The hospital was flooded with politicians cutting across party lines.
Then, a few years later, it was Mr Vajpayee who made the first moves toward peace. He was battling age-related issues for more than two months before passing away this evening. Assocham President Sandeep Jajodia said Vajpayee's towering personality, vision for nation building and deep respect for democratic institutions would remain an inspiration for the present and coming generations. "My thoughts are with his family, BJP Karyakartas and millions of admirers in this hour of sadness", Modi tweeted.
Despite the lingering tensions between the neighbours, Imran Khan, due to take the oath as Pakistan's next prime minister on Saturday, hailed Vajpayee as "a towering figure" in a statement posted on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party's official Twitter page. A pall of gloom spread as the end appeared imminent after Vajpayee's condition began to slip on Wednesday.
A bachelor throughout his life, he was survived by an adopted daughter. Earlier, under Vajpayee in 1998, finance minister Yashwant Sinha said in his 1998-99 budget that the government meant to hold only 26% in non-strategic public sector undertakings (PSUs) while keeping the majority stake in strategic PSUs.
A Hindu nationalist, he helped found the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, but was considered a moderate compared with other more hard-line BJP leaders.
In a circular, the Home Ministry said the national flag would fly at half-mast from today for seven days across India and a state funeral would be accorded to Vajpayee.
Vajpayee, along with his brother Prem, was part of the Quit India movement in August 1942 during the Indian independence struggle. As a teenager, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu paramilitary group that was later briefly banned for alleged involvement in Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, but remains powerful in Indian politics today. He would go on to hold that role for nine terms.
He was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2014.
The Kargil incursion by Pakistani army regulars just weeks later put paid to that effort as did an attack on India's Parliament in December 2001 that saw India mobilise its troops on the border with Pakistan.
Despite India's contentious seven-decade relationship with Pakistan, Vajpayee is credited with being the only Indian leader to make significant progress in peace talks with the country's nuclear-armed neighbor. The tests confirmed India as a nuclear power. Economic sanctions imposed after the country's first atomic test were finally lifted in 2000 when Bill Clinton visited the country, the first US President to do so in 22 years.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also condoled the death of Vajpayee and said his passing away is a big loss to the country.
More than 15 years after the speech was given, however, the country continues to be plagued by numerous same problems. Seven-day state mourning has been announced.