Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Atal Bihari Vajpayee served as prime minister of India from 1998 to 2004. Born in Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), he obtained a MA in political science from Laxmibhai College in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). He is known for his passion for poetry. In the early 1940s, he joined the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, National Volunteers’ Association). He first experienced politics with the Quit India Movement, during the struggle for Independence. As a student leader, he then became very close to the BJS leader (Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Indian People’s Alliance), Dr. S. P. Mookerjee, and even served as his personal secretary for a period. In 1957, he was elected to the Lok Sabha. In 1968, Vajpayee succeeded Deendayal Upadhyaya at the head of the Jan Sangh. He and his party supported the JP movement (Jayaprakash Narayan) and Vajpayee was jailed during the Emergency (1975–1977). In 1977, when the opposition triumphed in Northern India and swept the elections, Vajpayee became Union Minister of External Affairs in the Morarji Desai government. He also served as Member of Parliament for Lucknow, a position he retained until 2009. In 1980, together with several BJS and RSS colleagues, notably Lal Krishna Advani, he started the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian People’s Party) out of the decaying Janata Party, and became its first president. The BJP, at first, attempted to promote a Gandhian version of Hindu politics, one which did not display the aggressive attitudes previously exhibited by members of the defunct BJS. But in the late 1980s, the BJP, along with its RSS and VHP “satellites,” immersed itself fully into the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign. However, in the long run, this operation proved very costly politically, while, on the other hand, they benefited also from the discredit of Narasimha Rao, the then Congress prime minister. In the 1996 general elections, the BJP was the largest party in the Lok Sabha but Vajpayee had to bow out after only thirteen days in office. The 1998 Lok Sabha elections proved more satisfactory, but the coalition around Vajpayee was too heterogeneous and divided to last long. These setbacks did not prevent him from demonstrating his determination, notably during the nuclear-testing period in 1998 and in the 1999 India-Pakistan Kargil conflict (in the Himalayas). Vajpayee’s prestige had by then reached a peak, and at long last, in October 1999, he won an undisputable victory, together with a well-organized coalition (the NDA, National Democratic Alliance), around a well-negotiated program. Although the coalition, thanks to its various partners, proved more moderate than had been expected, it was during Vajpayee’s tenure at the Central level that India experienced one of its most ghastly episodes of violence—the Gujarat pogroms of 2002.
BAKSHI, S. R. 1998. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. New Delhi: Deep and Deep.