Vajpayee, Atal Bihari

views updated Jun 11 2018

Vajpayee, Atal Bihari 1924


Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is renowned for his political, literary, and professional achievements both in India and internationally. His major noteworthy accomplishments, prior to more than four decades of political participation and dynamic leadership, include his education at Victoria College (now Laxmibai) in Gwalior and DAV College in Uttar Pradesh, editing of several Indian periodicals, and composition of a variety of literary works. Vajpayee holds a Master of Arts degree in political science. He served as editor of the monthly Rashtra-Dharma, the weekly Panchajanya, and the daily Swadesh and Veer Arjun periodicals. His own major publications, including Lok Sabha Mein Atalji, Mrityu Ya Hatya, Amar Balidan, Kaidi Kavirai Ki Kundalian, New Dimensions of Indias Foreign Policy, Jana Sangh Aur Musalman, Three Decades in Parliament, Amar Aag Hai, Meri Ekyavan Kavitayen, and Four Decades in Parliament, range from books to collections of poems and compilations of speeches.

Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior, in what is now Madhya Pradesh, India. In the early 1940s he first became interested in the Indian independence movement. His first party affiliation was as a member of the Quit India Movement, which was lobbying for the end of British control of India. A devout Hindu, in 1951 he was a founding member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) Parliamentary Party, and because of his dynamic pro-Hindu, right-wing political leadership, he led the party for over two decades, from 1957 to 1977. He was briefly imprisoned during the Indian Emergency of 1975 to 1977 because of opposing Prime Minister Indira Gandhis state of emergency. After the BJS was merged into the Janata Party, Vajpayee was elected minister of external affairs. In 1980 he was elected president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), another Hindu fundamentalist party, a post he held until 1986. He then rose to become the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which from 1998 through 2004 was the ruling coalition of India, and from this position he was named prime minister. In addition to championing the cause of Hindu nationalism, Vajpayee has also actively worked on behalf of women and childrens welfare, and the elevation of lower caste and tribal people. His advocacy in these areas might seem paradoxical and contradictory if only seen within his attachment to the BJP, but one should consider that, more than anything else, Vajpayee was a popular intellectual leader seeking to expand his political power. So his advocacy for social justice can be viewed in part within his larger effort to advance both his political power and the BJPs influence. His advocacy in these areas might seem paradoxical and contradictory if only seen within his attachment to BJP, but one should consider that, more than anything else, Vajpayee was a popular intellectual leader seeking to expand his political power. Undermining 50 percent of the Indian population would have jeopardized both his power and BJPs rising influence. This paradox can also be seen in the case of Indira Gandhi, who was a well known left winger female leader, but with much less practical sympathy for womens welfare and social justice.

In addition to serving twice as prime minister of India, Vajpayee is the only person to have been elected nine times to the Lok Sabha, or Indian House of the People. He was first elected to the second Lok Sabha in 1957, and most recently to the thirteenth Lok Sabha in 1999. Twice he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, or House of the States. He was the only leader besides Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to be elected prime minister by three consecutive terms in office (in 1996, 1998, and 1999). During his tenure as prime minister, he successfully managed the political fragmentation that has typically plagued the Indian government. Under his leadership, in spite of an economic recession, India logged impressive growth in various economic indicators, including foreign exchange reserves, agricultural production, and gross domestic product.

Vajpayee has participated in numerous parliamentary committees, social and cultural associations, and Indian delegations to the European Parliament, the UN General Assembly, Human Rights Commissions, and other international conferences.

In December 2005, Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed a decision to entrust the future of Indian politics to other capable leaders, formally announcing his retirement from electoral politics.

SEE ALSO Affirmative Action; Caste; Fundamentalism; Hinduism; Janata Party; Nehru, Jawaharlal; Right Wing


Raghavan, G. N. S., ed. 1997. New Era in the Indian Polity, A Study of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the BJP. New Delhi, India: Gyan Publishing House.

Sharma, Chandrika Prasad. 1998. Poet Politician: Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Biography. New Delhi, India: Kitab Ghar Prakashan.

Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. 2000. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Selected Speeches. 2 vols. New Dehli, India: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. 2005. Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet and Ex Prime Minister. New Delhi, India: Pentagon Press.

Jalil Roshandel

Vajpayee, Atal Bihari

views updated Jun 27 2018


VAJPAYEE, ATAL BIHARI (1924–), prime minister of India (1996–1998 and 1998–2004). A. B. Vajpayee was India's prime minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party–led coalition government of the National Democratic Alliance from March 1998 to April 1999. It fell in a vote of no-confidence in 1999 when the Dravida Munnetra Kazahgam (DMK) party refused to vote with its coalition partners. Vajpayee led the alliance to victory again in the general elections that followed in October 1999. He became prime minister when this coalition formed a government from October 1999 to May 2004. Vajpayee's coalition government lost the 2004 general elections to a Congress Party–led coalition government led by Sonia Gandhi, president of the party.

Vajpayee was born on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior, in what was then British India's Central provinces, now Madhya Pradesh. He attended college in Gwalior and Kanpur, and has a master's degree in political science. He first entered politics during the independence struggle as a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the extremist Hindu nationalist wing of the Hindu Mahasabha. He was a founding member of the Hindu right-wing Jana Sangh Party in 1951, a reconstituted version of the Hindu Mahasabha, which was banned from politics after one its members, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Vajpayee was a member of India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, and briefly of its upper house, the Rajya Sabha, since 1957. He was elected to Parliament at various times from constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.

Vajpayee became leader of the revamped Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and a coalition member of the Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai. This newly constituted alliance of parties under the banner of the Janata Party had ousted Indira Gandhi's Congress Party government in a national election following her twenty-two-month "National Emergency" rule that suspended the democratic process in India from June 1975 to March 1977. Vajpayee had been jailed by the Indira Gandhi government during the Emergency. After the defeat of the Congress Party, he became external affairs minister in the Janata Party government of Prime Minister Desai.

Following the victory of the BJP-led coalition over the Congress Party in March 1998, newly appointed prime minister Vajpayee immediately gave the go-ahead for a series of nuclear tests in early May 1998. Pakistan countered promptly with nuclear tests of its own. BJP rule also ushered in a wave of Hindu nationalism, pushed by more extreme Hindu parties, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the Shiv Sena. There were attempts to redefine India as a Hindu state called "Hindutva," against the opposition of the more secular parties, groups, and leaders in India. However, Vajpayee appeared as the moderate face of Hindu nationalism, insisting that India remain a secular state.

Vajpayee's tenure as prime minister is best known for his efforts to bring about reconciliation with Pakistan through what came to be called "bus diplomacy." In February 1999 he took a well-publicized bus trip from Amritsar in Indian Punjab to Lahore in Pakistani Punjab and was greeted warmly by Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This gesture of Indian goodwill and reconciliation fell apart two months later, when Pakistan launched an attack on Kargil in Indian Kashmir. The peace initiative by Prime Minister Vajpayee collapsed. Relations appeared to suffer a further setback when the perceived mastermind of the Pakistani attack on Kargil, General Pervez Musharraf, overthrew Sharif's civilian government and imposed military rule. In early 2004, Vajpayee made further conciliatory gestures toward Pakistan, declaring that he would like to see peace between India and Pakistan during his lifetime.

Economic growth at averages of 6 to 8 percent of the gross national product continued under Vajpayee's BJP-led coalition government, drawing further on the reforms introduced in 1991 by Congress Party minister of finance, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Even during the global economic recession of 1998–1999, India's growth continued at 5.8 percent. However, the defeat of Vajpayee's government by the Congress Party is attributed largely to its excessive commitment to high-tech development in India and the welfare of the rising Indian middle class, and the neglect of the masses of India's rural poor.

Raju G. C. Thomas

See alsoBharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ; Hindutva and Politics


Bakshi, S. R. Atal Behari Vajpayee. New Delhi: Deep and Deep, 2002.

Raghavan, G. N. S. New Era in the Indian Polity: A Study ofAtal Behari Vajpayee and the BJP. New Delhi: Gyam Publishing House, 1996.

Sondhi, M. L. Vajpayee's Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications, 1999.

Thakur, C. P., and Devendra P. Sharma. India under AtalBehari Vajpayee. New Delhi: UBS Publishing Company, 1999.