Atal BehariVajpayee was the Prime Minister of India from March 19, 1998 to May 22, 2004. A multi-faceted political personality, Vajpayee was born on December 25, 1924 at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh to parents Krishna Behari Vajpayee, a school teacher and Krishna Devi. He studied at Victoria alias Laxmibai College, Gwalior and D.A.V. College, Kanpur.
A postgraduate in Political Science, Vajpayee’s first brush with nationalist politics was in his student days, when he joined the Quit India Movement of 1942 which hastened the end of British colonial rule. As student, he developed a keen interest in foreign affairs and nourished it over the years and put to skillful use while representing India at various multilateral and bilateral forays.
For a while Vajpayee studied law, but midstream he chose to become a journalist. This choice was largely influenced by the fact that as a student he had been an activist in India’s struggle for freedom. He edited Rashtradharma (a Hindi monthly), Panchjanya (a Hindi weekly) and the dailies Swadesh and Veer Arjun. However, his journalist’s career was cut short in 1951 when he joined Bharatiya Jana Sangh. As a founder- member of the Jana Sangh (1951-1977) and later Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) he served as the party’s president and took it to new heights. He served as the BJP’s president for the first five years of its existence, laying the foundation for the party’s awesome growth.
As a parliamentarian, Vajpayee has the rare distinction of being elected to the Lok Sabha nine times and to the Rajya Sabha twice. He is the only parliamentarian to have been elected from four different States at different times namely UP, Gujarat, MP and Delhi. He served as External] Affairs Minister in the Morarji Desai-led Janata Government from 1977 to 1979. He was Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha (1993) and also served as a Chairperson of a number of parliamentary committees.
He served as Prime Minister for a short stint (thirteen days) in 1996 Later on March 19, 1998, he took charge as Prime Minister of India and again on October 13, 1999 for the second consecutive term as the head of a new coalition government, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Vajpayee was involved with several social and cultural activities. The Krishna Behari Vajpayee Trust set up by him in the name of his late father promotes a number of constructive activities for the uplift of the deprived and poor as well as children. He has been a Member of the National Integration Council since 1961. Some of his other associations include being President of All India Station Masters and Assistant Station Masters Association (1965-70); Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smarak Samiti (1968-84); Deen Dayal Dham, Farah, Mathurs, U.P; and Janmabhomi Smarak Samiti, 1969 onwards.
Vajpayee was known for his speeches. Some of his quotes relating to the UN are: “In the euphoria after the Cold War, there was a misplaced notion that the UN could solve every problem anywhere”; “The reality is that international institutions like the UN can only be as effective as its members allow it to be”; “The UN’s unique legitimacy flows from a universal perception that it pursues a larger purpose than the interests of one country or a small group of countries”; “There was an implicit conviction that the UN would be stronger than the sum of its constituent member-states”.
During his tenure, he made several attempts to build bridges with Pakistan including the Lahore Bus Diplomacy. Some of his powerful quotes in the same context are: “No state should be allowed to profess partnership with the global coalition against terror, while continuing to aid, abet and sponsor terrorism”; “Our nuclear weapons are meant purely as a deterrent against nuclear adventure by an adversary”; “People who ask us when we will hold talks with Pakistan are perhaps not aware that over the last 55 years, every initiative for a dialogue with Pakistan has invariably come from India”.
“The overwhelming public sentiment in India was that no meaningful dialogue can be held with Pakistan until it abandons the use of terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy”; “We believe that the United States and the rest of the international community can play a useful role by exerting influence on Pakistan to put a permanent and visible end to cross-border terrorism against India”; “We hope the world will act in the spirit of enlightened self-interest”.
Besides being an eloquent speaker and a voracious reader, Vajpayee was well-known and respected for his love for poetry. His published works include Men Ikkyavan Kavitayen, Amar Aag Hai (collection of poems), Sankalp Kaal, Shakti-se-Shanti, Meri Sansadiya Yatra (in four volumes), Four Decades in Parliament (speeches 1957-95 in three volumes), Lok Sabha mein Atalji (a collection of speeches), Mrityu Ya Hatya, Amar Balidan, Kaidi Kaviraj Ki Kundalian (a collection of poems written in jail during Emergency), New Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy (a collection of speeches delivered as External Affairs Minister during 1977-79), Jan Sangh Aur Mussalman, etc .
Vajpayee’s stature was of a national leader with mass appeal who commanded respect for his liberal worldview and commitment to democratic ideals. In 1992, India’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, was conferred upon him in recognition of his selfless dedication to his first and only love, India, and his more than half-a- century of service to society and the nation. In 1993, he was conferred Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy by Kanpur University. In 1994, he was named India’s ‘Best Parliamentarian’. The same year, he was also conferred with the Lok Many a Tilak Puraskar.
A Bachelor throughout his life, Vajpayee had participated in freedom struggle and went to jail in 1942. He was also detained during Emergency in 1975-77. He has special interest for international affairs, uplift of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and woman and child welfare. Reading, writing, travelling and cooking have remained his favorite pastime and recreation activities.
Vajpayee is also widely travelled having visited several countries, the first being in 1965 as Member of Parliamentary Goodwill Mission to East Africa. He was also part of the Parliamentary Delegations to Australia, 1967; European Parliament, 1983; and Canada, 1987. He was part of the official Indian Delegation to Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meetings held in Canada, 1966 and 1994, Zambia 1980, and Isle of Man 1984.
He was on Indian Delegation to Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, Japan, 1974; Sri Lanka, 1975; and Switzerland, 1984. He had been regular to the UN General Assembly as part of Indian Delegation in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996. He led the Indian Delegation to Human Rights Commission Meeting at Geneva in 1993 and Delegation of Standing Committees of External Affairs to Gulf countries i.e. Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.
‘Baapji’ as affectionately called by his close friends and relatives has two adopted daughters Namita and Neharika. He is fond of Indian music and dance. He loves nature and one of his favorite retreats is Manali in Himachal Pradesh.