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Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is renowned for his political, literary, and professional achievements both in India and internationally. His major noteworthy accomplishments, prior to more than four decades of political participation and dynamic leadership, include his education at Victoria College (now Laxmibai) in Gwalior and DAV College in Uttar Pradesh, editing of several Indian periodicals, and composition of a variety of literary works. Vajpayee holds a Master of Arts degree in political science. He served as editor of the monthly Rashtra-Dharma, the weekly Panchajanya, and the daily Swadesh and Veer Arjun periodicals. His own major publications, including Lok Sabha Mein Atajji, Mrityu Ya Hatya, Amar Balidan, Kaidi Kavirai Ki Kundalian, New Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy, Jana Sangh Aur Musalman, Three Decades in Parliament, Amar Aag Hai, Meri Ekyavan Kavitayen, and Four Decades in Parliament, range from books to collections of poems and compilations of speeches.
Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior, in what is now Madhya Pradesh, India. In the early 1940s he first became interested in the Indian independence movement. His first party affiliation was as a member of the Quit India Movement, which was lobbying for the end of British control of India. A devout Hindu, in 1951 he was a founding member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) Parliamentary Party, and because of his dynamic pro-Hindu, right-wing political leadership, he led the party for over two decades, from 1957 to 1977. He was briefly imprisoned during the Indian Emergency of 1975 to 1977 because of opposing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency. After the BJS was merged into the Janata Party, Vajpayee was elected minister of external affairs. In 1980 he was elected president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), another Hindu fundamentalist party, a post he held until 1986. He then rose to become the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which from 1998 through 2004 was the ruling coalition of India, and from this position he was named prime minister. In addition to championing the cause of Hindu nationalism, Vajpayee has also actively worked on behalf of women and children’s welfare, and the elevation of lower caste and tribal people. His advocacy in these areas might seem paradoxical and contradictory if only seen within his attachment to the BJP, but one should consider that, more than anything else, Vajpayee was a popular intellectual leader seeking to expand his political power. So his advocacy for social justice can be viewed in part within his larger effort to advance both his political power and the BJP’s influence. His advocacy in these areas might seem paradoxical and contradictory if only seen within his attachment to BJP, but one should consider that, more than anything else, Vajpayee was a popular intellectual leader seeking to expand his political power. Undermining 50 percent of the Indian population would have jeopardized both his power and BJP’s rising influence. This paradox can also be seen in the case of Indira Gandhi, who was a well-known left winger female leader, but with much less practical sympathy for women’s welfare and social justice.
In addition to serving twice as prime minister of India, Vajpayee is the only person to have been elected nine times to the Lok Sabha, or Indian House of the People. He was first elected to the second Lok Sabha in 1957, and most recently to the thirteenth Lok Sabha in 1999. Twice he was elected to the Rajya Sabha, or House of the States. He was the only leader besides Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to be elected prime minister by three consecutive terms in office (in 1996, 1998, and 1999). During his tenure as prime minister, he successfully managed the political fragmentation that has typically plagued the Indian government. Under his leadership, in spite of an economic recession, India logged impressive growth in various economic indicators, including foreign exchange reserves, agricultural production, and gross domestic product.
Vajpayee has participated in numerous parliamentary committees, social and cultural associations, and Indian delegations to the European Parliament, the UN General Assembly, Human Rights Commissions, and other international conferences.
In December 2005, Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed a decision to entrust the future of Indian politics to other capable leaders, formally announcing his retirement from electoral politics.
- Raghavan, G. N. S., ed. 1997. New Era in the Indian Polity, A Study of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the BJP. New Delhi, India: Gyan Publishing House.
- Sharma, Chandrika Prasad. 1998. Poet Politician: Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Biography. New Delhi, India: Kitab Ghar Prakashan.
- Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. 2000. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Selected Speeches. 2 vols. New Dehli, India: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.
- Vajpayee, Atal Bihari. 2005. Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet and Ex Prime Minister. New Delhi, India: Pentagon Press.
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