Abhishek Choudhary

10 May 2023
416 pages


‘The finest biography of an Indian prime minister that I have read’ RAMACHANDRA GUHA

‘A real achievement, an instant classic and a total triumph’ SHRUTI KAPILA

‘Doubles as a history of Hindu supremacism; it won’t be bettered for a long time’ PANKAJ MISHRA

‘Exceptionally interesting … a must-read for anyone curious about the history of the Right in modern India’ ZOYA HASAN

A man of unusual gifts and dangerously consequential flaws, Atal Behari Lal Vajpayee was the Hindu Right’s most glamorized and enigmatic face until now. Drawing on a natural talent to pull in the crowds with his eloquence, he elevated his physically frail and academically mediocre self to become a powerful spokesperson of historical victimhood.

In this singularly gripping account, Abhishek Choudhary sets out to prove that Vajpayee was far more critical to the project of Hinduizing India than is commonly understood. He uncovers how Vajpayee’s early life, of which we know shockingly little, lies at the heart of his political character: essentially conservative yet curious and conciliatory, detached yet quietly ambitious. Weaving previously unseen documents with revealing interviews, Choudhary layers this definitive biography with details of Vajpayee’s underground activities in the wake of Gandhi’s assassination; his early obsession with foreign policy; the shock from the premature deaths of his parents; his tortuous private life and maudlin poetry; his key role in the SVD coalition experiment; his defence of the Sangh Parivar inside the parliament and his averments and deferments outside. In so doing, this extraordinary debut revises several lazy myths and false binaries that have come to dominate Indian political discourse. The sympathy of Congress conservatives and Hindi intelligentsia for the RSS, Patel’s own extended ambiguity, Nehru’s innate conviction that East Pakistan would merge back with India, Indira Gandhi’s fleet-footed attack on the Jan Sangh’s finances and electoral chances, the foolish fantasies of JP’s Total Revolution and the Sangh Parivar’s dubious heroism in the Emergency are also revisited to reveal the complexity of India’s democracy.

The first of a two-volume study, Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right is a stunningly original portrait of Hindutva’s first prime minister.