a soft leader compared to the hardliner Advani.
Vajpayee’s image helped in drawing many regional parties into NDA fold. The era also witnessed many non-Congress governments being installed across states in India – Madhya Pradesh (2003), Karnataka (2004), Rajasthan (2003), Goa (1999), Chhattisgarh (2003), Jharkhand and Maharashtra (1999).
The era is also known for bold economic reforms after Manmohan introduced policy of liberalization in early 1990s.
Comparison of GDP growth under various Prime Ministers of India
BJP led NDA lost in 2004 in a surprise result. NDA won 189 seats (-110) and recorded a loss of vote share of 5%. On the other hand UPA won 225 seats (+86), recording an increase in vote share of 2%.
It also was a big loss of face for opinion polls and exit polls which predicted a NDA sweep. According to an opinion poll conducted for NDTV and Indian Express by A C Nielson, NDA was expected to bag around 287 to 307 seats vs 143 to 163 seats for the Congress. Even exit polls which are seen as more reliable gave 230-250 seats to NDA.
Vajpayee won his seat, but retired from active politics in 2009 due to old age and ill health. Politicalbaaba (PB) wishes the longest serving non-Congress PM of India, a poet, a visionary, darling of masses, a very happy birthday and a long life!
Excerpts from proposed book on Congress Party and Indian elections history, co-authored with Subhash Chandra.