Atal Bihari Vajpayee (born 25 December 1924) is an Indian politician who
was the 10th Prime Minister of India, first for 13 days in 1996 and then from
1998 to 2004. A leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he is the first
Prime Minister from outside the Indian National Congress party to serve a
full five-year term.
A parliamentarian for over four decades, Vajpayee was elected to the Lok
Sabha (the lower house of India's Parliament) ten times, and twice to the
Rajya Sabha (upper house). He also served as the Member of Parliament
for Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, until 2009, when he retired from active politics
due to health concerns. Vajpayee was one amongst the founder members
of erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which he had also headed. He was also
the Minister of External Affairs in the cabinet of Morarji Desai. When Janata
government collapsed, Vajpayee restarted the Jana Sangh as the
Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.
On 25 December 2014 the office of President of India announced the
Bharat Ratna award, India's highest civilian honour, to Vajpayee. In a
special gesture, the President of India conferred Bharat Ratna to Atal Bihari
Vajpayee in his residence on 27 March 2015. His birthday, 25 December,
was declared "Good Governance Day".
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 studied from the Government
Higher secondary school, 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 Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College,
Kanpur, and was awarded a first-class degree.
His activism started with the 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 has
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, when he was released only after giving a written undertaking,
expressly declaring not to participate in any of the anti-British struggle.
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 Mookerjee.
In 1954, Vajpayee was with Mookerjee 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 India's Parliament, 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)
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. In 1977,
heeding the call of social reformer Jayaprakash Narayan for all the
opposition parties to unite against the Congress, Vajpayee merged the
Jana Sangh into the newly formed grand-alliance, the Janata 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
(BJP) in 1980. He became the BJP's first President. He emerged as a
strong critic of the Congress (I) government that followed the Janata
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 Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)
and the RSS, and which sought to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama
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.
As prime minister of India:
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
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 (AIADMK) under J. Jayalalitha 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.
In May 1998, India conducted five underground nuclear tests in Pokhran
desert in Rajasthan, 24 years after India conducted its first nuclear test
Pokhran-I 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, something that was planned for and anticipated by the Vajpayee
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.
It was revealed that militants and non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers (many
with official identifications and 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
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. With
news of Pakistan planning to launch a nuclear attack in the face of a loss in
the war with India, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summoned
to the US by Bill Clinton and warned against any such action.
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 L o C.
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
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 Maulana 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.
National highway project, foreign policy and economic reforms
During his administration, Vajpayee introduced many domestic economic
and infrastructural reforms, including encouraging the private sector and
foreign investments, reducing governmental waste, encouraging research
and development and privatisation of some government owned
corporations. The UPA Government on 1 July 2013 accepted before
Supreme Court that National Democratic Alliance Government led by
Vajpayee has developed half the roads in last 32 years in their 5-year term.
Vajpayee's pet projects were the National Highway Development Project
and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.
In March 2000, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, paid a state
visit to India. His was the first state visit to India by a US President in 22
years. President Clinton's visit to India was hailed as a significant milestone
in the relations between the two countries. Since the visit came 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 major achievement was a
significant expansion in trade and economic ties. The Historic Vision
Document on the future course of relations between the two countries was
signed by Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Clinton during the visit.
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
temple in Ayodhya, repealing Article 370 which gave a special status to the
state of Kashmir, or enacting a uniform civil code applicable to adherents of
all religions. On 17 January 2000, there were reports of the RSS and some
BJP hard-liners threatening to restart the Jan Sangh, the precursor to the
BJP, because of their discontent over Atal Bihari Vajpayee rule. Former
president of the Jan Sangh, Balraj Madhok, had written a letter to the then
RSS chief, Rajendra Singh for support. The BJP was, however, accused of
saffronising (saffron being the colour of the flag of the RSS, symbol of the
Hindu nationalism movement) the official state education curriculum and
apparatus. Also, Home Minister L.K. Advani and Human Resource
Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi were indicted in the 1992 Babri
Mosque demolition case for inciting a mob of activists. Vajpayee himself
came under public scrutiny owing to his controversial speech one day prior
to the mosque demolition. The RSS also routinely criticised the
government for free-market policies which introduced foreign goods and
competition at the expense of 'swadeshi' industries and products.
Vajpayee's administration earned the ire of many trade unions and
government workers for its aggressive campaign to privatise government
owned corporations. Vajpayee promoted pro-business, free market reforms
to reinvigorate India's economic transformation and expansion that were
started by the former PM 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
sector 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 couple of years of reform however was accompanied by infighting in
the administration and confusion regarding the direction of government.
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.
Vajpayee again broke the ice in the Indo-Pak 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 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.
In 2001, the Vajpayee government launched the famous Sarva Shiksha
Abhiyan, which aimed at improving the quality of education in primary and
2001 attack on Parliament
Main article: 2001 Indian Parliament attack
On 13 December 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 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 to a conspiracy rooted in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Vajpayee ordered a mobilisation 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 administration also 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 repeal was advocated by human rights
But the biggest political disaster hit his government 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 shila 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 organisation hung over the
nation. But to the relief of Vajpayee, his government was able to tide over
this crisis rather smoothly.
2002 Gujarat violence
In 2002, Hindu-Muslim violence in the state Gujarat killed more than 1,000
people. Vajpayee officially condemned the violence.
Later, Vajpayee made controversial remarks: "Wherever there are Muslims
in large numbers, they do not want to live in peace." The remarks were
clarified by the Prime Minister's Office as being taken out of context.
Vajpayee was accused of doing nothing to stop the violence, and later
admitted mistakes in the handling the events. K.R. Narayanan, then
president of India, also blamed Vajpayee's government for failing to quell
Remainder of term
In late 2002 and 2003 the government pushed economic reforms, and the
country's GDP growth accelerated at record levels, exceeding 6–7%.
Increasing foreign investment, modernisation of public and industrial
infrastructure, the creation of jobs, a rising high-tech and IT industry and
urban modernisation and expansion improved the nation's international
image. Good crop harvests and strong industrial expansion also helped the
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. He faced stiff opposition
from other equally strong organizations in the RSS family such as the
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. However, he
continued with his aggressive economic reform policy.
In August 2003, he announced before the 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 July 2003, Prime Minister
Vajpayee, visited China, and met with various Chinese leaders. He
recognised Tibet as a part of China, which was welcomed by the Chinese
leadership, who in the following year, recognised Sikkim, as a part of India.
Sino-Indian Relations, improved greatly, in the following years.
In November–December 2003, the Bharatiya Janata Party (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 communal riots controversy from
haunting the party's future.
On 29 June 2002 Atal Bihari Vajpayee while dedicating his collection of
poems translated in Tamil, recalled his friendship with C.N. Annadurai and
claimed that he was not opposed to Hindi and appreciated Vajpayee's
language skills. Annadurai however, was against imposition of the
2004 general election:
The NDA was widely expected to retain power after the 2004 general
election. The 13th Lok Sabha had been dissolved before the completion of
its term to capitalise on the perceived 'feel-good factor' and BJP's recent
successes in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and
Chhattisgarh. The BJP hoped to capitalise on the slogan "India Shining"
and released many ads touting the economic growth of the nation.
However, the coalition lost almost half of its seats, with several prominent
cabinet ministers being defeated. The Indian National Congress, led by
Sonia Gandhi, became the single largest party and, along with many minor
parties, formed the United Progressive Alliance. With the conditional
support of the leftist parties from the outside, the UPA formed a
government under Dr Manmohan Singh. Vajpayee resigned as Prime
Minister and promised co-operation to the new government. Accepting
moral responsibility for the defeat, he decided not to take up the position of
the Leader of the Opposition and passed on the leadership mantle to Lal
Krishna Advani. However, he retained his post as Chairman of the NDA.
Travel and diplomatic assignments
Vajpayee has visited several countries, first in 1965 as a member of the
Parliamentary Goodwill Mission to East Africa. He was also part of the
Parliamentary Delegations to Australia in 1967, the European Parliament in
1983, and Canada in 1987. He was part of the official Indian Delegation to
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meetings held in Canada in
1966 and 1994, Zambia in 1980, and the Isle of Man in 1984. He was in the
Indian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Japan in
1974, Sri Lanka in 1975; and Switzerland in 1984. He was a regular at the
UN General Assembly, having been part of the Indian Delegations in 1988,
1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996. He led the Indian Delegation to
the Human Rights Commission Meeting at Geneva in 1993 and the
Delegation of Standing Committees of External Affairs to Gulf countries i.e.
Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.
In December 2005, Vajpayee announced his retirement from active politics,
declaring that he would not contest in the next general election.
Vajpayee was referred to as the Bhishma Pitamah of Indian Politics by
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during his speech in the Rajya Sabha.
Personal life and interests
Vajpayee has an adopted daughter, Namita. He is fond of Indian music and
dance. He loves nature and one of his favourite retreats is Manali in
Vajpayee has said about his poetry, "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 despirited voice of dejection
but the stirring shout of victory."
Vajpayee underwent knee replacement surgery at Breach Candy Hospital
in Mumbai in 2001. He suffered a stroke in 2009 which impaired his
speech. His health has been a major source of concern and those in the
know say he is often confined to a wheelchair and fails to recognise people.
He is said to be suffering from dementia and long-term diabetes. He is not
known to have attended any public event in recent years. He rarely
ventures out of the house, except for checkups at the All India Institute of
Vajpayee is critical and on life-support system, a medical bulletin from
AIIMS said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the 93 year old at the
Atal passed away around afternoon.