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1999 Election - BJP / National Democratic Alliance

A Parliament sits for 5 years unless dissolved earlier for new elections, except under constitutionally defined emergency situations. In April 1999, the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September-October. President Narayanan dissolved the lower house of Parliament on April 17 after the BJP-led government lost a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. Elections were held in September and October. Some 374 million voters, or 62.04 percent of the electorate, cast ballots.

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. The Kargil conflict in May-July 1999 and an attack by terrorists on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 led to increased tensions with Pakistan.

More than 100 persons were killed in election-related violence in various parts of the country, predominantly in Kashmir, Tripura, Assam, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Bihar (see Section 1.g.), and there were localized allegations of voter fraud. Human rights groups reported that security forces in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir compelled residents to vote and that at least three persons who refused were killed. The worst violence occurred during the third phase of voting on September 18; rioting on that day left 29 dead in Bihar, including 14 policemen, a magistrate and 11 polling officials.

The BJP is one of a number of offshoots of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), an organization that espouses a return to Hindu values and cultural norms. Members of the BJP, the RSS, and other affiliated organizations were implicated in incidents of violence and discrimination against Christians and Muslims. The BJP and RSS express respect and tolerance for other religions, but the RSS in particular opposes conversions from Hinduism and believes that all Indians should adhere to Hindu cultural values. The BJP officially agrees that the caste system should be eliminated, but many of its members are ambivalent about this. Most BJP leaders are also RSS members.

The BJP's longstanding cultural agenda includes calls for construction of a new Hindu temple to replace an ancient Hindu temple that was believed to have stood on the site of a mosque in Ayodhya that was destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992; for the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special rights to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state; and for the enactment of a uniform civil code that would apply to members of all religions. All of these proposals were opposed strongly by some minority religious groups. However, the BJP-led national Government took no steps to implement these measures and has promised that it would not do so during its tenure in the Parliament. While at the national level the BJP has downplayed its Hindu nationalist agenda, some Christian groups have noted the coincidence of its coming to power and an increase in complaints of discrimination against minority religious communities. These groups also claim that BJP officials at state and local levels had become increasingly uncooperative.

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 Bharatiya Janata Party easily defeated the opposition Congress Party in state assembly elections in the western state of Gujarat in December 2002. The BJP won at least 127 seats in the 181 seat state assembly, giving the party the two-thirds majority it needs to form a government on its own. The BJP confounded its critics and swept to victory in Gujarat, just months after religious rioting in the state left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. The BJP victory is a personal triumph for Narendra Modi. The state's Chief Minister had been harshly criticized by opposition politicians and human rights groups. They say he did not do enough earlier this year to control violence that followed the deaths of 58 Hindu activists in a train fire allegedly set by a Muslim mob in the town of Godhra.



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