Three-time prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday, did not have an easy road to the high office. He copped his share of disappointments in his early electoral career at the Lok Sabha level and even a setback in the middle. While he established himself as a consummate contender with a lasting power, the parties he represented took longer to reach that stage.

Vajpayee first fought a national election on a Bharatiya Jana Sangh ticket in India’s second Parliamentary election of 1957. He contested from two seats in Uttar Pradesh: Mathura and Balrampur. While Vajpayee was able to secure just 10% of the popular vote in Mathura, he won 52% of the votes in Balrampur, thus entering the Lok Sabha for the very first time. However, in the next election, in 1962, Vajpayee contested on a Jan Sangh ticket. He not only lost his Balrampur seat, he also finished second in Lucknow, the other seat he contested from.

That loss marked a turnaround of sorts. He never lost in the next four Lok Sabha elections, a period that spanned from 1967 to 1980, with the Emergency in the middle. In terms of a stable seat, he was still finding his way. Two of his victories in this period came from New Delhi, one from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and the one from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh.

Also read: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s last photograph

The Lok Sabha election of 1984 was a blip. Conducted in the wake of the assassination of Congress leader Indira Gandhi, the opposition was decimated. And Vajpayee secured just 29% of the votes in Gwalior. That was not only the last time he lost in a Lok Sabha election. That was also the last time he changed a seat. In the next five elections, he stood from Lucknow and won them all.

Till 1977, when the motley Bharatiya Lok Dal challenged the Congress in the aftermath of the Emergency, the parties that Vajpayee represented did not contend in a big way. The best showing was in 1967, when the Bharatiya Jan Sangh won 35 of the 249 seats it contested. Through it all, at a time of Congress domination, Vajpayee was one of those leaders who was able to make a mark in the national elections.

Many of those qualities led him to become a three-time Prime Minister with the BJP, though his first two tenures as PM were short-lived. His first term lasted a mere 13 days. His second 535 days, as his government was subject to the machinations of coalition politics in the Lok Sabha. Eventually, he did serve a full term, the first non-Congress Prime Minister to do so.

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