The Believer's Dilemma
'The finest biography of an Indian prime minister that I have read' Ramachandra Guha
'Doubles as a history of Hindu supremacism; it won’t be bettered for a long time’ Pankaj Mishra
Charismatic, sensitive, detached yet quietly ambitious, India’s fabled twelfth prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of unusual gifts and some dangerous flaws. His unintended entry into politics came in 1948 when he was an underground organizer of the proscribed Hindu-revivalist group, the RSS, one of whose adherents assassinated Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1957, he became the first RSS swayamsevak (volunteer) to win a seat in India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha. Soon, he became popular for his fiery speeches and maudlin poetry, bridging the contrasting worldviews of India’s first prime minister, the liberal Jawaharlal Nehru, and Vinayak Savarkar, the leader of the conservative Hindu Mahasabha. In 1998, he became prime minister and steered India to a multi-party democracy. But his premiership also paved the way for Hindu revivalism and the rise to the power of the BJP. Abhishek Choudhary’s Believer’s Dilemma is a riveting account of the long career of one of the most influential and enigmatic Indian politicians, from his origins in Gwalior to his membership of the RSS, from his co-founding of the BJP to his premiership and its aftermath.
Like all good biographers, Choudhary informs us not just about an individual but about the world they’ve inhabited and how they’ve contributed to shaping it. In this regard, this exemplary biography may become the definitive work on Vajpayee, placed in a different league from other recent hagiographic or more speculative accounts of his life. The second volume is eagerly awaited.
The finest biography of an Indian prime minister that I have read
Doubles as a history of Hindu supremacism; it won’t be bettered for a long time