Book review: Abhishek Choudhary, Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right 1924–1977

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorRupesh Ranjan
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 429
Abhishek Choudhary, Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right 1924–1977.
Pune: Picador, 2023, 432 pp., `899.
DOI: 10.1177/00195561241236076
Contextualising Vajpayee: A Historical Narrative
In the popular television news show Aap Ki Adalat, news anchor Rajat Sharma,
while interviewing Atal Bihari Vajpayee, quoted the veteran journalist and cele-
brated author Khushwant Singh, who once stated: ‘Vajpayee is the right man in
the wrong party’, and solicited Vajpayee’s comment on it. Vajpayee with his usual
pause and a witty smile replied, ‘Mai kisi dal-dal mein nahi hoon [I am not in any
mire]. Despite Vajpayee’s lifelong association with the Bharatiya Janata Party and
its earlier avatar Bharatiya Jana Sangh, an attempt has always been made by some
over-enthusiastic journalists and recently by some of his biographers to see
Vajpayee as standing apart—ideologically and politically from his other col-
leagues in the party
It is in this context, the recent biography of Vajpayee by Abhishek Choudhary
makes an important intervention to understand the man as he was in his temporal-
ity. The book is divided into thirteen chapters, which delve into the life of
Vajpayee from his birth to becoming the Minister of External Affairs in the post-
Emergency Janata Party government. This work captures almost every aspect of
Vajpayee’s life, ranging from his personal to his political acquaintance with the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and subsequent entry into the Bharatiya
Jana Sangh as an assistant of Shyama Prasad Mookerji.
Busting Myths and its Epiphanies
The present work, based on extensive archival research, attempts at scrutinising
long-standing myths of Vajpayee’s life that have been propounded by his hagiog-
raphers. A few examples are as follows. Contrary to the widely held popular
opinion about Vajpayee being a bright student since childhood, he was an average
student who passed his middle and high school by second and third divisions,
respectively. It is at a later stage of his life when he entered college life that the
headmaster’s son honed his Hindi oratory and writing skill. Similarly, though
Vajpayee took admission in both LLB and MA in Political Science, but could only
complete his MA degree and had to drop his LLB course midway. The author also
made some bold claims about his personal-familial life refuting various circulat-
ing stories. While commenting on his personal life, the author has ensured that his
presentation of facts appeared nothing more than a biographer’s honest quest to
know his subject in a totality. Similarly, this biography also claims that there is no
evidence to suggest that Nehru prophesied that one day Vajpayee will become the
Prime Minister of India, neither did Vajpayee extoll Indira Gandhi as the incarna-
tion of goddess Durga after the 1971 war with Pakistan.

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