A subject that has never been discussed publicly and certainly has not been written about before is carefully assessed and analysed in the recently published first volume of a two-part major biography of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I am referring to Vajpayee’s adulterous relationship with Rajkumari Kaul, who was at the same time married to Birjan Kaul, the warden of the boy’s hostel at Ramjas College in Delhi.
The book is called Vajpayee: The Ascent of the Hindu Right 1924-1977 and confirms that Vajpayee and Kaul had a child out of wedlock in August 1960 called Namita nicknamed Gunnu. As the book says: “As she grew older, Gunnu’s facial features began to resemble her father’s (but) on paper, she was to be the warden’s daughter … Vajpayee may have felt the void of not being able to officially call himself a father, though Gunnu began calling him ‘Baap ji’.”
Writing about Rajkumari Kaul and Vajpayee’s relationship, Abhishek Choudhary says: “Rajkumari’s embarrassed family tried convincing her to save her marriage by letting go of the new man in her life. She refused (yet) there are no clear answers as to why she did not divorce her husband and formally marry Vajpayee.” As a result, he says, Rajkumari Kaul, Vajpayee and Birjan Kaul lived for many many years as a threesome. “With time the trio arrived at an equilibrium of sorts. Rajkumari made genuine efforts to balance her care between the husband and the lover.”
There’s a discussion at the very start of the interview about why Choudhary thought it was important and necessary to openly and honestly discuss and analyse Vajpayee’s private life i.e. his decades-long affair with Rajkumari Kaul and their love child Namita. I will leave you to see Choudhary’s explanation and why he thought this must be discussed. All I will add is it’s very convincing and very truthful.
This subject is the first of many revelations about Vajpayee that are discussed when, the author of the new biography, Abhishek Choudhary, spoke with Karan Thapar in a 53-minute interview for The Wire. In fact, there are many important revelations in the book which are picked up and discussed in the interview. There are also several myths about Vajpayee, that have been accepted as gospel truth, which the book punctures. They too are discussed in the interview.
Let me mention one other important subject, amongst the many discussed in this interview, which arises out of the biography. This is Vajpayee’s surprising (to many) and disturbing (for some) response to Gandhi’s assassination. The book says: “Atal most certainly did not consider Gandhi’s death a serious loss to mankind. The dozens of articles he had written and edited holding the Mahatma responsible for India’s partition and condemning him for pandering to Muslims had most certainly contributed to poisoning the air that ultimately led to his assassination”. In the interview, Choudhary readily accepts that there is an element of blame that falls on Vajpayee.
Because most, if not all, of the issues covered in the interview are sensitive – sometimes potentially controversial – and because paraphrasing can lead to misunderstanding but also because selectively choosing aspects of the interview to highlight conveys a sense of subjective priority, I will leave you to see this interview for yourself.
All I will do is identify the key issues discussed and then, second, give you a list of the questions so you know the order in which things will come up.
The issues discussed include: the anti-Muslim side of the young Vajpayee; how he changed as an adult, his attitude to Deendayal Upadhyaya; his doubts and prevarications as well as his desire to compromise with Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, the fact he never called Indira Gandhi Durga on December 1971; the assertion that Nehru never identified Vajpayee as a future prime minister but, in fact, thought of Vajpayee in his early years as an MP as “a highly objectionable person”; the myths Panchjanya has created about Vajpayee, the fact that Vajpayee did play a role in the Quit India movement and Congress is wrong to say he did not; aspects of Vajpayee as a bon viveur including his fondness for bhang, the fact he drank in moderate quantities and visited night clubs in New York.
Let me at this point say that Abhishek Choudhary’s book (and therefore this interview based on the book) reveals details of Vajpayee, his character and his personality that are not known and, therefore, presents a well-rounded portrait of one of India’s most important politicians but also one of India’s most loved prime ministers.
I am aware that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamseavk Sangh (RSS) will be upset about the discussion about Vajpayee’s private life. They will also be upset about the discussion of how Vajpayee’s articles and the magazines he edited (at the time) contributed to poisoning the atmosphere leading to Gandhi’s assassination.