Introduction


Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, born in 1924, three-time prime minister of India and a longtime Hindu nationalist leader. He held the office of prime minister as leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1996, 1998-1999, and 1999-2004. Vajpayee led India through a period of unprecedented economic growth and achieved the restoration of diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

Rise in the Ranks


Vajpayee was born in the city of Gwalior

Vajpayee was born in the city of Gwalior in central India to a family of the Brahman caste, the highest of the five hereditary classes of Hinduism. As a teenager, Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Service), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization. After earning an advanced degree in political science, Vajpayee in 1951 helped organize the Jana Sangh, a Hindu nationalist political party.

In 1957 Vajpayee won election to the Lok

In 1957 Vajpayee won election to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, beginning a parliamentary career that would span more than 40 years. In parliament, Vajpayee quickly established a reputation as a gifted orator.

In 1975 Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi

In 1975 Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of national emergency, assuming extraordinary powers and suspending many civil liberties. Vajpayee was among many politicians who were jailed for opposing the emergency rule. Two years later he joined a political coalition led by the Janata (People`s) Party that defeated Gandhi`s Congress Party. Vajpayee became foreign minister in the new government, and in that position he worked to improve India`s relations with neighboring Pakistan, easing travel restrictions on Pakistanis and Indian Muslims.

Soon after the collapse of the Janata Party

Soon after the collapse of the Janata Party government in 1979, Vajpayee was named the first leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a successor to the Jana Sangh. The BJP promotes the traditional Hindu nationalist view that India`s people are linked by a common Hindu culture. The BJP has drawn criticism for its philosophy, which some Indians perceive as incompatible with the nation`s secular constitution and as a threat to the country`s large Muslim minority. Vajpayee denied these claims, insisting that a BJP government would work to build political consensus on important national issues. Vajpayee continued to lead the BJP until 1986, when he was replaced by hard-line Hindu nationalist Lal Krishna Advani.

In 1992 Vajpayee criticized radical Hindu

In 1992 Vajpayee criticized radical Hindu nationalists who razed a historic Muslim mosque in northern Uttar Pradesh State in order to build a Hindu temple at the site. The incident, which provoked Hindu-Muslim riots that killed more than 2,000 people, led to the resignation of Advani and opened the way for Vajpayee to resume leadership of the BJP.

Leader of India


Vajpayee became India`s prime minister

Vajpayee became India`s prime minister in May 1996 after the BJP emerged from parliamentary elections as the largest party, winning 161 seats in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. However, Vajpayee was forced to resign 13 days later when his government failed to attract support from other parties.

In March 1998 Vajpayee was sworn in for

In March 1998 Vajpayee was sworn in for a second term as prime minister following parliamentary elections that gave the BJP 179 seats. To gain political support for his fragile coalition government, Vajpayee softened the BJP`s stand on policies perceived as hostile to India`s Muslims.

A poet and lifelong bachelor

A poet and lifelong bachelor, Vajpayee was widely portrayed as a moderate within a political movement long associated with a rigid pro-Hindu agenda. However, Vajpayee did not retreat from the BJP`s controversial pledge to declare India a nuclear weapons power. In May 1998 the Indian government conducted its first nuclear weapons tests since 1974, testing five nuclear devices. Within weeks Pakistan responded with its own nuclear tests, arousing fears of a regional nuclear arms race.

In April 1999 the BJP-led government collapsed

In April 1999 the BJP-led government collapsed when a member of the ruling coalition withdrew. Vajpayee resigned as prime minister but was returned to office in October after a multiparty coalition led by the BJP won a clear majority in parliamentary elections. Vajpayee became the first incumbent prime minister to retain power since Indira Gandhi in 1971.

Vajpayee`s coalition government continued

Vajpayee`s coalition government continued to implement an economic reform program that had ushered in a period of remarkable economic growth in the 1990s. The reforms opened India to the world economically by breaking down trade barriers, dismantling monopolies, and selling off state assets to private investors. The country became an important center of information technology and biotechnology. However, the economic growth mostly benefited India`s middle class, which forms the base of BJP support. Increases in per capita income helped alleviate poverty to some extent, but the majority of India`s population continued to live at the subsistence level.

Vajpayee also became known as a skilled

Vajpayee also became known as a skilled diplomat on the world stage. Most notably, he worked to improve India`s strained relations with Pakistan. In 2002 tensions over the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmr flared to the brink of a border war, but Vajpayee`s diplomatic skills helped defuse the crisis. His efforts to heal ties with Pakistan led to a series of significant breakthroughs, including the restoration of diplomatic relations and a cease-fire agreement in 2003.

Vajpayee called early parliamentary elections

Vajpayee called early parliamentary elections in 2004 in the expectation that India`s burgeoning economy and peace moves with Pakistan would return his BJP-led coalition to power. However, voters delivered a surprise victory to the rival Congress Party, which led a campaign that appealed to India`s urban and rural poor. Vajpayee resigned as prime minister after election results were announced in May.

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