Atal Bihari Vajpayee

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee
अटल बिहारी वाजपायी
Atal Bihari Vajpayee

13th and 16th Prime Minister of India
Preceded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Succeeded by Manmohan Singh

Second Term
In office
March 19, 1998 – April 26, 1999
Preceded by I.K. Gujral
Succeeded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee

First Term
In office
May 16, 1996 – June 1, 1996
Preceded by P.V. Narasimha Rao
Succeeded by H.D. Deve Gowda

Born December 25 1924(1924-12-25)
Gwalior, Gwalior State, British India
Died August 16 2018 (aged 93)
New Delhi, India
Political party Bharatiya Janata Party
Spouse Single; Never married
Alma mater DAV College Kanpur
Occupation Politician; Poet
Religion Hindu

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (December 25, 1924 - August 16, 2018) was the Prime Minister of India, briefly in 1996, and from March 19, 1998 until May 22, 2004. He first served in the cabinet as Minister for External Affairs under Prime Ministership Moraji Desai in 1977-1979 when his party was a partner in the coalition government. Vajpayee served as a member of the Parliament of India for almost 50 years, winning nine elections. He retired from active politics in December 2005, but continued to comment on and participate in national debates of policy, welfare, and defense until he suffered a stroke in 2009.

Vajpayee was also a poet, writing in his native language, Hindi. His vision of India was that of an ancient civilization with a proud cultural legacy that was also constantly developing. In office, he continued to open up the economy, a move initiated by his predecessor, P.V. Narasimha Rao (PM 1991 to 1996). He was opposed to the centrally controlled economy that had been favored by earlier Congress governments. Vajpayee attempted to improve relations between India and Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir and as Foreign Minister visited China in 1979, normalizing relations. His administration was criticized by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the BJP's ideological mentor) as were other polices that were perceived as failing to promote the Hindutva agenda, that is, Hinduism's dominant role in society and as the conscience of the nation. To some degree, this helped to counter criticism that the RSS's influence on the BJP represented a threat to democracy in India.

On the one hand, during his administration, community relations in India deteriorated, especially during 2002, the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the Ayodhia Mosque. On the other hand, Vajpayee himself, who championed equal rights for all regardless of gender, class, or religion called for moderation. Vajpayee's humble origins (although he belonged to the Brahmin class) have been championed as a testimony to the integrity and success of Indian democracy.

Early life

Vajpayee was born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, to Shri Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, a school teacher and Smt. Krishna Dev. He attended Laxmi Bai College (then called Victoria College) and DAV College, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and gained a Masters degree in political science. He was jailed by the British in 1942, during the Quit India Movement of 1942-1945, which marked his entry into politics. He worked as a journalist for several newspapers.

Early political career

In 1947, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organization propounding Hindutva, or Hindu Nationalism and considered Right-Wing in Indian politics. Later, he described the RSS as "his soul," emphasizing that the RSS had two aims, that of promoting its view of Hinduism and of assimilating "the non-Hindus, like Muslims and Christians, in the mainstream."

"They can follow the faith of their own conviction," he continued, "but they must have a feeling of patriotism for this country."[1] He became a close follower and aide to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the leader of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). Vajpayee was at Mookerjee's side when he went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir in 1953, to protest the identity card requirement and what he claimed was the "inferior" treatment of Indian citizens visiting Kashmir, and the special treatment accorded to Kashmir because it had a Muslim majority. Mookerjee's fast and protest ended the identity card requirement, and hastened the integration of Kashmir into the Indian Union. But Mookherjee died after weeks of weakness, illness, and confinement in jail. These events were a watershed moment for the young Vajpayee. Taking the baton from Mookerjee, Vajpayee won his first election to parliament in 1957, after a failed attempt in 1950.

The Janata phase

While the Bharatiya Jana Sangh had strong constituencies of support, it failed to dislodge the Indian National Congress as the leading party in Indian parliament. Indira Gandhi's vast majorities in 1967 and 1971, further diminished other political parties.

When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a national state of emergency in 1975, the RSS and BJS joined a wide-array of parties in opposing the suspension of elections and civil liberties. Vajpayee was briefly jailed during that period.

When Indira Gandhi called elections in 1977, the BJS joined the Janata coalition, a vast collage of regional groups, socialist, communist, and right-wing forces. Janata swept the polls and formed the next government under Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Vajpayee took office as the Minister for External Affairs.

In a tenure lasting two years, Vajpayee achieved several milestones. He went on a historic visit to People's Republic of China in 1979, normalizing relations with China for the first time since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. He also visited Pakistan and initiated normal dialogue and trade relations that had been frozen since the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and subsequent political instability in both countries. This act was particularly surprising for a man perceived as a hard-right Hindu nationalist. Minister Vajpayee represented the nation at the Conference on Disarmament, where he defended the national nuclear program, the centerpiece of national security in the Cold War world, especially with neighboring China being a nuclear power. (India had become the sixth nuclear power in the world with an underground nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974.) Although he resigned in 1979, when the government politically attacked the RSS, he had established his credentials as an experienced statesman and respected political leader. During this tenure, he also became the first person to deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi (in 1977), the "most unforgettable" moment in his life by his own admission. Over the years, he frequently visited the United Nations, serving during the 1980s and 1990s on the UN's First Committee, which deals with disarmament.

The rise of the BJP

Vajpayee resigned from government with Morarji Desai's resignation as prime minister, and the Janata coalition dissolved soon after. The BJS had devoted political organization to sustain the coalition and was left exhausted by the internecine wars within Janata.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, along with many BJS and RSS colleagues, particularly his long-time and close friends Lal Krishna Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, formed the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980, as the new home of Hindutva, right-wing social and economic ideas and nationalism. Vajpayee became its founding President. The BJP was a strong critic of the Congress government, and while it opposed the Sikh militancy that was rising in the state of Punjab, it also blamed Indira Gandhi for divisive and corrupt politics that fostered the militancy at national expense.

Although supporting Operation Bluestar, the BJP strongly protested the violence against Sikhs in Delhi that broke out in 1984, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Vajpayee was known and commended for protecting Sikhs against Congress-followers seeking to avenge the death of their leader. While the BJP won only two parliamentary seats in the 1984 elections, in which the Congress party led by Rajiv Gandhi (son of Indira Gandhi) won in a historic landslide, the BJP, however, had established itself in the mainstream of Indian politics, and soon began expanding its organization to attract younger Indians throughout the country. During this period Vajpayee remained center-stage as party President and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, but increasingly hard-line Hindu nationalists began to rise within the party and define its politics.

The BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which was led by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS, and was seeking to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at the site of the Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya. Hindu activists believed the site was the birthplace of the Lord, and thus qualified as one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism.

On December 6, 1992, hundreds of VHP and BJP activists broke down an organized protest into a frenzied attack on the mosque. By the end of the day, the mosque had crumbled to pieces. Over the following weeks, waves of violence between Hindus and Muslims erupted in various parts of the country, killing over 1000 people. The VHP organization was banned by the government, and many BJP leaders including Lal Krishna Advani were arrested briefly for provoking the destruction. The BJP was widely condemned by many across the country and the world for playing politics with sensitive issues and endorsing forces of division and destruction.

Prime Minister of India

First Term: 1996

Political energy and expansion made BJP the single-largest political party in the Lok Sabha elected in 1996. Mired down by corruption scandals, the Congress was at a historic low, and a vast medley of regional parties and break-off factions dominated the hung Parliament. Asked to form the government, A.B. Vajpayee was sworn in as prime minister (the second PM from outside the Congress party), but the BJP failed to gather enough support from other parties to form a majority. Vajpayee resigned after just 13 days, when it became clear that he could not garner a majority.

Second Term: 1998-1999

After a third-party coalition governed India between 1996 and 1998, the terribly divided Parliament was dissolved and fresh elections held. These elections again put the BJP at the head. This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties lined up with it to form the National Democratic Alliance, and A.B. Vajpayee was sworn in as the prime minister. The NDA proved its 286 vote majority in a narrow vote of confidence. Towards the end of 1998 however, the AIADMK under J.Jayalalitha withdrew its support from the 13-month old government. The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion by a single vote. Chief Minister of Orissa state voted in the parliament as sitting congress member. As the opposition was unable to come up with the numbers to form the new government, the country returned to elections with Vajpayee remaining the "care-taker prime minister." After the election in 1999, Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the third time. The coalition government that was formed lasted its full term of 5 years—the only non-Congress government to do so.

His premiership began at a decisive phase of national life and history: the Congress Party, dominant for over 40 years, appeared irreparably damaged, and fractious regional parties seemed to threaten the very stability of the nation by continually fracturing government work.

Nuclear bomb testing

In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear weapon tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan. The five tests shocked and surprised the world, especially considering that the government had been in power for only a month. Two weeks later, Pakistan responded with its own nuclear weapon tests, making it the newest nation with nuclear weapons.

While some nations, such as Russia and France, endorsed India's right to defensive nuclear power, others including U.S., Canada, Japan, UK, and the European Union imposed sanctions on the sale of military equipment and high-tech scientific information, resources, and technology to India or Pakistan. In spite of the intense international criticism, steady decline in foreign investment and trade, the nuclear tests were popular domestically and the Vajpayee's popularity and the BJP's prestige rose in response.

During his premiership, Vajpayee introduced many important economic and infrastructural reforms domestically including, encouraging the private sector and foreign investments; reducing governmental waste; encouraging research and development and privatizing of government owned corporations. Vajpayee championed the role of science and technology. His support for nuclear status derived from his conviction that India was a great and ancient civilization that deserved to be a power in the world and that in order to prepare for the next 1000 years of its history, new foundations needed to be laid in addition to those that dated back for at least 5,000 years.

Lahore summit

In late 1998 and early 1999, Vajpayee began a push for a full-scale diplomatic peace process with Pakistan. With the historic inauguration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service in February 1999, Vajpayee initiated a new peace process aimed towards permanently resolving the Kashmir dispute and other territorial/nuclear/strategic conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and the goal of denuclearized South Asia, and mutual friendship. This eased the tension created by the 1998 nuclear tests, not only within the two nations, but also in South Asia and the rest of the world.

The Vajpayee-led government was faced with two crises in mid-1999. The AIADMK party had continually threatened to withdraw support from the coalition and national leaders repeatedly flew down from Delhi to Chennai to pacify the AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha. Finally, in May 1999, the AIADMK did pull the plug on the NDA, and the Vajpayee administration was reduced to a caretaker status pending fresh elections scheduled for October.

Kargil Invasion

More importantly and soon after, it was revealed that thousands of terrorists and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers (many with official identifications and the Pakistan Army's custom weaponry) had infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley and captured control of border hilltops, unmanned border posts, and were spreading out fast. The incursion was centered around the town of Kargil, but also included the Batalik and Akhnoor sectors and included artillery exchanges at the Siachen Glacier.

Indian army units were rushed into Kashmir in response. Operation Vijay (1999), launched in June 1999, saw the Indian military fighting thousands of terrorists and soldiers amidst heavy artillery shelling all the while facing extremely cold weather, snow, and treacherous terrain at the high altitude. Over 500 Indian soldiers died in the three-month long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600 Pakistani soldiers died as well. Pakistan's army shot down two Indian Air Force jets. The mutilation of the body of pilot Ajay Ahuja inflamed public opinion in India. After the United States refused to condone the incursion or threaten India to stop its military operations, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked the Pakistani Northern Light Infantry regiment to stop and withdraw to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Third Term: 1999-2004

On October 13, 1999, General Pervez Musharraf, chief of Pakistan's army and the chief planner of the Kargil conflict, seized power from the civilian, democratic government of Pakistan, and established his own dictatorship. On the same day, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took oath as Prime Minister of India for the third time. The BJP-led NDA had won 303 seats in the 543 seat Lok Sabha, a comfortable, stable majority, without the AIADMK.

A national crisis popped up in December 1999, when an Indian Airlines flight (IC 814 from Nepal) was hijacked by Pakistani terrorists and flown via Pakistan to Taliban ruled Afghanistan. The media and the relatives of the hijacked passengers built up tremendous pressure on the government to give in to the hijackers' demand to release certain Kashmiri terrorists, including high-ranking Maulana Masood Azhar, from prison. The government ultimately caved in and Jaswant Singh, the Indian External Affairs minister, flew with the terrorists to Afghanistan and exchanged them for the passengers. No explanation was given by the Indian government for the External Affairs minister personally escorting the terrorists. The crisis also worsened the relationship between India and Pakistan, as the hijacked plane was allowed to re-fuel in Lahore, and all the hijackers, except one, were Pakistanis.


Vajpayee oversaw his National Highway Development Project begin construction, in which he took a personal interest.

In March 2000, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States visited India, 21 years after the previous visit by an American President and only the fourth visit ever, and thus gave a fillip to the government. Since the visit followed barely two years after the Pokhran tests, and one year after the Kargil invasion and the subsequent coup in Pakistan, it was read to reflect a major shift in the post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy. The Indian Prime Minister and the U.S. President discussed strategic issues, but the chief achievement was a significant expansion in trade and economic ties.

Domestically, the BJP-led government was under constant pressure from its ideological mentor, the RSS, and the hard-line VHP to enact the Hindutva agenda. But owing to its dependence on coalition support, it was impossible for the BJP to push items like building the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir in Ayodhya (a Mosque on the site where Ram is said to have been born had been destroyed by Hindudvta activists in 1992). The BJP was, however, accused of "saffron-ising" (saffron is the color of the flag of the RSS, symbol of the Hindu nationalism movement) the official state education curriculum and apparatus. Home Minister L.K. Advani and Education Minister Murli Manohar Joshi were indicted in the 1992 Babri Mosque demolition case for inciting the mob of activists. The RSS also routinely criticized the government for free-market policies which introduced foreign goods and competition at the expense of home industries and products.

Vajpayee's administration earned the ire of many unionized workers' groups and government workers for their aggressive campaign to privatize government owned corporations. Vajpayee promoted the pro-business, free market reforms to reinvigorate India's economic transformation and expansion that were started by former PM P. V. Narasimha Rao, but stalled after 1996, due to unstable governments and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Increased competitiveness, extra funding, and support for the information technology and high-tech industries, improvements in infrastructure, deregulation of trade, investments, and corporate laws—all increased foreign capital investment and set in motion an economic expansion.

These years of reform, however, were accompanied by infighting in the administration and confusion regarding the direction of government. Cabinet portfolios were created and shuffled every six months apparently to pacify restless coalition partners. Vajpayee's weakening health was also a subject of public interest, and he underwent a major knee-replacement surgery at the Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai to relieve great pressure on his legs.

In 2000, the Tehelka group released incriminating videos of the BJP President Bangaru Laxman, senior army officers and NDA members accepting bribes from journalists posing as agents and businessmen. While the scandals were not linked to Vajpayee's personally, the Defense Minister George Fernandes was forced to resign following this Barak Missile Deal Scandal, another scandal involving the botched supplies of coffins for the soldiers killed in Kargil, and the finding of an inquiry commission that the Government could have prevented the Kargil invasion. These developments, as well as an ambiguous response of the economy to the reforms, reduced the Vajpayee administration's popularity and undermined its future.

Vajpayee again broke the ice in the India-Pakistani relations by inviting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to Delhi and Agra for a joint summit and peace talks. His second-major attempt to move beyond the stalemate tensions involved inviting the man who had planned the Kargil invasions, but accepting him as the President of Pakistan; Vajpayee chose to move forward. But after three days of much fanfare, which included Musharraf visiting his birthplace in Delhi, the summit failed to achieve a breakthrough, as President Musharraf declined to leave aside the issue of Kashmir.

Attack on Parliament

On December 13, 2001, a group of masked, armed men with fake IDs stormed the Parliament building in Delhi. The terrorists managed to kill several security guards, but the building was sealed off swiftly and security forces cornered and killed the men, who were later proven to be Pakistan nationals. Coming just three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks upon the United States, this fresh escalation instantly enraged the nation. Although the Government of Pakistan officially condemned the attack, Indian intelligence reports pointed the finger at a conspiracy rooted in Pakistan. Prime Minister Vajpayee ordered a mobilization of India's military forces, and as many as 500,000 servicemen amassed along the international boundary bordering Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Kashmir. Pakistan responded with the same. Vicious terrorist attacks and an aggressive anti-terrorist campaign froze day-to-day life in Kashmir, and foreigners flocked out of both India and Pakistan, fearing a possible war and nuclear exchange. For as long as two years, both nations remained perilously close to a terrible war.

The Vajpayee administrations passed the Prevention of Terrorist Act against vigorous opposition of non-NDA parties. Human rights groups have condemned the act, which gives wide authority to the government to crack down and hold anybody. Its repealing was advocated by human rights organizations.

But the biggest political disaster hit between December 2001 and March 2002: The VHP held the Government hostage in a major standoff in Ayodhya over the Ram temple. At the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Babri mosque, the VHP wanted to perform a sheela daan, or a ceremony laying the foundation stone of the cherished temple at the disputed site. Tens of thousands of VHP activists amassed and threatened to overrun the site and forcibly build the temple. A grave threat of not only communal violence, but an outright breakdown of law and order owing to the defiance of the government by a religious organization hung over the nation. During riots in Gujerat, "1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in some of the worst religious violence in decades."[2]

Just a week following the standoff, a train carriage carrying hundreds of Hindu pilgrims returning from Varanasi was attacked by a Muslim mob in Godhra, Gujarat, and the bogey was set afire, killing 59 pilgrims. Such an assault on pilgrims inflamed local Hindu,s engendering an episode of communal violence in which nearly 1,000 people were killed and displaced across Gujarat. The State government at that time led by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a prominent BJP leader, was accused of failing to prevent the onset of the violence. Vajpayee visited the state and publicly criticized the Chief Minister for not doing his moral duty to protect the people; he also spoke at the BJP National Party Convention in Goa in June 2002, allegedly denouncing Muslims for having tolerated the Godhra mob which attacked the train carrying pilgrims, and not doing enough to counter the spread of Islamic terrorism entering the country. In a Cabinet reshuffle, his long-time and close associate Lal Krishna Advani was designated Deputy Prime Minister of India, and increased power in the party and the Cabinet, and more credibility with the RSS and the conservative Hindu base. In September 2002, Narendra Modi led the BJP to a major victory, and, thus, vindication through the state assembly elections. His defiant victory was seen standing right against the moral criticism handed down by the Prime Minister.

In late 2002 and 2003, the government pushed economic reforms, and the country's GDP growth accelerated at record levels, exceeding 6-7 percent. Increasing foreign investment, modernization of public and industrial infrastructure, the creation of jobs, a rising high-tech and IT industry and urban modernization and expansion improved the nation's national image. Good crop harvests and strong industrial expansion also helped the economy. The Government reformed the tax system, increased the pace of reforms and pro-business initiatives, major irrigation and housing schemes, and so on. The political energies of the BJP shifted to the rising urban middle-class and young people, who were positive and enthusiastic about the major economic expansion and future of the country.

In August 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced before Parliament his "absolute last" effort to achieve peace with Pakistan. Although the diplomatic process never truly set-off immediately, visits were exchanged by high-level officials and the military stand-off ended. The Pakistani President and Pakistani politicians, civil and religious leaders hailed this initiative as did the leaders of America, Europe, and much of the world.

In November-December 2003, the BJP won three major state elections, fought mainly on development issues, without ideological campaigns. A major public relations campaign was launched to reach out to Muslims and stop the 2002 controversies from haunting the party's future. But the attention of the media and of millions now moved from Vajpayee to his more possible successor, L.K. Advani, although the question was never directly raised or contested in any way. Vajpayee's age, failing health, and diminished physical and mental vigor were obvious factors in such speculations. Advani assumed greater responsibilities in the party, and although no perceivable conflict has been known to arise between the longtime friends and political colleagues, several embarrassing statements were made. Once Vajpayee said, "Advani would lead the BJP in the elections," prompting Advani to clarify that he would merely lead the election campaign, not the party. And then the BJP President Venkiah Naidu used mythological references to depict Vajpayee as a Vikas Purush ("Man of Progress"), comparing him to Bhishma Pitamah of the Mahabharata epic, a man respected by all political outfits and hundreds of millions of people. Advani was called the "Loh Purush" ("Iron Man"), a more potent reference suggestive of future developments.

As the BJP prepared for general elections in 2004, either early or late, Vajpayee was still the choice of the BJP, and crucially of the wider NDA for the prime minister's job.

After the 2004 elections

A.B. Vajpayee's BJP and the National Democratic Alliance were expected to pick up more seats and score a major victory in the 2004 elections. The parliament was dissolved earlier than necessary in order to capitalize on the national economic boom and improved security and cultural atmosphere.

A vigorous BJP campaign did its best to highlight the major progress achieved, and win the votes of the traditionally averse Muslims for the BJP candidates. Controversial and ideological issues were side-stepped in favor of bread-butter economic issues. However, by the time the first three phases of voting were over, it was clear that the BJP was losing too many important seats to retain a formidable position in Parliament. Congress was again perceived as the party of national unity, while BJP was blamed for exasperating communitarianism. (Communitarianism is the term used in India to describe tension between India's different religious communities. Congress had actually lost power in 1996, due in part to the criticism that its policies were too favorable towards non-Hindus.) The BJP and its flagship coalition, the NDA, lost almost half their seats in parliament and several prominent cabinet ministers were defeated, and regional, socialist and Communist parties quickly grouped round the resurgent Indian National Congress led by Sonia Gandhi to form a left-of-center United Progressive Alliance, which formed the government under Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

The fact that Vajpayee attended the swearing-in of the new government despite his party's decision to boycott it symbolized the growing acrimony to come. Many criticized Vajpayee for sacrificing core issues like Hindutva and the Ram Temple, and going overboard to woo Muslims (the BJP lost the Muslim vote by a heavy margin), and even moving too early to elections. The pro-Vajpayee activists accused Narendra Modi's controversial regime in Gujarat and the obstructiveness of the Hindu hard-right VHP and RSS for the defeat. A possible factor behind the defeat was the widespread disenchantment amongst hundreds of millions of farmers, laborers, and workers who were on the bottom-rung of society, mired in poverty, illiteracy, and debt, and yet to cash in any benefit from the boom. While the BJP pandered to the rising middle-class of the cities, India's villages and small towns rallied behind pro-poor, socialistic political forces like the Congress and left parties.

A.B. Vajpayee expressed his anger and frustration with repeated signals of resignation and retirement. But at a high-level party meeting, he decided to give up the position of the Leader of the Opposition to his long-time friend, second-in-command and successor, Lal Krishna Advani, who also became BJP President. Always a figure of consensus, Vajpayee became Chairman of the National Democratic Alliance. It is a widespread feeling with critics, journalists, and many people that Vajpayee's time at the pinnacle of national politics and the BJP, and his position as the obvious BJP choice for Prime Minister is steadily fading. Vajpayee himself is taking more backseat roles and responsibilities, and his health ailments limit his ability to deal with the premier position in national life.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee's six years at the Prime Minister's Office led to a major transformation and expansion of the national economy. In the 1999 Kargil War, his leadership defended the country's integrity and security, while his broad-minded statesmanship in 1999, 2001, and 2004 kept the country's safety, peace, and future on the high-course despite many discouraging events, failures, and threats. During his 50 years as Member of Parliament, Vajpayee has established impeccable and virtually infallible credentials as a man of principle, integrity, and commitment in the world of Indian politics, and as a leading visionary and statesman of the world.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee sowed the seeds and rose with the growing nationalist movement in Indian politics. For four decades he was the flag-bearer, icon and undisputed leader of the Hindu nationalist political movement, working steadily through years of defeat and desolation to foster a major national movement, broad support amongst hundreds of millions and the leadership of the world's largest democracy and most diverse nation.

Vajpayee's government was criticized over its ignorance of the issues and concerns of India's poor millions, over the famous corruption scandals, and the episodes of communal violence and rise of both Hindu and Muslim radicalism in politics. While praised for his leadership during the Kargil War and for his peace efforts with Pakistan, the Vajpayee administration was blamed for not being able to detect and prevent two serious terrorist attacks on the country, and an incursion into Indian sovereign territory.

Vajpayee led a diverse, fractious coalition to complete a full five-year term in office, be the guiding light over a collage of political chaos. He gave stability and unity when the country was the least united, and security when the country was most susceptible. This included not only the security of the borders from invasion, but of the security of 100 million families with the provision of jobs and education in a solid, hopeful economic future, and the strategic national future security.

Despite the rejection of his party in 2004, Vajpayee retained a position of esteem and respect amongst common people seldom offered to politicians in India. He was conferred Padma Vibhushan in 1992, Lokmanya Tilak Puruskar and the Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant Award for the Best Parliamentarian, both in 1994.

In December 2005, Vajpayee announced his retirement, declaring that he would not participate in the next general election. At a rally in the western city of Mumbai, Vajpayee said, "I will not participate in any electoral politics. There are many other leaders to take forward the work which I and other senior leaders have been doing. In a now famous statement at the BJP's silver Jubilee rally at Mumbai's historic Shivaji Park, Vajpayee announced that "from now onwards, Lal Krishna Advani and Pramod Mahajan will be the Ram-Lakshman [the two godly brothers much revered and worshiped by Hindus] of the BJP."[3]


Vajpayee was hospitalized at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi (AIIMS) for a chest infection and fever on February 6, 2009. He was put on ventilator support as his condition worsened but he eventually recuperated and was later discharged.[4] Unable to participate in the campaign for the 2009 general election due to his poor health, he wrote a letter urging voters to back the BJP.[5] His protege Lalji Tandon was able to retain the Lucknow seat in that election even though the NDA suffered electoral reverses all over the country.

Vajpayee suffered a stroke in 2009 which impaired his speech.[6] He also suffered from dementia and long-term diabetes. For many years, he did not attend any public engagements and rarely ventured out of the house, except for checkups at the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences.[7]

Personal life

Vajpayee remained a bachelor his entire life, resolving to dedicate his life to his nation.[8] He adopted and raised Namita Bhattacharya as his own child, the daughter of longtime friend Rajkumari Kaul and BN Kaul.

He was a noted poet, writing in Hindi. His published works include Kaidi kavirai ki kundalian, a collection of poems written when he was imprisoned during the 1975–1977 emergency, and Amar aag hai.[9] With regard to his poetry Vajpayee wrote, "My poetry is a declaration of war, not an exordium to defeat. It is not the defeated soldier's drumbeat of despair, but the fighting warrior's will to win. It is not the dispirited voice of dejection but the stirring shout of victory."[10]


Vajpayee's funeral procession moving to Smriti Sthal near Raj Ghat for last rites.

On June 11, 2018, Vajpayee was admitted to AIIMS in critical condition following a kidney infection. He was officially declared dead there at 5:05 pm IST on August 16, 2018 at the age of 93.[11]

India reacted to Vajpayee's death with grief and thousands of tributes poured in through social media platforms. Thousands of people paid their respects during his funeral procession. A seven-day state mourning was announced by the central government throughout India. The national flag flew half-mast during this period.

On the morning of August 17, Vajpayee's body draped with the Indian flag was taken to the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters where party workers paid their tributes until 1 pm. Later that afternoon at 4 pm, Vajpayee was cremated with full state honors at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal near Raj Ghat, his pyre was lit by his foster daughter Namita Kaul Bhattacharya.[12] Thousands of people and many dignitaries attended his funeral procession including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind.[13] On August 19, his ashes were immersed in Ganga river at Haridwar by his daughter Namita.[14]


As the leader of BJP, Vajpayee expanded its political appeal, organization and agenda. His broad appeal brought respect, recognition and acceptance to a rising nationalist cultural movement. He was considered as "The man of honor" by his followers. Over the years, Vajpayee commanded respect of foes and friends alike and is considered by many as perhaps modern India's greatest statesman. His career as Prime Minister saw significant, if unsuccessful, moves to resolve the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, and continued economic growth. Commenting on his legacy, Kitchener remarks that on the one hand the Indian middle classes have prospered as "India became an emerging power in information technology, business processing outsourcing and biotechnology" while on the other hand the poor have got poorer.[2] Kitchner attributes loss of the 2004 election to the alienation of the economically less well off. While the previous administration had started the process of opening up the previously state controlled economy, partly stimulated by encouragement for the development of India's scientific and technological base. Controversy surrounding his role during India's freedom struggle and about the influence of the RSS on government policy dogged his career, although perhaps for strategic rather than ideological reasons he did not pursue their more extreme agenda. Kitchner thinks that the "The greatest blot on his copybook may be the Gujarat riots of 2002."

Vajpayee's "biggest achievement" may well have been his "successful steering of what appeared to be an unwieldy coalition." As the second man to head India's government from outside the Congress party and the first since Jawaharlal Nehru to do so in three administrations, Vajpayee's place in history is secured. As did Moraji Desai, he showed that a party other than Congress could govern, which is healthy for a democracy since domination by one party results in what amounts to a one-party system. He was referred to as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a speech in the Rajya Sabha, a reference to the character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata who was held in respect by two warring sides.[15]


In 1992, in recognition of his services to the nation he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the President of India. In 1994, he was named India's "Best Politician" and received the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award award. In March 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh honored him by calling him "The Bhishma Pitamah of Indian politics" (meaning great, senior Indian politician who is righteous like Bhishma) praising his efforts to make peace with Pakistan.[16]

Kanpur University honored him with an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy in 1993.


Vajpayee authored several works of both prose and poetry. Some of his major publications are listed below.

  • National Integration (1961)
  • New Dimensions of India's Foreign Policy (1979)
  • Kucha Lekha, Kucha Bhashana (1996)
  • Bindu-Bindu Vicara (1997)
  • Decisive Days (1999)
  • Sankalp-Kaal (1999)
  • Vicara-Bindu (Hindi Edition, 2000)
  • India's Perspectives on ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific Region (2003)
  • Gathbandhan Ki Rajneeti (2004)
  • Amar Aag Hai (1994)
  • Meri Ikyavana Kavitaem (1995).
  • Kya Khoya Kya Paya: Atal Bihari Vajapeyi, Vyaktitva Aur Kavitaem (1999)
  • Values, Vision & Verses of Vajpayee: India's Man of Destiny (2001)
  • Twenty-One Poems (2003)
  • Chuni Hui Kavitayein (2012)

An English translation of a selection of some of Vajpayee's Hindi poetry was published in 2013: Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Selected Poems (2013)


  1. Siddharth Varadarajan, The Sangh is Vajpayee's soul The Times of India, September 11, 2000. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Garry Kitchener, How will history remember Vajpayee? BBC, December 30, 2005. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  3. Vajpayee to retire from politics BBC, December 29, 2005. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  4. Vajpayee showing signs of improvement The Indian Express, February 5, 2009. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  5. Vajpayee asks Lucknow voters to ensure BJP's win The Indian Express, April 17, 2009. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  6. Akshaya Mukul, A peek into the life Atal Bihari Vajpayee now leads The Times of India, March 25, 2014. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  7. Vajpayee turns 88 amid health concerns Zee News, December 23, 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  8. Faiz Rahman Siddiqui, To evade marriage, Atal Bihari Vajpayee locked himself up for 3 days The Times of India, August 18, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  9. Peter Popham, Profile: Atal Behari Vajpayee The Independent, May 25, 2002. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  10. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Values, Vision & Verses of Vajpayee: India's man of Destiny (Srijan Prakashan, 2001, ISBN 978-8187996002).
  11. Robert D. McFadden, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India, Dies at 93 The New York Times, August 17, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  12. Atal Bihari Vajpayee cremated, daughter Namita lights funeral pyre Business Standard India, August 17, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  13. Revathi Hariharan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Funeral Highlights: Former PM Cremated, Thousands Pay Tributes NDTV, August 18, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  14. Sandeep Rawat, Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ashes immersed in Ganga at Haridwar Hindustan Times, August 20, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  15. "Bhishma Pitamah" should rise above party politics: PM The Hindu, October 9, 2016. January 9, 2020.
  16. The Hindu, A pat for Vajpayee and a plea too. Retrieved January 9, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kapoor, Ravi Shanker. Failing the Promise: Irrelevance of the Vajpayee Government. New Delhi, IN: Vision Books, 2003. ISBN 9788170945277.
  • Raghavan, G.N.S., and Seshadri Chari. A New Era in the Indian Polity: A Study of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the BJP. New Delhi, IN: Gyan Pub. House, 1996. ISBN 9788121205399.
  • Sondhi, M.L., and Prakash Nanda. Vajpayee's Foreign Policy, Daring the Irreversible. New Delhi, IN: Har-Anand Publications, 1999. ISBN 9788124106341.
  • Vajpayee, Atal Bihari, and Sujata K. Dass. Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Prime Minister of India. Delhi, IN: Kalpaz Publications, 2004. ISBN 9788178352770.
  • Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. "A view of science in India." Current Science 75(2) (1998):93.
  • Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. "Advancing Democracy a natural partnership of shared endeavors." Vital Speeches of the Day 66 (2000):740.
  • Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. President's Addresses, 1980-1986. New Delhi, IN: B.J.P., 2000.
  • Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. Values, Vision & Verses of Vajpayee: India's man of Destiny. Srijan Prakashan, 2001. ISBN 978-8187996002

External links

All links retrieved August 19, 2023.

Preceded by:
Yashwantrao Chavan
Minister for External Affairs of India
Succeeded by:
Shyam Nandan Prasad Mishra
Preceded by:
Narasimha Rao
Prime Minister of India
Succeeded by:
Deve Gowda
Preceded by:
Inder Kumar Gujral
Minister for External Affairs of India
Succeeded by:
Jaswant Singh
Preceded by:
I. K. Gujral
Prime Minister of India
Succeeded by:
Manmohan Singh


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