Atal Bihari Vajpayee

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee


Atal Bihari Vajpayee was one of the most respected politicians in India, who served as Prime Minister of India in 1996, and then from 1998 to 2004. While being a prolific poet and orator, he was an excellent administrator, and credited for good governance. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 2015.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Date of death 16th August, 2018
Titles Conferred Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan
Date of birth 25th December, 1924
Political Affiliations Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Janata Party, Bharatiya Janata Party
Public Offices held Prime Minister of India (1996-96, 1998-99, 1999-2004); Minster of External Affairs (1977-79)
Birth place Gwalior
Death place AIIMS, New Delhi

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a veteran Indian politician and the 10th Prime Minister of India. His Prime Ministerial tenure includes three non-consecutive terms – the first for 15 days (from May 1996 -June 1996), the second for a period of 13 months (from 19 March 1998 to 26 April 1999) and the third for five years (from 13 October 1999 till 22 May 2004). 

He is fondly called ‘Baapji’ by his close relatives and friends. 

Early life 

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in Gwalior to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari on 25 December 1924, the noon of British rule over the subcontinent. Atal’s grandfather had migrated from Bateshwar in Uttar Pradesh to Gwalior, one of the 500-plus princely states that covered a third of colonial India. Vajpayee was born into a poor kanyakubja Brahmin family of the Gangetic plains. His father and grandfather were schooled in Sanskrit rituals, the women expected to take care of home, and conversations were conducted in Hindi rather than English. Like many other Brahmins during late colonial rule, the Vajpayees had converted ritual learning into a government job. Krishna Bihari became a teacher, an employee of the Scindias. He even fudged Atal’s birthdate to 1926, in hope that his son would have a few more years if he joined government service. Krishna Bihari was also a poet, writing in Hindi as well as its dialects. Atal, his six siblings and two parents moved to lower-middle-class respectability as Krishna Bihari rose in the education bureaucracy. Vajpayee studied at the local Gorakhi School, a barebones establishment funded by the Maharaja of Gwalior. Hindi was the medium of instruction, and the headmaster was Krishna Bihari. It is a curse to study in a school one’s parents are teaching in. Not for Vajpayee, who had begun to mimic his father’s erudition and eloquence.[ref]

Vajpayee and The RSS

He came in contact with the RSS in 1939 through Arya Kumar Sabha, a youth branch of Arya Samaj, in Gwalior-then a princely state which was not part of any province. He came from a strong ‘sanatani’ family. But he used to be at the weekly ‘satsang’ of Arya Kumar Sabha. Once Shri Bhoodev Shastri who was a senior worker of Arya kumar Sabha, a great thinker and an expert organiser, asked Vajpayee and his friends: “What do you do in the evenings?” “Nothing”, they said, as the Arya Kumar Sabha used to meet in the morning on every Sunday. Then he recommended them to attend a Shakha of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). This was Vajpayee's first association with the RSS. At that time the shakha in Gwalior had just begun. It had only Maharashtrian boys, and naturally all the swayamsevaks used to speak only Marathi. He started going to the shakha regularly and liked the games that were played in the shakha as well as the weekly ‘bauddhiks’ (intellectual discourses).[ref]

A pracharak, Shri Narayanrao Tarte had once come from Nagpur to start a shakha. Vajpayee during the later years of his life went on to say "What I am today is the making of Shri Tarte". [ref]

He was also inspired by pracharaks and senior RSS men like Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya and also Bhaurao Deoras( younger brother of Balasaheb Deoras ) whom he had met when he came to Gwalior with Shri Balasaheb Apte who was the then Bauddhik Pramukh. Apte as he describes was very 'soft-spoken'. He was soon drawn towards him despite the fact that he got to speak with him for only a few minutes. In the same year (1940) when he went to see the first year Officers’ Training Camp (OTC), where he came in close contact with him. Although he went there just to attend the valedictory function of the camp, not for training but he had the chance of seeing Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar who had came there to attend the ceremony for sometime. It was during these days when Vajpayee being student of Class X had written a poem ‘Hindu Tan-man Hindu Jeevan’. In 1941 when he was in High School he did his first year OTC. In 1942 when he was in Intermediate class he did his second year OTC, and and his third and also the final OTC was in 1944 when he was doing his Bachelors in Arts(B.A) .

Atal’s brother accompanied him into the RSS. Once he went to a winter camp where he created a problem. He said: “I cannot take my food with the other swayamsevaks. I shall prepare my food myself.” RSS handled the situation deftly. The ‘sarvadhikari’ (superintendent) of the camp complied with his request and provided him all the necessary thing for preparing his food. After taking his bath and properly adjusting his sacred thread(janeau), etc., he started cooking his food. On the first day he prepared the food for himself. the next day, however, he could not prepare it and joined the queue of all swayamsevaks for partaking of the food. Within 44 hours he was changed.[ref][ref]

College and Early Youth Days

By 1941, Vajpayee had entered Victoria College, originally founded as a Muslim seminary called Lakshar Madrassa in 1846 before changing its name in honour of the British empress. While the seventeen-year-old Vajpayee would sit in the back of the class, his attention fell on an arresting sixteen-year-old on the front benches. Rajkumari Haksar was born in 1925 in Ujjain to a Kashmiri Pandit family which had since moved to Gwalior. Like Krishna Bihari, Rajkumari’s father was employed by the education department. Rajkumari was also a second cousin of Indira Gandhi—her grandmother was Kamala Nehru’s aunt.[ref]  Though that somwhat sparkes of an episode of heart didn't worked out and turn into a love story. Years later at somepoint Rajkumari described that time to a friend: ‘I met Atalji in Gwalior in college. We were in the same class.We were attracted to each other. But there was no formal affair. And things didn’t go ahead because I felt my family may not agree. It was all very innocent . . . very harmless.’[ref]

Vajpayee had graduated from Victoria College by 1944 and wanted to study further. But Vajpayees had to count their rupees. As Vajpayee later remembered: ‘My father had retired from government service. My two sisters were of marriageable age. Dowry had assumed the shape of a curse. From where will I manage resources for post-graduation?’[ref] Benevolence came in the form of a seventy-five-rupee monthly scholarship from the Maharaja of Gwalior. Armed with this amount, Vajpayee joined a law program at the DAV College in Kanpur in 1945.[ref]

Vajpayee had continued studying law in Kanpur. But soon after the elections to the central assembly in 1946, Vajpayee wa sasked by the RSS to leave his education and set up a Hindi newspaper in the United Provinces.[ref]

Political Career

Atal's first encounter with politics occurred at the time of the Quit India Movement in August 1942. He along with his elder brother Prem was sent to prison for 23 days. 

Since his adolescent days Atal Bihari Vajpayee was associated with the socio political organization started by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hegdewar - RSS. He was one of the first few prominent Swayamsevaks to make it to the top and was a close aide to RSS Stalwarts like Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya etc. As per RSS's  directives he was recommended to the newly formed political party ( inspired by 'Sangh Parivar')  Bharatiya Jana Sangh party started by Shri Syama Prasad Mookerjee on 21 October 1951 and was among the founding members of the party. Deendayal Upadhyaya who was the General secretary of the party at that time was known for his discernment to spot and steer talent. During the First General Elections (1951-52) the face of the Party was Syama Prasad Mookerjee who while campaigning in Uttar Pradesh had to speak in Hindi as it was a prerequisite to canvass in the Heartland. While UP being the heart of Jana Sangh's votebank couldn't have been ignored .Upadhyaya decided that Mookerjee needed a competent Hindi translator to accompany him there. His eyes fell on a twenty-seven-year-old currently editing an RSS magazine. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had already distinguished himself as a Hindi orator, a skill he had picked up from his teacher father. His way with words had led Deendayal to place them on the pages of Panchajanya. And so it was that during the campaign for the 1951–52 elections, Vajpayee chaperoned Mookerjee as his Hindi translator.[ref]This is why Vajpayee travelled by train with Mookerjee to reach Kota in Rajasthan at the height of the campaign. The RSS was the backbone of the Jana Sangh campaign. And so it was entirely expected that the pracharak coordinating the election campaign in the state received them at the station.[ref]He was with Syama Prasad Mookerjee (accompanied him till Pathankot, Punjab) when the latter observed a fast unto death in 1951 in Kashmir against the supposed inferior treatment shown towards non-Kashmiri visitors. During this strike, Shri Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in prison. This visit also highlighted that Shri Vajpayee was considered off highly among his colleagues as a defender of their ideological front and related party policies.[ref]

Mookerjee's mysterious death paved the way for young Vajpayee to succeed him as Party's voice in Parliament.This opportunity first came a year later, in 1954, after Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit resigned as member of parliament from Lucknow in order to become India’s representative to the United Nations. Deendayal decided that the twenty-nine-year-old Vajpayee would contest on behalf of the Jana Sangh.This first election of Vajpayee’s was a fiasco. Not only did he lose, he placed third.[ref] When Vajpayee heard the results, however, he chose to grieve by cycling to a nearby theatre to watch a film with his friend.[ref]

Over the course of his political career, Vajpayee was elected nine times to the Lok Sabha or the Lower House of the Parliament and twice to the Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of the Parliament. He contested from four different states – Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Gujarat – in different elections.The next general elections were scheduled for 1957, Vajpayee was given three Lok Sabha tickets to contest from Balrampur, Lucknow and Mathura.Though he lost from the latter two, he won Balrampur, formerly a princely state ruled during British times by a Hindu King.[ref]The first election that he won was from the Balrampur Lok Sabha (parliamentary) constituency of Uttar Pradesh in 1957. His maiden speech earned him laurels from many contemporary veteran parliamentarians, including the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who, while introducing Vajpayee to a visiting foreign dignitary once said “ this young man one day will become the country’s prime minister”.[ref]

Soon after the 1957 elections, Advani was moved to Delhi by Deendayal Upadhyaya.His job was to help the new parliamentarian Atal Bihari Vajpayee navigate the English-speaking elite of Lutyens’ Delhi.[ref]His biographer Ullekh N.P. has studied his speeches before and after he entered the Lok Sabha. Ullekh says, ‘After Vajpayee began to attend parliament, the nature of his speeches changed. He began to speak in more parliamentary ways. The effect of parliament on his thinking was clear.’ When parliament was on, Vajpayee would spend evenings at home waiting for the uncorrected script of that day’s parliamentary session to arrive on motorcycle.From the moment Vajpayee heard the motorcycle stop outside, usually around 5:30 p.m., all activity in the house would cease while Vajpayee rectified the script.[ref]

In 1958, Nehru had included Vajpayee in an official delegation to the UN General Assembly and personally instructed M.K. Rasgotra, who was then an officer in India’s Permanent Mission to the UN, to not only chaperone Vajpayee, but also ensure that he was introduced to world leaders.However Nehru’s fondness for the young man dissipated soon thereafter when Vajpayee began questioning the government on the controversial issue of the Tibetan uprising, or rather its repression by the Chinese. Although Nehru was forced to speak on the matter by Opposition leaders on 17 March 1959, the same day when the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Lhasa, Atal Bihari Vajpayee tabled an Adjournment Motion six days later. The Speaker of the Rajya Sabha while disallowing the Foreign Minister, had allowed Prime Minister Nehru to make yet another statement on the issue. Meanwhile, the situation in
Tibet had worsened, even as the Indian parliament routinely erupted in impassioned debates led by Vajpayee. The poet turned politician while presenting yet another Adjournment Motion spoke lucidly, demanding a ‘review of India China relations where Tibet could be revived into its past Indian friendly form.’He also insisted that India must assist the Dalai Lama in his fight for Tibet’s liberation and termed the Chinese persecution as an example of ‘yellow imperialism’. In the same Motion, Vajpayee also declared that ‘the agreement of Panchsheel between India and China was meaningless as China had violated all its promises towards Tibet. He asked the government to review its China policy and withdraw all diplomatic relations with China.’[ref][ref]

The third general elections in India were scheduled for February 1962. Vajpayee contested from Balrampur once again, and was pitted against the Congress candidate and freedom fighter Subhadra Joshi. But Vajpayee’s real opponent were, filmstar Balraj Sahni who campaigned for Joshi and PM Jawaharlal Nehru who travelled all the way from Delhi to Balrampur to give a speech whose words ensured that Vajpayee lost his Lok Sabha seat by a narrow margin.[ref][ref] His career was rescued once again by
Deendayal, who gave Vajpayee a Rajya Sabha ticket,ensuring his unbroken presence in parliament. After the 1962 Sino Indian War when the then PM Nehru dismissed the loss of territory with, ‘we have only lost some rocks, not fertile land,’ Vajpayee gave the famous reply -

"भारत कोई भूमि का टुकड़ा नहीं है, यह जीता जागता राष्ट्रपुरुष है ।" 

And when China tested its nuclear bomb a few years later, Vajpayee declared: ‘What is the answer to the atom bomb? The answer to an atom bomb is an atom bomb, nothing else.' [ref]

The 1967 General Elections saw for the first time in the history of independent India , a rise of non congress parties and a decline of Congress 'System' wracked with infighting between the factions within that system.When the results were announced in February 1967, the Congress seats in the Lok Sabha had reduced by seventyeight to 283. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh under the leadership of Vajpayee won 35 seats .In the state elections held in parallel, the Jana Sangh had won an estimated 266 MLAs from over sixteen states.The Jana Sangh was now the second-largest party in parliament by voteshare, the third-largest by seats.

After the sudden and mysterious death of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya on the morning of 11 February,1968 , Vajpayee paid his mentor a poignant tribute in parliament on 12 February 1968 He said ‘Upadhyaya ji was not a member of parliament, but if any one individual could be given credit for those Bharatiya Jana Sangh members of parliament who are sitting in this and the other House . . . it is Upadhyayaji.' After Deendayal's death Vajpayee succeeded and served as the President of the party from 1968 to 1972. 

Indo - Pak War 1971 ( Bangladesh Liberation War), Vajpayee and Jana Sangh

Pakistani Air Force’s attack on airbases and radar installations of the IAF on December 3, 1971, marked the formal beginning of the Indo-Pakistan War, created a situation of national emergency. It was a critical moment. At the time of crisis, one of the opposition leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then a young MP of the Jana Sangh, declared full cooperation of the opposition to the government putting nation above petty politics.

In a statement, Vajpayee said, “The Prime Minister must now lead the country to total victory over the enemy. If the government needed to secure any more powers to handle the situation, this party would not hesitate to accord the fullest cooperation.” It was Vajpayee's resilient efforts for a free Bangladesh that later in 2015, he was conferred upon with the Bangladesh Liberation War Award which PM Modi accepted on his behalf during PM's Visit to Bangladesh and the citation for the award, also mentions the “Gana Satyagraha” organised by the Jan Sangh in August 1971.In 1971, the Jan Sangh had organised multiple events, including a satyagraha, to call for the freedom of Bangladesh (then East Pak) from West Pakistan. 

The citations states “To press the demand for the Indian government’s expedited support to Bangladesh’s Liberation War, Jan Sangh held a Gana Satyagraha during 1-11 August and their volunteers organised a huge rally in front of the Indian Parliament on 12 August 1971. Shri Vajpayee took a firm stand at the national and international level for the cause of Bangladesh”.[ref]

India’s official history of the 1971 war says that Jan Sangh, among other political parties at the time, had passed resolutions urging the Government of India to immediately accord recognition to Bangladesh.The Jan Sangh, according to the official history of the 1971 war, staged a demonstration in Delhi on 24 May demanding the recognition of Bangladesh. Thousands of its volunteers, and some MPs and Members of Legislative Assemblies, were arrested during the agitation for Bangladesh, it adds.[ref]

Vajpayee and Politics during 70s

The 1970s has been referred to as one of the most turbulent years for Indian Democracy with the country witnessing confiscations or deprivation of civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of India.Before becoming the Prime Minister he also served as the Minister of External Affairs from 1977-79 under the transient Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Morarji Desai.On 26 March 1977, when Atal went to his ministerial office after taking oath in the Morarji Desai government, he instinctively realized that something was missing in the room. He had been there many times before as an MP and thus had a fairly good idea about what was there in the room. He soon spotted a vacant space on the wall and it immediately occurred to him that what was missing was a portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru that used to hang on the wall. ‘This is where Panditji’s portrait used to be,’ . There wasn't any reply by the secretary but the potrait was put back to the wall where it used to be.[ref]

As an External Affairs Minister ,Vajpayee is known for delivering his iconic Hindi Speech at the 32nd UNGA on October 4, 1977. He ended his speech with Jai lagat (Hail One World)".[ref]

In his brief tenure at the South Block he tried to revitalise India's froeign relations. Before becoming PM at an election rally, Morarji Desai had promised that his government ‘will make foreign policy reflect true nonalignment’. By this he implied that India’s special relationship with the Soviet Union would be reviewed.Once in the saddle, Atal realized that it was not possible to change the tilt that characterized India’s foreign policy because there were compulsions which made the country’s foreign policy what it was. If India was close to the USSR, it was because that country was a key supplier of arms, including sophisticated military hardware, to India.
Moreover, the USSR was a key partner in India’s economic and industrial growth. Atal convinced Morarji about the strategic aspect of the relations between the two countries.
This implied that if there had to be any change, there had to be continuity as well. Thus, while continuing good relations with the Soviet Union, Atal started pursuing the US too. As a result, US President Jimmy Carter came visiting India in 1978. He had a proactive approach as the foreign office boss and touched base with neighbouring countries such as China and Pakistan. He visited China in February 1979, in what was termed as a significant visit, although the Chinese, always acting as the big brother, administered a bitter pill to India. While Atal was in Beijing, Deng Xiao Ping sent his army across to invade Vietnam. This was sacrilege because India shared a close relationship with Vietnam. To add insult to injury, Deng proclaimed that the invasion was meant to administer a lesson to Vietnam in the same manner as India had been taught one in 1962. Atal who was in the fifth day of his visit in Hangchow, immediately called off the trip and India condemned the aggression. However, Atal’s attempt tonormalize Sino-Indian relations was heralded as significant.

Since the formation of the Janata Party Government there had been differences between two old but ambitious ex congress men. Moraji Desai and Charan Singh were in adamant to become PM . Though Desai prevailed first but it wasn't for long as due to some exceptional turn of events Raj Narain left the Janata Fold and formed his own party with 49 MPs. This reduced the Janata Party to a minority and when the Congress leader Y.B. Chavan gave notice for a vote of no confidence, Prime Minister Morarji Desai resigned on 15 July 1979 before the vote was put through. When Chavan was invited to form the government, he declined; but soon, in a bizarre development, Charan Singh staked claim to form the government. This claim was based on the support that he had from Indira Gandhi’s party! Thus Charan Singh became prime minister; but before he could win a vote of confidence, the Congress party withdrew its support. Charan Singh was allowed to continue as caretaker prime minister for six months before elections were held again. Atal and Jana Sangh MPs with its 93 MPs didn't wanted the Janata Party government to topple as when Charan Singh resigned, the Janata Party, which was still the single largest party, staked its claim. This time the leader was Jagjivan Ram who had defected from the Congress just before the 1977 elections. Atal was keen that the Janata experiment doesn't fail and tried to help Jagjivan Ram cobble together a majority. He, in fact, was instrumental in liaising with M.G. Ramachandran of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in getting the support of their seventeen MPs for the proposed Jagjivan Ram government. In the event, the government could not be formed because President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, in a questionable move, dissolved the House without giving Jagjivan Ram any time. [ref]

Atal and the inception of BJP

On 5 and 6 April 1980, the erstwhile members of the Jana Sangh met at New Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla and formed a new party headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There was discussion whether the party should revert to its old name and be called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh once again. Vijaya Raje Scindia felt that it should be so. Atal, however, was of
the opinion that the Jana Sangh was perceived as too hardline a party and it would be best if the new party was projected with a different image. Thus the Bharatiya Janata Party came into existence.

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