Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right 1924-1977
Author: Abhishek Choudhary
Genre: Political Biography
Published by Picador India/Pan Macmillan India
MRP: Rs. 899/-
Thank you @panmacmillanindia for the media copy of the book
A Note about Political Biographies:
While writing biographies, especially biographies of political figures, one should make sure it is neither a hagiography nor a hamartography. Well it becomes pointless anyways if someone from the so-called ‘left wing’ of the spectrum might call their work on someone from the other end of the spectrum a biography, but the people from that side of the spectrum will end up calling it a hamartography, if the same person had written a biography on someone from their side of the spectrum, it would be called as a hagiography. And the same for vice versa. [A hagiography is a biography that portrays its subject in an idealized and overly flattering manner, while a hamartography is a biography that focuses exclusively on the subject's flaws and shortcomings.]
Therefore, it is essential to maintain a balance and present a fair and accurate portrayal of the subject, without indulging in either excessive praise or undue criticism. This is particularly important in the case of political figures whose actions can have a significant impact on society and history. By presenting an objective biography, the readers can form their own opinions based on the facts presented, rather than being swayed by personal biases or political affiliations.
In order to achieve a balanced and objective biography, it is important to conduct extensive research and gather information from multiple sources. This can include interviews with people who knew the subject personally, studying historical records, and analyzing the subject's speeches and writings.
Furthermore, the writer should avoid presenting their own opinions or interpretations of the subject's actions and decisions. Instead, they should allow the readers to form their own opinions based on the facts presented. This requires a degree of detachment and impartiality on the part of the writer.
However, it is also important to acknowledge the limitations of objectivity in biographical writing. Every writer brings their own biases and perspectives to the table, and it is impossible to completely eliminate these from their work. As such, readers should be aware of the potential for bias and approach biographies with a critical eye.
The book is the first volume of a two-volume series on the political figure, and from the title, you must have figured that it covers the time span from 1924, Vajpayee’s birth, to 1977, when the Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi administration was officially over and the first time Vajpayee gets a seat at the table and becomes the Minister for External Affairs for the newly formed Janata Party government.
Divided into three parts, Part 1 (1924-1953) delves into Vajpayee's early years, his birth in Bateshwar, his family background, and his time in Gwalior. The author acknowledges Vajpayee's modest role in the freedom struggle, although the prime minister himself denied his involvement in the Quit India Movement. However, the author presents documented evidence contradicting this claim. The section covers his education in Gwalior and Kanpur, his meeting with Deendayal Upadhyay, and his initiation into journalism and activism through magazines like Rashtradharma and Panchjanya. Vajpayee's writings range from an extensive essay on the history of Islam in India titled "Muslim Rajya-Beej Vikas aur Fal" (summarized by the author with added commentary) to pieces expressing support for independence but criticism of Mahatma Gandhi. The book also sheds light on Vajpayee's early days as an RSS Swam Sevak. Despite the RSS's tarnished reputation following Gandhi's assassination, Vajpayee gradually rose through the ranks and embarked on tours, delivering speeches. The author highlights Vajpayee's remarkable foreign policy knowledge and expertise, evident in his writings. In 1951, with the RSS's blessings, Vajpayee joined the newly formed Jan Sangh, accompanied by Deendayal Upadhyay. The author devotes considerable attention to Syama Prasad Mookherjee, whom Vajpayee admired.
Throughout the book, the author intertwines commentary on the state of the nation, politics, and RSS affairs. While the events are mostly accurate, the author's commentary and personal opinions differ from mine. Although I disagree with some of the events and interpretations, I will refrain from discussing them since the book does not primarily focus on the RSS.
Part Two (1953-1968) delves into Vajpayee's early political career, his complex relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru (which offers intriguing insights beyond popular portrayals), his experiences abroad, and his association with Rajkumari Kaul. Regarding Vajpayee's relationship with Rajkumari Kaul, the author asserts that they were romantic partners, despite her being married to Birjan Kaul and even having an illegitimate daughter. However, based on my personal readings elsewhere, I believe their relationship was limited to friendship, despite the existence of rumors. The section also explores Vajpayee's rapport with Lal Bahadur Shastri and the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD), an alliance comprising the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, the Samyukta Socialist Party, the Praja Socialist Party, and the Jana Sangh. The author aptly highlights the ideological differences within the SVD, rendering it a doomed coalition. Numerous events unfold in this chapter, lending further depth to the narrative.
Part Three (1968-1977) primarily focuses on Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rivalry with Indira Gandhi, who became a prominent figure after the passing of Deendayal Upadhyay and Vajpayee's selection as Jan Sangh president. As Indira Gandhi implemented radical reforms, leading to the split of the Congress party into Congress (R) and Congress (O), the Jan Sangh, being considered a right-wing party, should have opposed the nationalization of banks and other socialist measures. However, despite dissent from individuals like Madlok, they ended up supporting a resolution in favor of these reforms. The book explores various differences between Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi, including the negotiation of removal the purses of Maharajas, granted upon their integration into India, foreign policy matters, and war negotiations. The book concludes with the end of the Emergency and the Janata Party assuming power, with Vajpayee being appointed as the Minister for External Affairs.
A surprising revelation in the book is that Vajpayee and other senior members were willing to discuss Kashmir on American terms in exchange for military assistance.
The author supports the information presented with citations from diverse sources spanning the political spectrum, including Prabhat Jha's "Hamare Atalji," critical articles, LK Advani's books, and libraries in the UK and US. However, the reader, including myself, felt that some areas required additional citations to cater to less well-informed readers. Despite this, the overall citation work is well-executed.
The biography is meticulously researched, providing extensive details and accurate accounts of events. While readers may hold different opinions regarding the author's views and commentary, they can easily overlook these aspects. Should one make a purchase? Yes, with a caveat. This book is the first volume, and the second volume is set to release in December 2023, which is not far off. If one can wait, it would be advisable to read reviews of the second book and consider purchasing both volumes together, if desired.
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