Monday, May 16, 2022

Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet, Politician, And Orator

On Atal Behari Vajpayee’s first death anniversary, Outlook recounts how his charming sobriety and inclusivity seduced both colleagues and the prickly opposition into the warmth of comfort.

Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet, Politician, And Orator
Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet, Politician, And Orator Photograph by T. Narayan

  • 1924 Born in Gwalior (now M.P.)
  • 1939 Joined RSS as a swayamsevak
  • 1942 Jailed for 24 days during Quit India Movement
  • 1947 Became RSS pracharak, scribe with Deendayal Upadhyay
  • 1951 Membership of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh
  • 1957 Lost Mathura but became MP from Balrampur in UP
  • 1967 Elected second time from Balrampur Lok Sabha seat
  • 1968-72 President of Bharatiya Jana Sangh
  • 1975-77 Incarcerated during Emergency
  • 1977-79 External affairs minister in Morarji Desai government
  • 1980 co-founded the BJP and became its first president
  • 1984 BJP reduced to two MPs; Vajpayee loses
  • 1993-1996 Leader of opposition
  • 1996 Prime minister for 13 days
  • 1996- 1997 Leader of opposition
  • 1998 PM for 13 months, nuclear test
  • 1999-2004  PM for full term, Pak intruders pushed back during Kargil conflict; Re-elected as MP in 2004
  • 2009 Retired from electoral politics at end of term
  • 2018 Dies in New Delhi on August 16


Atal Behari Vajpayee once said he was a poet by instinct and a politician by accident. It was his natural instinct for words that, of course, made him the great orator he was—but, in many ways, it also formed the pol­­­­i­­tician. His political method was more flexible because his ideas moved in the fluid space of language, not in the rigid diktats of party lines. India’s right wing owes a large part of its acc­­­e­­ptability, and its mainstreaming, to him—a fact it could pause to mull over in this day when a conciliatory tone is seen as a sign of weakness.