This has not been a good week for Indian politics. Moreover, it has not reflected well on the political establishment, from either of India’s two main national parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Congress Party.
India’s ruling BJP entered power on a strong mandate because of its development-oriented platform, a platform that was theoretically sound on both the economic and security levels. Yet unfortunately, other than markedly improving India’s diplomatic policy and inspiring bureaucrats to show up on time more often, the present Narendra Modi-led government has only achieved partial gains, especially economic ones. Most disappointing is the failure of the government to pass an important land bill that would have made its acquisition easier for industry.
The BJP can try again after securing more seats in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of the Indian Parliament, where it does not hold a majority), though it could have gained victory by convening a joint session of Parliament. The bill failed in the face of opposition from Congress Party led protests that often smacked more of hooliganistic disruption in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament) than reasoned parliamentary debate. One might think that there is something to be said of a former Indian Supreme Court Justice’s wish that more Indians development a “scientific temper” to rationally address problems.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Part of the problem the current government has in implementing reforms is not only due to its own failure to push through reforms over political gain or the convoluted Indian system—which could well be designed to keep India agrarian and dysfunctional for both ideological and elite oriented reasons—but stems from the fact that it is unable to make a good case for economic liberalism to a population that is not ready for it cannot understand it. It could be that much of India’s population, or at least well-organized segments of it want to have their cake and eat it too.
Instead, the BJP has clumsily decided to focus on other cultural and social issues. This will not help it win elections in the long run, however, and could help tank the BJP’s electoral count for the 2019 election as people grow disillusioned with it. India is a fairly conservative country, and one suspects that the recent outcry over the government’s botched attempt to censor (some) pornographic content was more of an issue for liberal, urban people than the vast majority of the country which doesn’t even have steady internet access due to economic reasons. Yet the vast majority of the country, especially in rural areas, would ideally wish for the government to dedicate itself primarily to development and economic issues and not waste time on social issues. And a Congress victory in 2019 would only be worse for India. Moreover, in the traditional Hindu political tradition, the government can in fact permit numerous activities considered vices, so as to tax and regulate them, while focusing on maintain security and general welfare. Try as it may, the government cannot turn everyone into rishis and gurus.
The BJP come out looking weak from backing down due to pressure from the media and the Congress Party on numerous issues. It also showed a distinct problem with thinking out and planning its policies and considering the impact that they would have on people. This can hardly bode well for a party that was elected to fundamentally reform the country. The Congress Party, however, also comes off badly. Its actions in disrupting the BJP’s initiatives are opportunistic and rooted in no ideology or policy other than its own benefit. Furthermore, the dynastic leader-in-waiting of the party, Rahul Gandhi and his mother, Sonia Gandhi both come across as arrogant and entitled, preventing other voices in Congress from shining or steering the party in a more rational direction. Shashi Tharoor (though flawed in many ways) is a very active, outspoken, and intelligent member of the Congress Party who could probably do a far better job than Rahul Gandhi, or at least inject new life into what has become a sycophantic dynastic outfit far removed from its original form. However, people like him are not allowed by the party to emerge because they are seen as threats to the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty. All the while, the party continues to do poorly in India’s states, losing ground to the BJP and regional outfits.
India is coming along well enough and all is not gloom and doom. Yet one must question whether or not India’s political and party system is fundamentally flawed and if perhaps it is time for a new legal regime and more streamlined, less convoluted governmental structure, and perhaps an improved Constitution even. This is not a radical proposal as numerous countries have made fundamental reforms at the most basic level when necessary, the United States included. However, good luck getting this done in India.
"BJP" redirects here. For other uses, see BJP (disambiguation).
The Bharatiya Janata Party (pronounced [bʱaːrət̪iːjə dʒənət̪aː paːrʈiː] ( listen); translation: Indian People's Party; abbr.BJP) is one of the two major political parties in India, along with the Indian National Congress. As of 2016[update], it is the country's largest political party in terms of representation in the national parliament and state assemblies, and it is the world's largest party in terms of primary membership. The BJP is a right-wing party, with close ideological and organisational links to the Hindu nationalistRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The BJP's origins lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, formed in 1951 by Syama Prasad Mookerjee. After the State of Emergency in 1977, the Jana Sangh merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party; it defeated the incumbent Congress party in the 1977 general election. After three years in power, the Janata party dissolved in 1980 with the members of the erstwhile Jana Sangh reconvening to form the BJP. Although initially unsuccessful, winning only two seats in the 1984 general election, it grew in strength on the back of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Following victories in several state elections and better performances in national elections, the BJP became the largest party in the parliament in 1996; however, it lacked a majority in the lower house of Parliament, and its government lasted only 13 days.
After the 1998 general election, the BJP-led coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed a government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a year. Following fresh elections, the NDA government, again headed by Vajpayee, lasted for a full term in office; this was the first non-Congress government to do so. In the 2004 general election, the NDA suffered an unexpected defeat, and for the next ten years the BJP was the principal opposition party. Long time Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi led it to a landslide victory in the 2014 general election. Since that election, Modi has led the NDA government as Prime Minister and as of February 2018[update], the alliance governs 21 states.
The official ideology of the BJP is "integral humanism", first formulated by Deendayal Upadhyaya in 1965. The party expresses a commitment to Hindutva, and its policy has historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions. The BJP advocates social conservatism and a foreign policy centred on nationalist principles. Its key issues have included the abrogation of the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the implementation of a uniform civil code. However, the 1998–2004 NDA government did not pursue any of these controversial issues. It instead focused on a largely neoliberal economic policy prioritising globalisation and economic growth over social welfare.
Bharatiya Jana Sangh (1951–77)
Main article: Bharatiya Jana Sangh
The BJP's origins lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, popularly known as the Jana Sangh, founded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951 in response to the politics of the dominant Congress party. It was founded in collaboration with the Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and was widely regarded as the political arm of the RSS. The Jana Sangh's aims included the protection of India's "Hindu" cultural identity, in addition to countering what it perceived to be the appeasement of Muslim people and the country of Pakistan by the Congress party and then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The RSS loaned several of its leading pracharaks, or full-time workers, to the Jana Sangh to get the new party off the ground. Prominent among these was Deendayal Upadhyaya, who was appointed General Secretary. The Jana Sangh won only three Lok Sabha seats in the first general elections in 1952. It maintained a minor presence in parliament until 1967.
The Jana Sangh's first major campaign, begun in early 1953, centred on a demand for the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. Mookerjee was arrested in May 1953 for violating orders from the state government restraining him from entering Kashmir. He died of a heart attack the following month, while still in jail.Mauli Chandra Sharma was elected to succeed Mookerjee; however, he was forced out of power by the RSS activists within the party, and the leadership went instead to Upadhyaya. Upadhyay remained the General Secretary until 1967, and worked to build a committed grassroots organisation in the image of the RSS. The party minimised engagement with the public, focusing instead on building its network of propagandists. Upadhyaya also articulated the philosophy of integral humanism, which formed the official doctrine of the party. Younger leaders, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani also became involved with the leadership in this period, with Vajpayee succeeding Upadhyaya as president in 1968. The major themes on the party's agenda during this period were legislating a uniform civil code, banning cow slaughter and abolishing the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir.
After assembly elections across the country in 1967, the party entered into a coalition with several other parties, including the Swatantra Party and the socialists. It formed governments in various states across the Hindi heartland, including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It was the first time the Jana Sangh held political office, albeit within a coalition; this caused the shelving of the Jana Sangh's more radical agenda.
Janata Party (1977–80)
Main article: Janata Party
In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency. The Jana Sangh took part in the widespread protests, with thousands of its members being imprisoned along with other agitators across the country. In 1977, the emergency was withdrawn and general elections were held. The Jana Sangh merged with parties from across the political spectrum, including the Socialist Party, the Congress (O) and the Bharatiya Lok Dal to form the Janata Party, with its main agenda being defeating Indira Gandhi.
The Janata Party won a majority in 1977 and formed a government with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister. The former Jana Sangh contributed the largest tally to the Janata Party's parliamentary contingent, with 93 seats or 31% of its strength. Vajpayee, previously the leader of the Jana Sangh, was appointed the Minister of External Affairs.
The national leadership of the former Jana Sangh consciously renounced its identity, and attempted to integrate with the political culture of the Janata Party, based on Gandhian and Hindu traditionalist principles. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, this proved to be an impossible assimilation. The state and local levels of the Jana Sangh remained relatively unchanged, retaining a strong association with the RSS, which did not sit well with the moderate centre-right constituents of the Party.Violence between Hindus and Muslims increased sharply during the years that the Janata Party formed the government, with former Jana Sangha members being implicated in the riots at Aligarh and Jamshedpur in 1978–79. The other major constituents of the Janata Party demanded that the Jana Sangh should break from the RSS, which the Jana Sangh refused to do. Eventually, a fragment of the Janata Party broke off to form the Janata Party (Secular). The Morarji Desai government was reduced to a minority in the Parliament, forcing its resignation. Following a brief period of coalition rule, general elections were held in 1980, in which the Janata Party fared poorly, winning only 31 seats. In April 1980, shortly after the elections, the National Executive Council of the Janata Party banned its members from being 'dual members' of party and the RSS. In response, the former Jana Sangh members left to create a new political party, known as the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Formation and early days
Although the newly formed BJP was technically distinct from the Jana Sangh, the bulk of its rank and file were identical to its predecessor, with Vajpayee being its first president. Historian Ramachandra Guha writes that the early 1980s were marked by a wave of violence between Hindus and Muslims. The BJP initially moderated the Hindu nationalist stance of its predecessor the Jana Sangh to gain a wider appeal, emphasising its links to the Janata Party and the ideology of Gandhian Socialism. This was unsuccessful, as it won only two Lok Sabha seats in the elections of 1984. The assassination of Indira Gandhi a few months earlier resulted in a wave of support for the Congress which won a record tally of 403 seats, contributing to the low number for the BJP.
Babri Masjid demolition and the Hindutva movement
Further information: Ram Rath Yatra and Demolition of the Babri Masjid
The failure of Vajpayee's moderate strategy led to a shift in the ideology of the party toward a policy of more hardline Hindu nationalism. In 1984, Advani was appointed president of the party, and under him it became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In the early 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) began a campaign for the construction of a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Rama at the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. The mosque had been constructed by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1527. There is a dispute about whether a temple once stood there. The agitation was on the basis of the belief that the site was the birthplace of Rama, and that a temple had been demolished to construct the mosque. The BJP threw its support behind this campaign, and made it a part of their election platform. It won 86 Lok Sabha seats in 1989, a tally which made its support crucial to the National Front government of V. P. Singh.
In September 1990, Advani began a rath yatra (chariot journey) to Ayodhya in support of the Ram temple movement. According to Guha, the imagery employed by the yatra was "religious, allusive, militant, masculine, and anti-Muslim", and the speeches delivered by Advani during the yatra accused the government of appeasing Muslims and practising "pseudo-secularism" that obstructed the legitimate aspirations of Hindus. Advani defended the yatra, stating that it had been free of incident from Somnath to Ayodhya, and that the English media were to blame for the violence that followed. Advani was placed under preventive detention on the orders of the then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. A large number of kar sevaks nonetheless converged on Ayodhya. On the orders of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, 150,000 of them were detained, yet half as many managed to reach Ayodhya and some attacked the mosque. Three days of fighting with the paramilitary forces ended with the deaths of several kar sevaks. Hindus were urged by VHP to "take revenge" for these deaths, resulting in riots against Muslims across Uttar Pradesh. The BJP withdrew its support from the V.P. Singh government, leading to fresh general elections. It once again increased its tally, to 120 seats, and won a majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.
On 6 December 1992, the RSS and its affiliates organised a rally involving more than 100,000 VHP and BJP activists at the site of the mosque. Under circumstances that are not entirely clear, the rally developed into a frenzied attack that ended with the demolition of the mosque. Over the following weeks, waves of violence between Hindus and Muslims erupted all over the country, killing over 2,000 people. The government briefly banned the VHP, and many BJP leaders, including Advani were arrested for making inflammatory speeches provoking the demolition. Several historians have said that the demolition was the product of a conspiracy by the Sangh Parivar, and not a spontaneous act.
A 2009 report, authored by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, found that 68 people were responsible for the demolition, mostly leaders from the BJP. Among those named were Vajpayee, Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi. The report also criticised Kalyan Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh during the demolition. He was accused of posting bureaucrats and police officers who would stay silent during the demolition. Anju Gupta, an Indian Police Service officer in charge of Advani's security, appeared as a prominent witness before the commission. She said that Advani and Joshi made provocative speeches that were a major factor in the mob's behaviour.
In the parliamentary elections in 1996, the BJP capitalised on the communal polarisation that followed the demolition to win 161 Lok Sabha seats, making it the largest party in parliament. Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister, but was unable to attain a majority in the Lok Sabha, forcing the government to resign after 13 days.
NDA government (1998–2004)
Further information: National Democratic Alliance (India)
A coalition of regional parties formed the government in 1996, but this grouping was short lived, and mid-term polls were held in 1998. The BJP contested the elections leading a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which contained its existing allies like the Samata Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena in addition to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Biju Janata Dal. Among these regional parties, the Shiv Sena was the only one which had an ideology similar to the BJP; Amartya Sen, for example, called the coalition an "ad hoc" grouping. The NDA had a majority with outside support from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Vajpayee returned as Prime Minister. However, the coalition ruptured in May 1999 when the leader of AIADMK, Jayalalitha, withdrew her support, and fresh elections were held again.
On 13 October 1999, the NDA, without the AIADMK, won 303 seats in parliament and thus an outright majority. The BJP had its highest ever tally of 183. Vajpayee became Prime Minister for the third time; Advani became Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. This NDA government lasted its full term of five years. Its policy agenda included a more aggressive stance on defence and terror as well as neo-liberal economic policies.
In 2001, Bangaru Laxman, then the BJP president, was filmed accepting a bribe of ₹100,000 (equivalent to ₹280,000 or US$4,300 in 2017) to recommend the purchase of hand-held thermal imagers for the Indian Army to the Defence Ministry, in a sting operation by Tehelka journalists. The BJP was forced to make him resign and he was subsequently prosecuted. In April 2012, he was sentenced to four years in prison.
2002 Gujarat violence
Main article: 2002 Gujarat violence
On 27 February 2002, a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burned outside the town of Godhra, killing 59 people. The incident was seen as an attack upon Hindus, and sparked off massive anti-Muslim violence across the state of Gujarat that lasted several weeks. The death toll estimated was as high as 2000, while 150,000 were displaced. Rape, mutilation, and torture were also widespread. The then-Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and several high-ranking government officials were accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as were police officers who allegedly directed the rioters and gave them lists of Muslim-owned properties. In April 2009, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate and expedite the Gujarat riots cases. In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by the SIT and BJP MLAMaya Kodnani, who later held a cabinet portfolio in the Modi government, was convicted of having orchestrated one of the riots and sentenced to 28 years imprisonment. Scholars such as Paul Brass, Martha Nussbaum and Dipankar Gupta have said that there was a high level of state complicity in the incidents.
General election defeats
Vajpayee called for elections in early 2004, six months ahead of schedule. The NDA's campaign was based on the slogan "India Shining", which sought to depict it as responsible for a rapid economic transformation of the country. However, the NDA unexpectedly suffered a heavy defeat, winning only a 186 seats in the Lok Sabha, compared to the 222 of the Congress and its allies. Manmohan Singh succeeded Vajpayee as Prime Minister as the head of the United Progressive Alliance. The NDA's failure to reach out to rural Indians was provided as an explanation for its defeat, as was its divisive policy agenda.
In May 2008, the BJP won the state elections in Karnataka. This was the first time that the party won assembly elections in any South Indian state. In the 2009 general elections, its strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced to 116 seats. It lost the next assembly election in 2013.
General election victory, 2014
In the 2014 Indian general election, the BJP won 282 seats, leading the NDA to a tally of 336 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha. Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India on 26 May 2014.
The vote share of the BJP was 31% of all votes cast, a low figure relative to the number of seats it won. This was the first instance since 1984 of a single party achieving an outright majority in the Indian Parliament and the first time that it achieved a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own strength. Support was concentrated in the Hindi-speaking belt in North-central India. The magnitude of the victory was not predicted by most opinion and exit polls.
Political analysts have suggested several reasons for this victory, including the popularity of Modi, and the loss of support for the Congress due to the corruption scandals in its previous term. The BJP was also able to expand its traditionally upper-caste, upper-class support base and received significant support from middle-class and Dalit people, as well as among Other Backward Classes. Its support among Muslims remained low; only 8% of Muslim voters voted for the BJP. The BJP was also very successful at mobilising its supporters, and raising voter turnout among them.
General election results
The Bharatiya Janata Party was officially created in 1980, and the first general election it contested was in 1984, in which it won only two Lok Sabha seats. Following the election in 1996, the BJP became the largest party in the Lok Sabha for the first time, but the government it formed was short-lived. In the elections of 1998 and 1999, it remained the largest party, and headed the ruling coalition on both occasions. In the 2014 general election, it won an outright majority in parliament. From 1991 onwards, a BJP member has led the Opposition whenever the party was not in power. For the electoral results of the BJP's predecessors, see the JP and BJS articles.
|Year||General election||Seats won||Change in seats||% of votes||Vote swing||Ref.|
|Indian general election, 1984||8th Lok Sabha||2||2||7.74||–|
|Indian general election, 1989||9th Lok Sabha||85||83||11.36||3.62|
|Indian general election, 1991||10th Lok Sabha||120||35||20.11||8.75|
|Indian general election, 1996||11th Lok Sabha||161||41||20.29||0.18|
|Indian general election, 1998||12th Lok Sabha||182||21||25.59||5.30|
|Indian general election, 1999||13th Lok Sabha||182||0||23.75||1.84|
|Indian general election, 2004||14th Lok Sabha||138||44||22.16||1.69|
|Indian general election, 2009||15th Lok Sabha||116||22||18.80||3.36|
|Indian general election, 2014||16th Lok Sabha||282||166||31.34||12.54|