“Maut ki umar kya hai, do pal bhi nahi.”
Atal Bihari Vajpayee- a writer, a politician, a poet passed away on 16 August 2018. The man of diverse interests has left behind a legacy that will be remembered by generations to come. His words, and his outlook towards the world are still relevant in today’s times. At 93 years of age, he was the oldest surviving former Prime Minister of India.
The life of Vajpayee
Born on 25th December, 1924, in the City of Kings – Gwalior, Atal Bihari Vajpayee lived a life of poetry and determination synced together. Born to Krishna Devi and Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, he finished school and graduation in his hometown, before moving to Kanpur for his post-graduation. He obtained his first-class degree in M.A. (Political Science) from DAV College, Kanpur. Later, he proceeded to complete his education in law, but could not due to the partition riots. It was a few years earlier, in 1939 that Atal Ji had set on the path that would eventually lead him to politics.
In 1939, Atal Bihari Vajpayee joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), becoming its “full-time worker” in 1947. He was already a member of the Gwalior Arya Kumar Sabha, the youth wing of Arya Samaj. In 1944, he ascended to the post of general secretary for the same. It was through his RSS roots that he found himself among the founding members of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and ultimately in the chief ranks of Bharatiya Janata Party.
The first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a five-year term, Vajpayee was a member of the Parliament for over four decades. His first direct brush with politics was in August 1942, when he and Prem, his elder brother, were sent to jail for 23 days in the Quit India Movement. He was arrested for a second time during the Emergency (1975-77).
In 1951, he started working for Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Hindu right-wing political arm of RSS. In the following years, he became closely acquainted with Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh. 1957 saw both, the first parliamentary victory of Vajpayee, as well as his first defeat. He lost the Mathura Lok Sabha seat to Raja Mahendra Pratap, a Marxist leader, but won the Balrampur (Uttar Pradesh) seat instead. He was the Balrampur MP during 1957-62 and 1967-71. His longest held seat, however, was the Lucknow constituency (Lower house). Vajpayee won from Lucknow five times consecutively, starting from 1991. It was from the same seat, in 2009 that he bid farewell to politics, due to health concerns.
Before retirement, Vajpayee led a strong political career. In 1968, he was appointed the President of Jana Sangh. In 1977, he became the Minister of External Affairs, following the win of his party in the 1977 general elections. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the same year, delievered a speech in Hindi to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as the Indian foreign minister. He was the first person to do so. Three years later, when Bharatiya Janata Party was formed in 1980, he became its first president, holding the post till 1986.
Prime Minister Vajpayee Ji
Vajpayee served thrice as the Indian prime minister. The first time was a brief tenure of 16 days in 1996, post BJP’s emergence as the largest party in 1996 general elections. However, the ministry was desolved upon the party’s inability to gather enough support to form a majority. His second term was from 1998-99, lasting 13 months till AIADMK withdrew its support.
In the 1999 general elections, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won a total 303 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats. Having secured a stable majority for the first time, the BJP-led NDA formed the government, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee swearing in as the Prime Minister of India for the third time. Consecutively, he served as the 10th PM of India till his term ended in 2004.
Vajpayee once famously said that “You can change friends but not neighbours”. Throughout his political career, therefore, he made efforts to dilute the tensions with Pakistan as much as possible. He visited Pakistan twice as the Indian Prime Minister – once in 1999, and then in 2004. In 1999, he met the then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. As Sharif recalled later, Vajpayee wished to “declare 1999 as the year of the resolution of all problems that exist between Pakistan and India, including the issue of Kashmir”.
When in talk with Shekhar Gupta, the current EIC of The Print, Vajpayee said “If leaders of India and Pakistan keep waiting for the ideal moment to make peace, they may never get a chance.” That was Vajpayee’s line of thought. There are many who still believe that if Vajpayee had more time, the Kashmir issue would have been resolved, as well as other clashes with Pakistan.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee – the poet politician and prime minister, certainly lived a life he would be remembered by. As the nation nation grieves in its loss, let’s recall his words once again-
“Maut ki umar kya hai, do pal bhi nahi.”