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The BJP: India’s Legacy Of Saffron


In May 2014, India’s lobbies of power were shaken and cleansed, and the people of India delivered their verdict. It was time to bid farewell to the ‘non-performing and silent’ United Progressive Alliance government and to welcome a stronger force – one that commanded a full majority in parliament for the first time in thirty years, and one that meant to deliver. The Bharatiya Janta Party had won.

Forging The Rings of Power

It all began in 1951, in a nation that was in considerable turmoil. Syama Prasad Mookerjee had resigned from his post in Prime Minister Nehru’s first cabinet, upset with Nehru’s secularism, which he called ‘skin-deep’, and the way Hindu refugees were being treated. He contacted the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other major Hindu groups regarding the formation of a new party, one he wanted to fashion as a national alternative to the Indian National Congress. The RSS had been declared illegal till 1949, for its alleged role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and hence Mookerjee’s proposal to form a new party appealed to the RSS – as an opportunity to regain public support.

October 1951 saw the creation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, with Mookerjee as its first President. The Arya Samaj, a Hindu group, and the RSS were very much there, of course – the powerful backstage team. This party won a meager three seats in the general elections that were held the following year. A performance which was not surprising, judging by the Indian National Congress’s unquestionable hold over India.

In 1953, Mookerjee died while under house arrest in Kashmir (his death is still regarded by most as rather controversial). A few months after his death, RSS leaders brought in a strong idealist named Deen Dayal Upadhyaya as secretary, to take the party forward in what they believed was the right way. The Presidents of the party came and went, but the RSS man was the one who held the reins of the party. Upadhyaya served as Secretary till 1968, and was made President of the party then, but passed away in a train accident shortly after his elevation.

In the 1960s, the Jana Sangh began winning more seats and was a part of the grand although failed coalition that formed the first non-congress government in the country – the State government of Uttar Pradesh in 1967. After Upadhyaya’s demise, Atal Bihari Vajpayee; a younger man, who was publicly known to be less conservative and more of a liberal idealist – was made President of the Jana Sangh.

That 70’s Party

The Jana Sangh crumbled in the 1971 elections, losing ground. Indira Gandhi had persisted despite all power struggles in the Congress Party.  

Indira Gandhi is arguably best remembered for the internal emergency that she imposed in 1975, after the high court of Allahabad dismissed her from Rae Bareli –  her Lok Sabha constituency. Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, one his closest friend, and the other a prominent leader in the Jana Sangh, were trundled off to jail. After those two rather unsettling years, the Jana Sangh merged with several other parties to form the Janata party, which stomped into the Lok Sabha with 295 seats in 1977. Morarji Desai became Prime Minister, and Vajpayee was given the External affairs department. The Jana Sangh accounted for 93 members of the total of 295.

But when it came to actually shaping policy – the ideas and opinions of several members (of previous ideologically different parties) were constantly clashing. Their bonds were loosening; and the Janata Party broke apart in 1979, causing Morarji Desai to resign from his post.

Despite what happened in the last chaotic years of her term as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was back at the top of Indian democracy again in 1980, after fresh elections. The Janata Party failed in the elections and blamed the Jana Sangh members for its poor performance, and removed them all from the party

Formation Of The BJP

Thus, in April 1980, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was officially formed by former Jana Sangh members. Vajpayee was made its President, and LK Advani its general secretary. The Bharatiya Janata Party was modeled on Hindutva or cultural nationalism.

Strong and lasting governments in India have been formed only when they enjoy the support of the country’s largest group – the Hindus. Appeal to the nation’s largest belief, stick to it, and you stick to power. Congress had always been the greatest player of power that came from Hindu votes. It was only later in the late 60s and 70s that they began to work out strategies on what attackers called (and still call) ‘minority appeasement’. This kind of criticism helped the Congress’s rivals capitalize on the Hindu insecurity – enough isn’t being done to protect the beating heart of India, the Hindus.

Indira Gandhi, however, suddenly took to securing and uplifting the Hindu belief. She visited temples publicly (and loudly), and essentially appeased the majority, bringing out Hindu – favored policy measures as well. The BJP was confused. How were they to make the most out of Hindu insecurity, if that insecurity no longer existed?

Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 after the Bhindranwale crisis made sure that the BJP lost whatever little ground it was holding on to. The sympathy wave that washed over the entire country destroyed all of Congress’s rivals. Rajiv Gandhi thundered into the Lok Sabha as Prime Minister, standing at the helm of a formidable army of 415 members, the largest majority in the history of Indian democracy. The BJP grabbed onto a mere two Lok Sabha seats. They were baffled – trying to figure out whether they were dead yet or not.

The Yatra That Led To The Demolition Of Babri Masjid

Under Vajpayee, the new party had come close to extinction. Thus, Advani replaced Vajpayee as President in 1986, and the RSS was back into the fold – the man at the top was their man. The BJP, was, after all, the new Jana Sangh, in which the RSS were major stakeholders.

Rajiv Gandhi was, however – an amateur, and he could not appeal to the masses like his mother had. He had messed up in his minority appeasement strategies, and the Bofors scam happened. His ‘good boy’ image died out, and people were extremely unhappy with the misuse of the massive mandate that had been given to Congress.

The BJP focussed its campaign on exposing what they believed was Congress’s pseudo-secularism, and began to intensify their pro-Hindu strategy, by promising to deliver on banning the killing of the Gau Mata (cows), and the rejection of the special status of Kashmir, after Hindu Kashmiri Pandits were becoming targets of communal violence in the state. Their strategy was successful – and they won 85 seats in the 1989 elections, choosing to support the National Front government from the outside.

That government (Prime Minister: VP Singh) is famous till date for introducing the OBC (Other Backward Castes) reservations – a political move, that many believe was undertaken to split the Hindu vote and catch the BJP off guard.

The BJP retaliated by announcing a Yatra to Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh; where they would build a temple for Lord Ram. Some call it madness till date. On the site of the proposed temple, was a mosque built in the 16th century – the Babri Masjid, which had been locked up as ‘disputed’ for forty years. Lord Ram was a universal Hindu deity regardless of what caste you were, and if someone built a temple for him, you had to show up, help build the temple, and vote for them!

The RSS, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), and the entire Parivar of right wing Hindu groups set out on this hardcore journey as well, mobilizing Hindus and demanding at least one male from every Hindu family be sent to help in the temple’s construction. In the middle of the Yatra, Advani was arrested in Bihar, leading to riots in many districts that were waiting for his arrival, and the yatra’s temporary suspension.

The Yatra finally arrived in Ayodhya in 1992. On 6th December, many prominent leaders of the unified Hindu Ram Janmabhoomi movement (birthplace of Lord Ram) arrived and departed. That day, the lakhs of people at Ayodhya demolished the Babri Masjid and installed an idol of Ram in its place. Chaos ensued, and riots broke out in several parts of the country. Communal violence was rampant, and the BJP was blamed.  

Recognizing that they went completely overboard

Ironically, the BJP itself suffered due to the Ayodhya issue, and came to be directly linked with “Mandir Wahin Banayenge!” and nothing else. The party’s popularity was sinking, and despite their strong and faithful, orthodox Hindu voter base; elections were not won solely based on temples.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had stayed comparatively dormant during the Ram temple issue, was roped back in as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 1996 elections. The BJP began to campaign on ‘Indian economics’ or nationalist economics, after the liberalization of 1991.

A part of the Hindu vote and some of the Vajpayee-type-Hindu (less conservative Hindus) supporters saw to it that Vajpayee became the first BJP Prime Minister after the elections of 1996, with 161 seats in Parliament. But he would remain in that position for 13 days only, choosing to resign after he could not muster the support of more than 200 members. (272 required)

Two years later, the BJP came back to the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and stayed in power for 13 months. Vajpayee’s government lost a vote of confidence by just one vote in 1999 and fell. However, the NDA returned to power in the ensuing elections, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first non-congress Prime Minister to complete a full term in office, till 2004.

Pursuing Middle Ground

New Delhi: File photo of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with senior BJP leader L K Advani in Lucknow when the later reached there in 1997 during his Swaran Jayanti Yatra.

Vajpayee was back as Prime Minister in 1998, and the BJP commanded 182 seats in the Lok Sabha. India conducted nuclear tests under the NDA administration.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been described by many as a soft-hearted poet. Peace with Pakistan was one of his greatest priorities, and his governance was not the extremist right-wing kind. This often placed him at odds with the RSS bosses, who felt he was steering the BJP away from its true purpose.

The NDA administration was working towards progress – the golden quadrilateral superhighway was announced and work started, liberalization was accelerated (much to the behest of the hardcore Sangh Parivar), and urban development came rather fast.

But not all was well. The government’s handling of the hijacked IC 814 and the Godhra riots of 2002 was seen as shoddy, and while many believe that the Vajpayee administration put in place the measures and structures to usher in economic development in the long run (the same believers claim UPA 1 reaped those benefits), the government had not delivered what it promised to rural India.

An overconfident Vajpayee announced in 2003 that the elections of 2004 would be held in advance, and the BJP went overboard with its ‘India Shining’ campaign. India was, perhaps, shining, but not enough to see the BJP in power again. The seat tally of the BJP fell to 138, and the Congress, leading the United Progressive Alliance, formed the new government, forcing the grand old Vajpayee into retirement.

The BJP sat in the Lok Sabha as the principal opposition party for ten years. For most of these years, LK Advani was still at the commanding helm of party affairs and was the Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2009 general elections.

The UPA government; in its first term, did quite well or was thought at the time. They returned to power in 2009, and the BJP’s attacks on the Congress left not a dent. Advani was too old, and the BJP’s cause and purpose were stagnated. But that changed shortly.

Acche Din!

Narendra Modi had served as Chief Minister of Gujarat since 2002 and had enjoyed massive public support. His entire life had been spent, if the word can be used in this manner; politically. He was a strong leader and was declared Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013. The BJP was, finally, seeing a change in leadership.

Modi’s campaign, as is well known, took things to an entirely new level. People were already unhappy with the UPA and its constant scams and scandals and needed an alternative. The BJP, under Modi, fought a campaign built on driving the Congress out, development politics, and unifying the Hindu vote – which came to be known as the Modi wave. That wave swept India, and Narendra Modi walked into Parliament as the first ever BJP Prime Minister at the head of a majority government.

The new Prime Minister’s popularity made the BJP’s rivals extremely uncomfortable. But he wasn’t just popular, he was also a workaholic. He worked and rolled out new schemes and shaped policies, and travelled across the globe, hugging every important leader he could find, striving to make India a key player globally. WhatsApp forwards about ‘Our beloved Prime Minister works 18 hours a day, just look at him!’ never stopped arriving. By the end of the first two years in power, things were looking great for the BJP, and they enjoyed the absolute confidence of the Indian people.

The Demonetization Circus


On 8th November 2016, PM Modi came on TV and announced his pet scheme – demonetization. People were amazed; it was a great move, the government was determined to fight corruption, India’s transparency was shining; in short, there was unlimited praise for the Prime Minister’s unflinching conviction.

A week or two later, people realized that while demonetization had been a strong move, its implementation was quite messed up. The last months of 2016 were rather confusing – with Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, giving several notable speeches on the demonetization strategy, but changing its motive from fighting against corruption to suddenly going cashless, and back and forth.

Even now, not many doubted the government’s intentions and the ‘determination of the strong-willed people in Delhi’s corridors of power to serve the country.’ In fact, demonetization seemed to have pulled the BJP’s traditional voter base closer to them and expanded their voter base. This along with having made Narendra Modi the tallest leader of Indian politics – as was signified by the overwhelming majority that the BJP won in the UP elections.

The government introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in 2017 as well, adding another policy move to ‘the revolutionary policies’ of the Indian government. Lots of revolutionary policies in these last three years, it would seem.

Agli Baar, Kiski Sarkar?

The 2019 general elections are approaching. India is not what it was twenty-five years ago, and does not, get triggered to vote for the Ram temple (hopefully!). We are a young nation, that will usher in millions of new, first time voters for these elections.

Does the BJP still stand higher than its rivals, as is popularly believed? Demonetisation was a failure, there are several doubts being expressed about the government’s stance on privacy, and in many places, people are fearful that they are losing the right to criticise their government. BJP leaders are getting more complacent, sometimes even believing that their word is law.

What do we look at when we speak of economic development? We can look at three broad categories, perhaps. Inflation, GDP growth rate, and employment. Regarding inflation, the situation seems to be good. But GDP growth rate has slumped, and the government has not created the kind of employment that they had promised in 2014.

It is true that Modi is the tallest leader in India, today, and even if things continue as they are now, he seems reasonably assured of another five years at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg (the PM’s residence). What truly matters, is that whether he enjoys public support due to the popularity of his governance and the general Modi model, or simply because there is no one else, no leader to elect in 2019. If the BJP comes to power again simply because there is no alternative, then it is arguably a sad state of affairs for Indian politics.

The Saffron Tide

Kingshuk Nag wrote in his book, The Saffron Tide, after the 2014 elections, “How effective the maiden BJP government in New Delhi will be is yet to be seen. But one thing is clear: the BJP has arrived and will remain the primary pole of Indian politics in the foreseeable future.”

Perhaps, not much has changed about what he said. Judging by the standards the BJP government set for itself in 2014, it has not been a considerable success, but it has not been a failure either. It is now up to Young India to decide whether to continue to wear the Saffron robe or not. Do read Section 377: A Colonial Abomination.

-Parth Kulkarni


One thought on “The BJP: India’s Legacy Of Saffron

  1. We need to give little more time to judge actual outcome of demonetisation. Introduction of GDP is a huge systemic revolutionary change and business culture will take time to come terms with it.Again teething trouble in its implementation cannot be skipped.Both these things have affected GDP growth but considered opinions are optimistic that it may pick up in near future.It is true that there is no other political leader in major opposition party who can shadow the image of Mody at the moment.There is considerable change in the attitude of RSS and BJP in using concept of Hindutva in the corridors of political power.It may, therefore, attract youths to words the present party in power since Mody has been reasonably successful in projecting honest and nationalist leadership.

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