The Bharatiya Janata Party (About this sound pronunciation translation: Indian People's Party; abbr. BJP) is one of two major parties in the Indian political system, along with the Indian National Congress. As of 2014, it is India's largest political party in terms of representation in the national parliament and the second largest in the various state assemblies. It has close ideological and organisational links to the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The roots of the BJP lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, formed in 1951 by Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Following the end of the state of emergency in 1977, the Jana Sangh merged with several other parties to form the Janata Party, which defeated the incumbent Congress party in the 1977 general election. After three years in power, the Janata party dissolved in 1980, and the rank and file of the erstwhile Jana Sangh reconvened to form the Bharatiya Janata Party. Although initially unsuccessful, winning only two seats in the 1984 general election, the BJP soon grew in strength on the back of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Following victory in several state elections and increasingly better performances in national elections, the BJP became the largest party in the national parliament in 1996. It was invited to form a government, which lasted only 13 days.
After an election in 1998, the BJP-led coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed a government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that lasted for a year. Following fresh elections, the NDA was able to form a government, again headed by Vajapayee, that lasted a full term in office and was the first non-Congress government to do so. In the 2004 election the NDA suffered an unexpected defeat, and for the next ten years the BJP was the principal opposition party in parliament. In the 2014 general election, long time Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi led the NDA to a landslide victory, and as of 2014, leads the NDA government as prime minister. In addition, as of July 2014, the party holds a majority in five states.
The stated 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 party also advocates social conservatism and a foreign policy centred on nationalist principles. Key issues for the BJP have included the abrogation of the special constitutional status to Jammu and Kashmir, the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, and the implementation of a uniform civil code for all Indians. However, the NDA governments of 1998–2004 did not pursue any of these controversial issues, and instead focused on a largely neoliberal economic policy centred on globalisation and economic growth above social welfare.
Bharatiya Jana Sangh (1951–77)The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, popularly known as the Jana Sangh, was founded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951 in response to the secular politics of the dominant Congress party. Widely regarded to be the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),a voluntary Hindu nationalist organisation, its aims included the protection of India's "Hindu" cultural identity, and what it perceived to be the appeasement of Muslims and Pakistan by the Congress and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The first major campaign of the Jana Sangh was an agitation demanding the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India. Mookerjee was arrested for violating orders preventing him from leading the protest in Kashmir, and died in jail a few months later, of a heart attack. The leadership of the organisation devolved onto Deendayal Upadhyaya, and eventually next-generation leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani. However, the vast majority of the party workers, including Upadhyaya, were still adherents of the RSS. Despite the momentum gained through the Kashmir agitation, the Jana Sangh won just three Lok Sabha seats in the first general elections in 1952. It maintained a minor presence in parliament until 1967. During this period, a uniform civil code for all Indians, banning cow slaughter, and abolishing the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir were among the main points on the party's agenda.
After nationwide assembly elections in 1967, the party entered into a coalition with several other parties, including the Swatantra Party and the socialists, and formed governments in various states across the Hindi heartland, including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. This marked the first time that the Jana Sangh had held political office, albeit within a coalition. The constraints of coalition politics also caused the shelving of the Sangh's more radical agenda.
Janata Party (1977–80)
In 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency over the country. The Jana Sangh took part in the widespread protest that followed, and thousands of its members joined the host of other agitators in jails across the country. In 1977, the emergency was rescinded and general elections were held. The Jana Sangh merged with parties from across the political spectrum, including the Socialist Party, the Congress and the Bharatiya Lok Dal to form the Janata Party, which contested the election with its main agenda being the defeat of Indira Gandhi.
The Janata Party won a huge majority in 1977 and formed the government with Morarji Desai as prime minister. Vajpayee, who had become the leader of the Jana Sangh after Upadhyaya's death in 1967, was appointed Minister of External Affairs in the new government. However, disagreements over the sharing of power between the various factions of the new party plagued the Janata government, and after two and a half years in power Desai resigned from his position. This precipitated the disintegration of the Janata Party. After a brief period of coalition rule general elections were held in 1980.
Formation and early days
The Bharatiya Janata Party was one of the new parties that emerged from the break-up of the Janata Party in 1980. Although technically distinct from the Jana Sangh, the bulk of its rank and file were identical to its predecessor, and Vajpayee was appointed its first president. Historian Ramachandra Guha writes that despite the factional wars within the Janata government, its period in power saw a rise in support for the RSS, marked by a wave of communal violence in the early 1980s.Despite this rise in support, the BJP initially moderated the Hindu nationalist stance of its predecessor, to gain a wider appeal. This strategy was unsuccessful, as the BJP won only two Lok Sabha seats in the elections of 1984.The assassination of Indira Gandhi a few months prior to the election also contributed to the low tally, as the Congress won a record number of seats.
Babri Masjid demolition and the Hindutva movement
The failure of the moderate strategy championed by Vajpayee led to a shift in the ideology of the party toward a policy of more hardline Hindutva and Hindu fundamentalism.In 1984 Advani was appointed president, and under him the BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In the early 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had begun 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, and 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 by Babur to construct the mosque.The BJP threw its support behind this campaign, and made it a part of their election plank. On the strength of the movement the BJP 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" to Ayodhya in support of the Ram mandir movement. The riots caused by the yatra led to Advani's arrest by the government of Bihar, but a large body of Kar Sevaks or Sangh Parivar activists nonetheless reached Ayodhya, and attempted to attack the mosque.This resulted in a pitched battle with the paramilitary forces that ended with the death of several kar sevaks. The BJP withdrew its support to the V.P. Singh government, leading to fresh elections being called. In these elections the BJP 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 thousands of 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 VHP was briefly banned by the government, and many BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani were arrested for making inflammatory speeches provoking the demolition.Several prominent historians have stated that the demolition was the product of a conspiracy by the Sangh Parivar, and not merely a spontaneous act.
A 2009 report, authored by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, found that 68 people were responsible for the demolition of the mosque, mostly leaders from the BJP.Among those named were Vajpayee, Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi. Kalyan Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh during the mosque's demolition, also came in for harsh criticism in the report.He was accused of posting bureaucrats and police officers who would stay silent during the mosque's demolition in Ayodhya.Anju Gupta, an Indian Police Service officer in charge of Advani's security on the day of the demolition, appeared as a prominent witness before the commission. She stated 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 cobble together a majority in the Lok Sabha, and had to resign after 13 days.
Ideology and political positions
Social policies and Hindutva
The official philosophy of the BJP is "Integral Humanism".The BJP expresses a commitment to Hindutva, an ideology articulated by Indian independence activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The party asserts that Hindutva is merely cultural nationalism, which favours Indian heritage and culture over westernisation and so Hindutva naturally extends to all Indians regardless of religion.Scholars and political analysts have, however, pointed out that Hindutva ideology as practised by the BJP and its affiliates has largely been an attempt to redefine India in terms of its Hindu heritage, and to recast it as a Hindu country, to the exclusion of other religions, making it a Hindu nationalist party in a general sense.However, since the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998, the BJP has slightly moderated its stance on Hindutva, due to the presence of parties with a broader set of ideologies within the coalition.
The party's Hindutva ideology has been expressed in several different instances and in many of the policies it has enacted in government. The BJP supports the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya at the site of the Babri Mosque.The party was at the forefront of the agitation to build a temple there during the early 1990s, and this issue was its major poll plank in the 1991 general elections.However, the demolition of the mosque during a BJP rally in 1992 resulted in a backlash against the party that led to a decline in the prominence of the temple in the party's agenda.Hindutva was also brought to the fore in the education policy of the BJP headed NDA government, which reorganised the NCERT and tasked it with extensively revising the textbooks used in Indian schools. Various scholars have stated that this revision, especially in the case of history texts, was a covert attempt to "saffronise" Indian history.The NDA government also introduced Vedic astrology as a subject in college curricula, despite the opposition of several leading scientists.
The BJP has long taken a position against what it calls the "pseudo-secularism" of the Congress party, instead embracing "positive secularism.It supports the enactment of a uniform civil code, which would apply a common set of personal laws to every citizen, replacing existing personal laws that are based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community. According to historian Yogendra Malik, this ignores the fact that differential procedures are required to protect the cultural identity of the Muslim minority.It also favours the abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian constitution, which grants a greater degree of autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir in recognition of the unusual circumstances surrounding its accession to the Indian union.Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid out the BJP's interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi's doctrine of Sarva Dharma Sambhava and contrasted it with what he called European secularism.He had said that Indian secularism attempted to see all religions with equal respect, while European secularism was independent of religion, thus making the former more "positive".
The BJP has a stated policy of opposing "illegal" migration into Indian territory from Bangladesh.The party states that this opposition is because such migration, mostly in the states of Assam and West Bengal, threatens the security, economy, and stability of the country.Academics have pointed out that the BJP refers to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh as refugees, and reserves the term "illegal" for Muslim migrants.Academics such as Michael Gillan writes that this is an attempt to use an emotive issue to mobilise Hindu sentiment in a region where the party has not been historically successful.
In 2013 the Supreme Court of India reinstated the controversial Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which, among other things, criminalises homosexuality. There was a popular outcry, although clerics, including Muslim religious leaders, stated that they supported the verdict.The BJP president said that the party supported section 377, because it believed that homosexuality was unnatural,though its stand has softened after its victory in the 2014 general elections.
The economic policy of the BJP has changed considerably since its founding in 1980, and there remains a significant range of economic ideologies within the party. In the 1980s the BJP, like the Jana Sangh before it, reflected the thinking of the RSS and its affiliates. It supported Swadeshi, or the promotion of indigenous industries and products, and a protectionist export policy. However, it supported internal economic liberalisation, and opposed the state-driven industrialisation favoured by the Congress.
By the time of the elections in 1996, the BJP had shifted its stance away from protectionism and toward globalisation; its election manifesto recommended increasing foreign investment in priority sectors, while restricting it in others. When the party took power at the centre in 1998, it shifted its policy even further in favour of globalisation. The tenure of the NDA saw an unprecedented influx of foreign companies into India.This invited criticism both from the left parties, as well as from the affiliates of the BJP like the RSS and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch.The communist parties suggested that the BJP was attempting to appease the World Bank and the United States government through its neoliberal policies.A similar view was expressed by the RSS, which stated that the BJP was not being true to its Swadeshi ideology.The tenure of the two NDA governments from 1998 to 2004 saw India's GDP growth increase substantially. The campaign slogan of the BJP in the 2004 elections was "India Shining," a slogan that tried to call attention to the perceived shift in the economy, and to the party's belief that the free market would bring prosperity to all sectors of society.However, the party suffered an unexpected defeat, with commentators stating that the NDA had been penalised for neglecting the needs of the poor and marginalised, and focusing too much on its business and corporate allies.
This shift in the economic policies of the BJP has also been seen at the level of the state governments, especially in Gujarat, where the BJP has held power for 16 uninterrupted years.The government of Narendra Modi, which was in power from 2002 to 2014, has pursued a strongly neoliberal agenda, presented as a drive towards development.Its policies have included extensive privatisation of infrastructure and services, as well as a significant rollback of labour and environmental regulations. While this has invited praise from within the business community, commentators have criticised it as catering to the BJP's upper class constituency at the expense of the poor.