Vajpayee, Atal Bihari

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vajpayee, Atal Bihari

Atal Bihari Vajpayee (ä´täl bihär´ē väj´pī´), 1926–, Indian politician, prime minister of India (1996, 1998–2004). He began his career as a journalist, entering politics as an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate in 1950. He was (1951) a founding member of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Hindu nationalist precursor of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). An able orator, Vajpayee won election to parliament in 1957; in 1975 he was imprisoned for opposing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's state of emergency. During the tenure (1977–79) of the coalition government that defeated Gandhi and her party, Vajpayee served as foreign minister and became the president (1980–86) of the newly formed BJP. When the BJP won the largest number of parliamentary seats in 1996, Vajpayee became prime minister; failing to form a coalition, he resigned 13 days later. After the 1998 elections gave the BJP a greater representation in parliament, Vajpayee again became prime minister; he was returned to office in 1999. Vajpayee softened some of the more strident nationalist and anti-Muslim rhetoric of other BJP members and continued the free-market reforms begun by preceding governments. His government also strongly supported the development of India as a nuclear power; several nuclear tests were conducted in 1998. After the BJP's loss in the 2004 elections Vajpayee declined to serve as opposition leader; he retired from parliament in 2009. He has written a number of books, including collections of his speeches, a work on Indian foreign policy, and poetry.

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