A man of the masses, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was an Indian politician and parliamentarian recognised for his pragmatic approach to the nation and his inclusive foreign and domestic policy. He became the first Head of State in India to serve a full term in the office that was not from the Congress Party.
One of the co-founders and senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Vajpayee was also a crucial member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He became the Prime Minister of India for the first time in 1996, then in 1998 and subsequently served a full term after emerging victorious in the elections held in 1999.
Born on December 25, 1924, in the princely state of Gwalior, Vajpayee hailed from a Hindu Brahmin family of humble school teachers. His youth was spent witnessing the peak of the British regime in India and it was the resistance against this rule that also led Vajpayee to the realm of politics.
His political career began during his academic years. By the age of 16, Vajpayee had become a member of the RSS. Moreover, at the same age, he participated in the demonstrations of the Quit India Movement — the key moment in the Indian freedom struggle that would further weaken the hold of colonial rule in the country.
His higher studies in political science and law drew him closer to the arena of politics and he developed a keen interest in foreign affairs. Vajpayee’s knack for activism also prompted him to work as a journalist for a brief period before he inevitably joined the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951.
Vajpayee was a reformer by heart. He envisaged India as a country that would walk the path of modernisation while still being connected intricately with its ancient roots of tradition and culture. During his years in public life, he was a vocal advocate for women’s empowerment and social equality.
He also worked ardently to restore communal peace in the country during several Hindu-Muslim riots that occurred throughout his time at the office. In 1992 he was one of the few Hindu leaders to speak out against the destruction of the historic mosque at Ayodhya by anti-Muslim extremists.
During his term as a Prime Minister, his government began a comprehensive programme of divestment of public funds from several prominent state-run industries, steering the first nationwide drive of privatisation. In 2003 Vajpayee made a conscious effort to resolve India’s long-standing dispute with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Under his leadership, India achieved steady economic growth, and the country consolidated its position in the global information technology sector.
Vajpayee retired from political life in 2005 but his work to propel India to the level of a globally recognised economic and military power is applauded to this day.
Here are 10 facts you might not know about Atal Bihari Vajpayee:
- With a political career spanning over 4 decades, Vajpayee has been elected to the Lok Sabha (House of the People) nine times and to the Rajya Sabha (House of the States) twice.
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee was imprisoned for 23 days at the age of 16 for participating in the Quit India Movement.
- He and his father went to the same Law College (DAV College in Kanpur) together for their Law studies, becoming classmates, and they even shared the same room in the college hostel.
- When Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered his maiden speech in the Indian Parliament, Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India, foresaw that someday he would become the Prime Minister of India.
- Vajpayee is the only leader to gain a victory in six Lok Sabha constituencies from 4 states — Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi and Gujarat.
- Vajpayee was the first Indian politician to deliver a speech in Hindi at the United Nations General Assembly, debuting Hindi on the global platform on a large scale for the first time.
- Besides being a veteran politician, Vajpayee was a lover of music and poetry. He was a talented poet himself and wrote his first poem in 10th standard. His hobbies also spread over to the kitchen as he was fond of cooking and white good at it too.
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government is associated with the creation of new departments such as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, the Department of North-East Region and converting the Social Welfare Ministry into the Ministry of Social Justice.
- On 13 May 1998, he led the successful nuclear test named- Operation Shakti at Pokhran in Rajasthan and put India in the league of the world’s elite nuclear club, despite facing criticism from the western nations.
- In late December 2014, Vajpayee was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, for his unquestionable efforts in establishing the foundation of a progressive India.