The First 20 Years of BJP

India attained independence in 1947, and decided to embark upon the path of democracy. During this time, we were plagued by a number of socio-economic problems such as overpopulation, poverty and low levels of economic growth. Post the late 1980s, India had to grapple with issues of a different kind, mainly socio-political in nature, such as the breakdown of the consensus on socialism and secularism, the rise of regional forces, social conflict due to the implementation of the Mandal Commission, communal mobilisation by the BJP based on its policy of Hindutva, and many such movements which led to fragmentation and conflict within the electorate. This led to a breakdown of the single Congress Party system, and a transition towards a true multi-party system was made, characterised by coalition governments, especially in the 90’s. However, the past two General Elections in the country may have signalled the end of this era, as they show a single party, the BJP, getting absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

The BJP traces its roots from the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), which was founded in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. In 1977, the BJS merged with the Janata Party to form the first ever coalition at the national level. The BJP as we know it today was formed by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee only in 1980.. Its ideological principles were committed to principles of nationalism, democracy and decentralisation. It upheld value-based politics and positive secularism, and advocated a Gandhian approach to socio-economic issues and the need for egalitarianism. Most importantly, there was a desire for the creation of a centralised Hindu Rashtra, which was poles apart from the policy of Hindutva, and focused on the creation of our own national identity, where minorities were to be integrated, and not assimilated.

The concept of Hindutva dates back to the late 19th century. 1986 onwards, under the leadership of LK Advani, a hardliner with close links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who was critical of the ‘pseudo secularism’ and ‘minoritarianism’ of the Congress party, the BJP gradually started aligning itself towards the hard right-wing ideology of Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva. This concept thus was not birthed by the BJP, but was adopted as their ideology in the 1989 Palampur resolution, as the party decided to spearhead the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, aimed at demolishing the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. While this stance of the party gained them several Hindu-supremacist supporters, they also alienated the rest of the population on account of mixing politics with religion and communalism. By the mid-1990s, the BJP leadership began to realise the limitations of communal mobilisation, and the need to project itself as a responsible national party. From 1998 onwards, it shifted from the notion of creating a Hindu State to creating a Rashtra Mandir, i.e. a state that would provide prosperity and security to all its citizens.

As a result of the BJP’s emphasis on Hindutva, the party suffered from a lack of direction with respect to a feasible economic policy. When the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was adopted by the Narsimha Rao government and India embarked on the policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, BJP countered it with the policy of Swadeshi, that drew upon the humanism of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, focused on growth from within, and limited on the role of foreign capital and investment. This policy however, suffered from a lack of clarity and by 1995, led to the growth of differences between the BJP, RSS and SJM (Swadeshi Jagran Manch). The need to distinguish its stance from the Congress led to internal confusion within the BJP, and due to this, BJP leaders expressed contradictory opinions. This contributed to the air of uncertainty surrounding economic policy and thus led to discord.

These issues led the BJP leadership to change its direction and tone down its rigid socio-economic stance. The party now decided to portray Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had the reputation of being the ‘moderate face’ of the BJP as its prime ministerial candidate. The campaigning tactics changed, the Ayodhya issue was deliberately avoided, and the party tried to appease the Muslim population. BJP President LK Advani also underlined that there was a change in the attitude of the party towards contentious issues, and thus the party tried to turn a new, more tolerant leaf with renewed zeal.

Picture Credits: livemint

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