Atal Behari Vajpayee was born on 25 December 1924, to a family of the high-caste Brahmins, in the central Indian town of Gwalior. As a teenager, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu revivalist organization, and participated in the independence movement. In 1942, he was briefly imprisoned by British colonial authorities. After graduating from Laximbai College in Gwalior, Vajpayee earned a Master of Arts degree in political science from Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College in Kanpur. When India achieved independence, he gave up studies for a law degree to devote more time to the RSS as a journalist and social worker, editing and writing for the organization's publications. In 1951, Vajpayee helped establish the Jana Sangh, a conservative political party strongly influenced by Hindu nationalist ideology. Six years later he was elected to the People's Assembly.
Considered an erudite politician with a cosmopolitan outlook, Vajpayee is a noted orator, a published poet, and the author of several books, including one on Indian foreign policy. He has served on various government committees and traveled abroad extensively on parliamentary and diplomatic missions. As a reform-minded social activist, he has championed Indian cultural values, women's rights, and the eradication of the caste system. In 1992, Vajpayee was awarded India's second-highest civilian honor, the Padma Vibhushan and, in 1994, was named "Best Parliamentarian." He also holds an honorary doctorate from Kanpur University.
Though charismatic in public, Vajpayee is described as privately reserved and reclusive. Never married, he lives in New Delhi with an adopted family—Namita, daughter of an old friend and her husband, Ranjan. He also enjoys the company of adopted granddaughter Neharika. A cultivated man, Vajpayee is fond of reading, writing, the arts, and good cuisine. In the early years of the twenty-first century, he has suffered from a variety of health problems.