Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924 - 2018)
Early life and education
Vajpayee was born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee on 25 December 1924 in Gwalior. His grandfather, Pandit Shyam Lal Vajpayee, had migrated to Morena, Gwalior from his ancestral village of Bateshwar, Uttar Pradesh. His father, Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, was a poet and a schoolmaster in his hometown. Vajpayee did his schooling from the Saraswati Shishu Mandir, Gorkhi, Bara, Gwalior. Vajpayee attended Gwalior's Victoria College (now Laxmi Bai College) and graduated with distinction in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. He completed his post-graduation with an M.A. in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur, and was awarded a first-class degree.
His activism started with Arya Kumar Sabha of Gwalior, the youth wing of the Arya Samaj, of which he became the general secretary in 1944. He also joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a swayamsevak in 1939. Influenced by Babasaheb Apte, he attended the Officers Training Camp of the RSS during 1940–44 and became a "full-time worker" in 1947, technically a pracharak. He gave up studying law due to the partition riots. He was sent as a vistarak (probationary pracharak) to Uttar Pradesh and quickly began working for the newspapers of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Rashtradharma (a Hindi monthly), Panchjanya (a Hindi weekly) and the dailies Swadesh and Veer Arjun. Vajpayee never married and remained a bachelor his entire life.
Early political career (1942–1975)
Vajpayee's first exposure to politics was in August 1942, when he and his elder brother Prem were arrested for 23 days during the Quit India Movement. He was released after giving a written undertaking, expressly declaring that they would not participate in the anti-British struggle, a promise that they kept.
In 1948, the RSS was banned for its alleged role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.In 1951, he was seconded by the RSS, along with Deendayal Upadhyaya, to work for the newly formed Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a Hindu right-wing political party associated with the RSS. He was appointed as a national secretary of the party in charge of the Northern region, based in Delhi. He soon became a follower and aide of party leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mukherjee when he went on a fast-unto-death in Kashmir to protest against perceived inferior treatment of non-Kashmiri Indian visitors to the state. Mookerjee died in prison during this strike. In 1957, Vajpayee lost to Raja Mahendra Pratap in Mathura for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India, but was elected from Balrampur. There, his oratorial skills so impressed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that he predicted that Vajpayee would someday become India's Prime Minister.
By virtue of his oratorical and organizational skills, he became the face of the Jana Sangh. After the death of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the mantle of the leadership of Jana Sangh fell on the shoulders of a young Vajpayee. He became the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968 and, along with Nanaji Deshmukh, Balraj Madhok and L. K. Advani, led the Jana Sangh to national prominence.
Political career (1975–1995)
Foreign Minister Vajpayee (far right) and Prime Minister Morarji Desai (third from right, front row) with US President Jimmy Carter during his 1978 visit to India.
From 1975 to 1977, Vajpayee was arrested along with several other opposition leaders during the Internal Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Indian National Congress party.
Following Janata's victory in the 1977 general elections, he became the Minister of External Affairs in Prime Minister Morarji Desai's cabinet. As foreign minister, that year Vajpayee became the first person to deliver a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi. By the time the Janata government crumbled in 1979, Vajpayee had established himself as an experienced statesman and a respected political leader.
The Janata Party was dissolved soon after Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister in 1979. The Jana Sangh had devoted its political organisation to sustain the coalition and was left exhausted by the internecine political wars within the Janata Party.
Vajpayee joined many of his Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh colleagues, particularly his long-time friends L. K. Advani and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat,to form the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980. He became the BJP's first President.He emerged as a strong critic of the Congress government that followed the Janata government.
While the BJP opposed the Sikh militancy that was rising in the state of Punjab, it also blamed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her "divisive and corrupt politics that fostered such militancy at the expense of national unity and integrity."The BJP was left with only two parliamentary seats in the 1984 elections. During this period, Vajpayee remained at the centre-stage as party President and Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament.
The BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which was led by activists of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the RSS, and which sought to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama in Ayodhya.
Victory in the assembly elections in Gujarat and Maharashtra in March 1995, and a good performance in the elections to the Karnataka assembly in December 1994, propelled the BJP to greater political prominence. During a BJP conference in Mumbai in November 1995, BJP President L. K. Advani declared that Vajpayee would become the Prime Minister of India. The BJP won in the May 1996 parliamentary elections.
Vajpayee served as the Prime Minister of India between 1996 and 2004 in three non-consecutive terms.
First term: May 1996
See also: First Vajpayee ministry
The BJP grew in strength in the early 1995 riding on pro-nationalistic sentiments. In the 1996 general elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. The then president Shankar Dayal Sharma invited Vajpayee to form the government. Vajpayee was sworn in as the 10th Prime Minister of India, but the BJP failed to muster enough support from other parties to obtain a majority. He resigned after 13 days, when it became clear that he could not garner a majority.
Second term: 1998–1999
See also: Second Vajpayee ministry
After the fall of the two United Front governments between 1996 and 1998, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and fresh elections were held. The 1998 general elections again put the BJP ahead of others. This time, a cohesive bloc of political parties joined the BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister.
The NDA proved its majority in the parliament. The government lasted 13 months until mid-1999 when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under Jayalalithaa withdrew its support to the government.The government lost the ensuing vote of confidence motion in the Lok Sabha by a single vote on 17 April 1999. As the Opposition was unable to come up with the numbers to form the new government, the Lok Sabha was again dissolved and fresh elections were held. Vajpayee remaining the Prime Minister until the elections were held.
See also: Pokhran-II
In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran desert in Rajasthan, 24 yrs after India conducted its first nuclear test (Smiling Buddha) in 1974. This test is called Pokhran-II. The tests were held just a month after the government had been in power. Two weeks later, Pakistan responded with its own nuclear tests making it the newest declared nation with nuclear weapons.
While some nations, such as Russia and France, endorsed India's right to defensive nuclear power,others including the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain and the European Union imposed sanctions on information, resources and technology to India. In spite of the intense international criticism and the steady decline in foreign investment and trade, the nuclear tests were popular domestically. Effectively the international sanctions failed completely in swaying India's decision to weaponize their nuclear capability (especially as US sanctions against India and Pakistan were lifted after just six months), something that was planned for and anticipated by the Vajpayee administration.
The 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 conflicts with Pakistan. The resultant Lahore Declaration espoused a commitment to dialogue, expanded trade relations and mutual friendship and envisaged a goal of denuclearised South Asia. 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 had continually threatened to withdraw from the coalition and national leaders repeatedly flew down from Delhi to Chennai to pacify the AIADMK chief J. Jayalalitha. However, 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 1999.
Further information: Kargil War
It was revealed that militants and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers had infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley and captured control of border hilltops, unmanned border posts and were spreading out fast. The incursion was centred around the town of Kargil, but also included the Batalik and Akhnoor sectors and artillery exchanges at the Siachen Glacier.
Indian army units were swiftly rushed into Kashmir in response. Operation Vijay, launched in June 1999, saw the Indian military fighting thousands of militants and soldiers in the midst of heavy artillery shelling and while facing extremely cold weather, snow and treacherous terrain at the high altitude. Over 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the three-month-long Kargil War, and it is estimated around 600-4,000 Pakistani militants and soldiers died as well. India pushed back the Pakistani militants and Northern Light Infantry soldiers. Almost 70% of the territory was recaptured by India. Vajpayee sent a "secret letter" to US President Bill Clinton that if Pakistani infiltrators did not withdraw from the Indian territory, “we will get them out, one way or the other” – meaning he did not rule out crossing the Line of Control (LoC), or was the use of nuclear weapons.
After Pakistan suffered heavy losses, and with both the United States and China refusing to condone the incursion or threaten India to stop its military operations, General Musharraf was recalcitrant and Nawaz Sharif asked the remaining militants to stop and withdraw to positions along the LoC. The militants were not willing to accept orders from Sharif but the NLI soldiers withdrew. The militants were killed by the army or forced to withdraw in skirmishes which went beyond the announcement of withdrawal by Pakistan. The victory in Kargil bolstered the image of Vajpayee and he was hailed across the country for his bold and strong leadership. On 26 July 2012, designated as 'Kargil Vijay Diwas', BJP President Nitin Gadkari unveiled a wax statue of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Mumbai. The statue is to be put up at a wax museum in Lonavala.
Third term: 1999–2004
See also: Third Vajpayee ministry
In the 1999 general elections, the BJP-led NDA won 303 seats out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, in the aftermath of the Kargil operations,thereby securing a comfortable and stable majority. On 13 October 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took oath as Prime Minister of India for the third time.
Indian Airlines hijack
A national crisis emerged in December 1999, when Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked by five terrorists and flown to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.The hijackers made several demands including the release of certain terrorists like Masood Azhar from prison. Under extreme pressure, the government ultimately caved in. Jaswant Singh, the Minister for External Affairs at the time, flew with the terrorists to Afghanistan and exchanged them for the passengers.
1992, Padma Vibhushan
1993, D. Lit. from Kanpur University
1994, Lokmanya Tilak Award
1994, Outstanding Parliamentarian Award
1994, Bharat Ratna Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant Award
2015, Bharat Ratna
2015, Bangladesh Liberation War honour
1951 – Founder-Member, Bharatiya Jana Sangh
1957 – Elected to 2nd Lok Sabha
1957–77 – Leader, Bharatiya Jana Sangh Parliamentary Party
1962 – Member, Rajya Sabha
1966-67- Chairman, Committee on Government Assurances
1967 – Re-elected to 4th Lok Sabha
1967–70 – Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
1968–73 – President, B.J.S.
1971 – Re-elected to 5th Lok Sabha
1977 – Re-elected to 6th Lok Sabha
1977–79 – Union Cabinet Minister, External Affairs
1977–80 – Founder- Member, Janata Party
1980 – Re-elected to 7th Lok Sabha
1980-86- President, Bharatiya Janata Party
1980-84, 1986 and 1993–96 – Leader, B.J.P. Parliamentary Party
1986 – Member, Rajya Sabha; Member, General Purposes Committee
1988–90 – Member, House Committee; Member, Business Advisory Committee
1990-91- Chairman, Committee on Petitions
1991– Re-elected to 10th Lok Sabha
1991–93 – Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
1993–96 – Chairman, Committee on External Affairs; Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha
1996 – Re-elected to 11th Lok Sabha
16 May 1996 – 31 May 1996 – Prime Minister of India
1996–97 – Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha
1997–98 – Chairman, Committee on External Affairs
1998 – Re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha
1998–99 – Prime Minister of India; Minister of External Affairs; and also in charge of Ministries/Department not specifically allocated to the charge of any Minister
1999 – Re-elected to 13th Lok Sabha
13 Oct.1999 to 13 May 2004– Prime Minister of India and also in charge of the Ministries/Departments not specifically allocated to the charge of any Minister
2004 – Re-elected to 14th Lok Sabha
India's Foreign Policy: New Dimensions (1977)
Assam Problem: Repression no Solution (1981)
Atal Bihari Vaj Mem Tina Dasaka (1992)
Pradhan Mantri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ke Chune Hue Bhashana (2000)
Values, Vision & Verses of Vajpayee: India's Man of Destiny (2001)
National Integration (1961)
Dynamics of an Open Society (1977)
Kucha Lekha, Kucha Bhashana (1996)
Sekyularavada: Bharatiya Parikalpana (Da. Rajendra Prasada Smaraka Vyakhyanamala) (1996)
Rajaniti ki Rapatili Rahem (1997)
Back to Square One (1998)
Decisive Days (1999)
Sakti Se Santi (1999)
India's Perspectives on ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific Region(2003)