Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poetry in My Heart, Sangh in My Soul

One of India’s most beloved prime ministers, Vajpayee was an avid poet and lifelong RSS loyalist.

4 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on Thursday, 16 August, 2018.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was India’s 10th prime minister, and the country’s first non-congress prime minister to complete a five-year-term.

He served three terms, the first for 13 days in 1996, the second for 13 months from March 1998 to April 1999, and the third for five years from 1999-2004.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Deen Dayal Upadhyay and others. File photo.
(Photo Courtesy: Pictorial History of BJP)

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Childhood

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh on Christmas day in 1924. His father, Krishna Bihari Vajpayee, was a school teacher and a poet.

As a child, Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Saraswati Shishu Mandir, a school in Gorkhi, Gwalior.

He studied Hindi, Sanskrit, and English from Gwalior’s Laxmi Bai College, then known as Victoria College, and graduated with an MA in Political Science from DAV College, Kanpur.

His first encounter with politics came in 1939. Vajpayee writes:

I came in contact with the RSS in 1939 through Arya Kumar Sabha, a youth branch of Arya Samaj, in Gwalior — then a princely state which was not part of any province. Shri Bhoodev Shastri, a senior worker, asked us to go to the shakha in Gwalior. It was my first association with the RSS.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing the UN General Assembly as India’s External Affairs Minister.
(Photo: AP)

Politics and Prime Ministership

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s first involvement in Indian politics came in 1942, when he joined the Quit India Movement.

He briefly nursed the idea of becoming a journalist, even working as an editor for Hindi publications Rashtradharma, Panchjanya, Swadesh, and Veer Arjun, but that came to an end in 1951.

Vajpayee joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh on 21 October 1951, the party Syama Prasad Mookherjee founded, which laid the foundations for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He was a strong advocate for unity as well as for bringing minorities into the mainstream.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee greets (then) President Shankar Dayal Sharma at his swearing-in ceremony.
(Photo: PTI)
The RSS has a two-fold task before it. One is to organise the Hindus. To build a strong Hindu society, well-knit and rising above caste and other artificial differences. The other task is to assimilate the non-Hindus, like Muslims and Christians, in the mainstream. They can follow the faith of their own conviction. No one can object to it.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Over the course of his political career, Atal Bihari Vajpayee contested different elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, winning nine and two times respectively.

In 1977, Vajpayee went on to become a founding member of the Janata Party, and served as the External Affairs Minister in the Morarji Desai government.

From 16 May 1996 to 31 May 1996, Vajpayee served as prime minister, but failed to unite parties and prove a majority. The same year, he was re-elected as PM and served for 13 more months. His final term as prime minister was from 1999 to 2004.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Personal Life and Laurels

Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained a bachelor throughout his life. He has an adopted daughter, Namita.

He also set up the Krishna Bihari Vajpayee Trust in his father’s name, to promote constructive activities for the upliftment of the deprived and poor, as well as children’s welfare.

He felt a strong sense of family with the Sangh, and said as much on many occasions:

When I was ill during the Emergency, my family members did not turn up to see me. They were afraid of being arrested for any such action. Only the RSS workers helped me. See, how much living contact and fraternal feeling is in the RSS. Actually, the Sangh is our family. We are all one.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Vajpayee was also a writer and a poet, publishing six poetry books, including Meri Ikyavana Kavitaem, Sreshtha Kabita, Nayi Disha, and more.

India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 
(Photo: PTI)

Vajpayee was honoured with a Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 2015. He was awarded the Bangladesh's Liberation War Honour in the same year on 7 June, by the Government of Bangladesh.

The Government of India also conferred the Padma Vibhushan on Vajpayee in 1992. He also received the Lokmanya Tilak Award, as well as the Best Parliamentarian Award in 1994.

He also was honoured with the Bharat Ratna Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant Award in 1994, as well as an honourary DLitt from Kanpur University in 1993.


Retirement & Death: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Last Years

Vajpayee slowly withdrew from the public eye towards the end of his life, citing dementia and diabetes as the reasons for his retirement.

As he grew older, his closest aides said that he mostly spent his time at home, and even failed to recognise people he knew.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away on 16 August, 2018. He is survived by his adopted daughter Namita, and granddaughter Neharika.

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