Bharatiya Janata Party
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - ("Indian People's Party") – a hardline Hindu Nationalist party – recently won the elections in May 2014 for the Indian Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) with a simple majority. Narindra Modi was subsequently elected as the prime minister of India, one of the country’s most controversial politicians. Speaking to party members after his election as head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poll campaign committee on 10 June 2013, Modi vowed to defeat the ruling Congress Party, which has headed a coalition government since 2004. Modi said the party's aim should be to free India of Congress Party rule. He said, if this can happen all problems will be solved.
Modi ruled the western Gujarat state. His appointment to the national campaign committee has put the regional leader within reach of the prime minister’s job, if he can secure a victory for his party. But that exposed deep rifts within the BJP. A day after Modi was elected, a top BJP leader, Lal Krishna Advani, quit several key party posts, raising fears of turmoil within the party. Although Modi is seen as a man who will revitalize the party, many top leaders fear being sidelined. They expect him to energize the party and carry it forward and give it a new direction. The party has been flagging a bit over the past several years. But, on the other hand, the senior leadership are a little uneasy because Modi is the kind of domineering leader who has very little time for other senior leaders. Modi would take BJP toward a personality-oriented party.
Modi received praise for expediting development in his Gujarat state and turning it into an economic powerhouse. More recently, the fiery Hindu nationalist leader has tried to project the image of a no-nonsense man who can deliver good governance and rescue India’s faltering economy. In 2013 polled indicated Modi’s strongest supporters were India’s urban, middle classes, who are looking for an alternative to the scandal-ridden Congress Party and calling for cleaner governance. But this message may not resonate in the heartland of India.
Modi tried to focus on development and showcase the kind of high growth rates in Gujarat. But the BJP is consistently non-existent in many parts of India. So Modi maybe doing a great job among the social media audience across India, but the electorate is a much bigger constituency. And, these are areas where Modi does not really strike anywhere. His rule was blotted by his failure to stop deadly anti-Muslim riots that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. This raised concerns that Modi may find it difficult to win the support of voters and regional parties in key political states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims make up a sizeable part of the population.
The Congress party's image had been badly tarnished by a series of corruption scandals during its second term in office. It also received flak for a policy paralysis that has led India’s economy to slump to its slowest in a decade. Support for the Congress party is slipping, but it remains to be seen if Modi can convert public disillusionment with the ruling party into gains for his party.
The Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] is unique among India's political parties in that neither it nor its political predecessors were ever associated with the Congress. Instead, it grew out of an alternative nationalist organization -- the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS -- National Volunteer Organisation). The BJP still is affiliated with the network of organizations popularly referred to as the RSS family.
The RSS was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. Until 1928 a member of the Congress with radical nationalist political leanings, Hedgewar had grown increasingly disenchanted with the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Hedgewar was particularly critical of Gandhi's emphasis on nonviolence and civil disobedience, which he felt discouraged the forceful political action necessary to gain independence. He established the RSS as an organization that would provide training in martial arts and spiritual matters to rejuvenate the spiritual life of the Hindu community and build its unity.
Hedgewar and his successor, M.S. Golwalkar, scrupulously endeavored to define the RSS's identity as a cultural organization that was not directly involved in politics. However, its rapidly growing membership and the paramilitary-like uniforms and discipline of its activists made the political potential of the RSS apparent to everyone on the political scene. There was considerable sentiment within the Congress that RSS members should be permitted to join, and, in fact, on October 7, 1947, the Congress Working Committee voted to allow in RSS members. But in November 1947, the Congress passed a rule requiring RSS members to give up their affiliation before joining.
The RSS was banned in 1948 after Nathuram Godse, a former RSS member, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. The ban was lifted in 1949 only after the RSS drafted an organizational constitution that was acceptable to the government. Intensely loyal RSS members refused to give up their affiliation to join the Congress and, instead, channeled their political energies to the Jana Sangh (People's Union) after its founding in 1951.
The Jana Sangh grew slowly during the 1950s and 1960s, despite the efforts of RSS members, who quickly took control of the party's organization. Although the Jana Sangh succeeded in displacing the Hindu Mahasabha (a communal party established in 1914 as a counter to Muslim separatists) as the preeminent party of Hindu activists in the Indian political system, it failed to develop into a major rival to the Congress.
According to political scientist Bruce Graham, this failure occurred because of the Jana Sangh's inability "to transcend the limitations of its origins," in particular, its identification with the Hindi-speaking, northern heartland and its Brahmanical interpretation of Hinduism rather than the more inclusive and syncretic values of popular Hinduism. However, the experience of the Jana Sangh during the 1970s, especially its increasing resort to populism and agitational tactics, provided essential ingredients for the success of the BJP in the 1980s.
In 1977 the Jana Sangh joined the Janata Party, which defeated Indira Gandhi and the Congress (I) in parliamentary elections and formed a government through the end of 1979. The rapid expansion of the RSS under Janata rule soon brought calls for all members of the RSS family to merge with Janata Party affiliates. Ultimately, intraparty tensions impelled those affiliated with the Jana Sangh to leave the Janata Party and establish a new party--the BJP.
The BJP was formed in April 1980, under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. Although the party welcomed members of the RSS, the BJP's effort to draw from the legacies of the Ja-nata Party as well as that of the Jana Sangh were suggested by its new name, its choice of a green and saffron flag similar to that of the Janata Party rather than the solid saffron flag of the old Jana Sangh, its adoption of a decentralized organizational structure along the lines of the Janata Party rather than the more centralized model of the Jana Sangh, and its inclusion in its working committee of several non-Jana Sangh individuals, including Sikandar Bakht--a Muslim. The invocation of Gandhian socialism as one of the guiding principles of the BJP rather than the doctrine of "integral humanism" associated with the Jana Sangh was another indication of the impact of the party members' experience in the Janata Party and "J.P. movement."
The new synthesis, however, failed to achieve political success. In 1984 the BJP won only two seats in the parliamentary elections. In the wake of the 1984 elections, the BJP shifted course. Advani replaced Vajpayee as party president. Under Advani's leadership, the BJP appealed to Hindu activists by criticizing measures it construed as pandering to minorities and advocating the repeal of the special status given to the Muslim majority state of Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously, it cooperated more closely with other RSS affiliates, particularly the VHP. During the 1980s, the BJP-VHP combine developed into a dynamic political force through its brilliant use of religious symbolism to rouse the passions of the public. The BJP and VHP attained national prominence through their campaign to convert back to Hinduism members of the Scheduled Castes who had converted to Islam. The VHP also agitated to reclaim the Babri Masjid site and encouraged villagers throughout the country to hold religious ceremonies to consecrate bricks made out of their own clay and send them to be used in the construction of the Ramjanmabhumi Temple in Ayodhya.
In the general elections of 1991, the BJP expanded its support more than did any other party. Its number of seats in the Lok Sabha increased from eighty-five to 119, and its vote share grew from 11.4 percent to 21.0 percent. The party was particularly successful in Uttar Pradesh, where it increased its share of the vote from 7.6 percent (eight seats) in 1989 to 35.3 percent (fifty seats) in 1991, and in Gujarat, where its votes and seats climbed from 30 percent (twelve seats) to 52 percent (twenty seats). In addition, BJP support appeared to be spreading into new areas. In Karnataka, its vote rose from 2.6 percent to 28.1 percent, and in West Bengal the BJP's share of the vote expanded from 1.6 to 12.0 percent. However, the elections also revealed some of the limitations of the BJP juggernaut. Exit polls showed that while the BJP received more upper-caste support than all other parties and made inroads into the constituency of Backward Classes, it did poorly among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, constituencies that it had long attempted to cultivate. In Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, three state governments run by the BJP since 1990, the BJP lost parliamentary seats although its share of the vote increased. In Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP also won control of the state government in 1991, veteran political analyst Paul R. Brass cogently argued that the BJP had reached the limits of its social base of support.
The limits of the BJP's Hindu nationalist strategy were further revealed by its losses in the November 1993 state elections. The party lost control over the state-level governments of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh while winning power in Gujarat and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. In the aftermath of the Hindu activists' dismantling of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the evocative symbolism of the Ramjanmabhumi controversy had apparently lost its capacity to mobilize popular support. Nevertheless, the BJP, by giving more emphasis to anticorruption and social issues, achieved unprecedented success in South India, where it won 28 percent of the vote and came in second in elections in Karnataka in November 1994. In the spring of 1995, the BJP won state elections in Gujarat and became the junior partner of a coalition with Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji -- Shivaji Bhonsle was a seventeenth-century Maratha guerrilla leader who kept Mughal armies at bay) in Maharashtra.
The Hindu-nationalist BJP emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the subsequent BJP coalition lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government known as the United Front.
In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President approved a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, spurring U.S. President Bill Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.
In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September-October. The National Democratic Alliance--a new coalition led by the BJP--won a majority to form the government with Vajpayee a Prime Minister in October 1999. The NDA government was the first coalition in many years to serve a full 5-year term, providing much-needed political stability.
Hindu nationalists supportive of the BJP agitated to build a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, destroying a 17th century mosque there in December 1992, and sparking widespread religious riots in which thousands, mostly Muslims, were killed. In February 2002, 57 Hindu volunteers returning from Ayodhya were burnt alive when their train caught fire. Alleging that the fire was caused by Muslim attackers, anti-Muslim rioters throughout the state of Gujarat killed over 2,000 people and left 100,000 homeless. The Gujarat state government and the police were criticized for failing to stop the violence and in some cases for participating in or encouraging it.
The ruling BJP-led coalition was defeated in a five-stage election held in April and May of 2004. The Congress Party, under the leadership Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, formed a coalition government, known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Emerging as the nation's second largest party in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Shri Nitinn Gadkari, held the second-largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. Sushma Swaraj is Leader of the Opposition. The Hindu-nationalist BJP draws its political strength mainly from the "Hindi Belt" in the northern and western regions of India. Former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was expelled from the party in August 2009 after authoring a book which portrayed the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali-Jinnah, in a positive light, though he was allowed to rejoin in June 2010.
The party held power without outside support in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh; it was part of ruling coalitions in a few other states including Bihar, Orissa and Punjab. Popularly viewed as the party of the northern upper caste and trading communities, the BJP made strong inroads into lower castes in national and state assembly elections. The party must balance the competing interests of Hindu nationalists, (who advocate construction of a temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, and other primarily religious issues including the propagation of anti-conversion laws and violence against religious minorities), and center-right modernizers who see the BJP as a party of economic and political reform.
The ruling Congress party suffered a crushing defeat in elections 01 December 2013 in four key states, signaling a difficult road ahead for the party as it prepared for national elections in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged the frontrunner in these states. The Congress party faced a humiliating rout in two states where it was in power, Delhi and Rajasthan. On the other hand, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party saw victory in the two states it was currently ruling - Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Delhi, BJP's Chief Ministerial candidate Harsh Vardhan said he will not stake claim to form a government as his party is short of a clear majority. He said, BJP will prefer to sit in the opposition than indulging in horse trading.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014, several state governments have been accused of pushing an RSS-backed ideology in a number of areas, including education. A strong RSS influence seems to be guiding education policies, from the setting up of research chairs in universities to appointments made in the education sector. In some BJP-ruled states, efforts are being made to revamp school curriculum in an attempt to recast Indian history through a Hindu perspective. The education wing of the RSS, the Bharatiya Sikshan Mandal, has long been urging the government to "Indianize" the education system.
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