Ram Mandir and The Rise & Fall of the BJP

(This is the copy of my dissertation submitted as a student at the Asian College of Journalism in 2011)


I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my mentor V.K. Raghunathan for his support in helping me organise my thoughts and ideas into a coherent structure. I would also like to thank Professor Krishna Ananth and Mr. Satyamurthy for their insight into the Indian political arena, especially in the 1980s and 90s. A special mention to a number of BJP and RSS officials like Ravindra Bhusari, Mukund Rao Kulkarni, and Madhav Bhandari who shared their thoughts on the Ram Mandir movement from the Sangh Parivar’s perspective. Last but not the least, I would like to thank and dedicate this dissertation to my father, B.R. Balakrishnan for developing my interest in politics and providing me with his invaluable insights over the years.


“This is a party of idealism. Ideology is our strength. Idealism is also our strength. Our idealism is nationalism. You should not identify this or that programme or issue with the ideology. These are in consequential to them. However, the fundamental ideology is nationalism. For us, nationalism is above everything. Nation first and then only party. The nation-first party.”

- L.K. Advani, speech to the BJP National Council in Nagpur, August 2000

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the current avatar of Hindu nationalist parties. The first was the Hindu Mahasabha founded by V.D.Savarkar in 1915.At various times its members included pre-eminent Indian political leaders such as Madan Mohan Malaviya, founder of the Benaras Hindu University; Dr. K. B. Hedgewar, founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the former chief minister of the Central Provinces and Berar; Syama Prasad Mookerjee of Bengal, who served as Central Minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Nathuram Godse who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and his associates were members of the Hindu Mahasabha. This association lead to a popular backlash against the Mahasabha which withered away in course of time. Many of its members joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

The Bharatiya Jana Sangh , which was founded in 1951 by Syama Prasad Mookerjee as the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. (RSS) (The RSS itself was founded in 1925 by Dr. K. B. Hedgewar, a doctor from Nagpur, as a social and cultural organisation in British India, to oppose both British colonialism in India and Muslim separatism)

The Jana Sangh remained on the fringes of the Indian political scene. Its big chance came in 1977 when the Emergency was lifted by Mrs Indira Gandhi and elections were held. The Jana Sangh came to power for the first time as an important member of the newly formed Janata Party from 1977 to 1980. Internal differences in the latter resulted in the fall of the Government with Morarji Desai failing to prove majority in the Lok Sabha. In 1980, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat founded the BJP with Vajpayee as its first President.

[1]When it was established in 1980, however, the BJP didn’t set out to become a renamed version of the old Jana Sangh. It wanted to be a more cohesive and disciplined version of the Janata Party that emerged with the blessings of Jayaprakash Narayan. Despite the serious misgivings of leaders like Vijaye Raje Scindia, it embraced a rather mysterious doctrine called ‘Gandhian socialism’ which was to coexist with its very own ‘integral humanism’. It went out of its way to reach out to people from other political traditions like Ram Jethmalani, K.S. Hegde, and Sikander Bakht who were not from a Jana Sangh or RSS background. The goal was to project itself as the national alternative to the Congress.

The newly formed BJP also wanted a wider functional autonomy from the RSS, described frequently by Vajpayee as the Lakshman rekha, although there was still considerable influence of the RSS within the party both in terms of the leaders themselves and its cadres which provided solid organisational support at the grass roots level. Despite the loyal cadres of the RSS growing across the country along with its range of activities, the BJP was already much bigger than the former and sought to encompass a much larger section of Hindu society under its wing.

The party failed miserably in the 1984 elections following the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with only two seats in Parliament. (The two seats were probably not a real indicator of the party’s strength as the voter in that election was swayed by emotions following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi.) With the moderate stance taken by party President Vajpayee failing to pay electoral dividends, the increasingly hard-line Hindu nationalists lead by L.K. Advani began to rise within the party and define its politics. In the same year, the BJP became the political voice of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Movement, which was led by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the RSS. They wanted to build a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at the site of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Hindu activists believed the site was the birthplace of the Lord, and thus qualified as one of the most sacred sites of Hinduism.

In 1986, a district judge of Uttar Pradesh ordered the opening of the disputed structure to Hindus. This, allegedly, came from the Congress government, headed by Rajiv Gandhi, which tried to balance the favour shown to the Muslims in Shah Bano controversy (where the Constitution was amended to offset a Supreme Court decision favourable to Muslim women). The VHP intensified its activities in the next few years by laying foundations of the Ram temple on the adjacent property.

In the 1989 elections, the Congress lead by Rajiv Gandhi was defeated and a government lead by VP Singh with the outside support of the BJP assumed power. When V P Singh announced implementation of the Mandal Committee granting reservation to Other Backward castes (seen as a move to mobilise support of these castes), L K Advani announced a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. The ratha yatra resulted in communal polarisation throughout North India increasing the vote share and seats of the BJP in subsequent elections.

Finally, on December 6, 1992, hundreds of VHP and BJP activists brought down the mosque. The Narasimha Rao led Congress government let a makeshift temple appear in its place before moving the courts for status quo. Over the following weeks, waves of violence between Hindus and Muslims erupted in various parts of the country, killing over 1000 people. The VHP was banned by the government, and many BJP leaders including Advani were arrested briefly for provoking the destruction. Although widely condemned by many across the country for playing politics with sensitive issues, the BJP won the support of millions of conservative Hindus, as well as national prominence.

After two short stints in power at the Centre in 1996 and 1998–99, it won its highest ever tally of 182 seats in the 1999 elections and the BJP led National Democratic Alliance became the first non-Congress government in the country to secure a full five year term. It may be noted that the NDA’s success was largely because of alliances with anti-Congress parties that the BJP was able to forge.

However, the party has suffered significant erosion since 2004 when it lost power to the Congress — led United Progressive Alliance. It ended up with a reduced tally of 116 seats in the 2009 Parliamentary elections with very little presence in the east and south of the country. In the fractured Indian polity marked by caste and regional assertiveness, there seems to be a question mark over the BJP’s future with the party seemingly drifting without any clear sense of direction while losing allies.

Through this dissertation, it is proposed to study the nexus between the BJP’s growth and later stagnation with the fortunes of the Ram Mandir movement while keeping in mind other factors which operated in the relevant period. These factors (aside from the strengthening of the Congress and the increasing caste and regional assertiveness) would include increasing consumerism and the opportunities offered by faster economic growth.


“It is ideology alone which sparks enthusiasm in the party workers and reinforces their commitment to idealism. Also, an ideology is needed to establish a political party’s distinct individuality.”

- Report of Working Group to BJP National Executive in Bhopal, July 1985

The sudden growth of the BJP in the post 1989 period is striking compared to the stagnation of the two Hindutva parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Singh (BJS) in the post independence period. [2]The BJS commanded roughly seven percent of the national vote, and only a modest number of seats (such as 20 to 35) in the 545 member Lok Sabha. The meteoric rise is reflected in the number of its seats galloping from two (1984) and 85 (1989) to 120 (1991) and 182 (1999), with its vote-share rising from 7.4 percent of the vote cast at the national level (1984) to 11.4 percent (1989), 20.1 percent (1991) and 26 percent (1998), to fall only marginally to 23 per cent. (1999) (The fall in 1999 is probably due to the larger number of alliances formed by the BJP in 1999).

The BJS’s national vote share fluctuated between 3.1 and 9.4 percent in the Lok Sabha elections in the period 1962–77. The average works out to 6.4 percent. The number of Lok Sabha seats held by the BJS varied between 3 and 35 (the highest it ever bagged as the Jana Sangh). By contrast, the Communists alone were at least twice as strong, and their influence and social base was wider and their influence deeper and more evenly spread. The Left as a whole was at least three times stronger than the Hindutva Right.

However, in June 1975, the declaration of a State of Emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the Jana Sangh a ‘dream’ opening. The vilification and the jailing of Jana Sangh leaders by Gandhi’s government put them in the same bracket as her centrist and left-wing opponents bestowed a degree of legitimacy upon them. Further, RSS and BJS cadres formed an important part of the ‘J.P. movement’, the credible, respectable and broad-based mobilisation led by the ageing Gandhian leader and former socialist Jayaprakash Narayan, especially in states like Bihar and Gujarat.

This gave Hindutva politics the miraculous opening it was looking for an entry into the respectable mainstream from the margins on the Far Right. Thus, when the State of Emergency was lifted and general elections announced in 1977, the Janata Party was formed as a conglomerate or de facto coalition of all the major non-Congress, non-communist parties, both national and regional. The Jana Sanghis became a part of the Janata, piggybacking on Jayaprakash Narayan.

The Janata Party put up straight single-candidate fights against the Congress in a majority of constituencies in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress was wiped from the entire Hindi-speaking belt. Of the 294 Janata MPs elected, between 80 and 100 are estimated to have been former Jana Sanghis, a number representing the tripling of the BJS’s highest seat holdings in the Lok Sabha till then. This was a gain beyond most optimistic projections of the old Jana Sangh.

By 1980, however, the Janata experiment ended in disaster thanks to internal contradictions within the uneasy conglomerate. An important reason for these differences was the “dual membership” issue with Janata party members from a socialist background objecting to former Jana Sangh leaders keeping their membership of the RSS.

As stated earlier, the BJP was formed in 1980. Though it got only two seats in the 1984 elections, issues of “Muslim appeasement” and “pseudo secularism” (to use the BJP’s favourite phrases) surfaced during Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership. These issues gave the BJP the opening it was looking for.

The secular is not defined in India as a sphere distinct from religion. Secularism is presented as ‘religious tolerance’, itself portrayed as the enduring spirit of India’s ancient, i.e. Hindu civilization.

One shameful result has been the absence of even the option of a uniform civil code in India. In a concession to a Muslim fundamentalism determined to uphold the sharia, in 1986 the Rajiv Congress overrode the Supreme Court’s ruling that an elderly Muslim divorcee, Shah Bano, be granted maintenance under Indian law, surrendering to patriarchal demands for a Muslim women’s bill. This sordid manoeuvre sparked mobilization by Hindu militants and counter-mobilizations by Islamic groups, turning what was essentially an issue of women’s rights into a communalist battleground. It was to offset this concession to reactionary forces in the Muslim community that the Congress government lifted the locks on the disputed site at Ayodhya later the same year, allowing the supporters of the Sangh their foothold.

The BJP sensing the rising popularity and potential of the Ayodhya mosque/temple movement in the 1980s, actively supported it. In 1986, Advani replaced Vajpayee as BJP president. Even before that, a change of strategic orientation had begun, towards a Hindu ‘Sanghatanist’ style of organisation and an ethno-religious strategy of political mobilisation. [3]The BJP by 1987 had clearly formulated the three ‘trident’ issues, greatly and long agitated by the Jana Sangh, as its principal focus and concerns: A ban on cow slaughter; abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir; and adoption of a Uniform Civil Code.

Among the greatest phenomena of the late 1980s and the early 1990s, especially in the Gangetic plains of India or its Hindi-speaking ‘heartland’ or ‘cow-belt’, were the self-assertion of the middle and lower middle castes of the social order — the Other Backward Classes (OBC’s), or the ‘Forward March of the Backwards’. Secondly, the rise of new tendencies of self-consciousness and self-organisation among the Dalits (the former Untouchables) and the emergence and growth of specifically Dalit parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party. Thirdly, the greater regionalisation of politics, with both state and region based (as opposed to national) parties and localised caste organisations, playing a more important role than before.

The BJP could not relate to the first two processes in any organic or integral way. Indeed, the parties representing the OBC’s and untouchables represented the very antithesis of the upper caste-dominated content of the BJP’s Hindutva ideology with an emphasis on Sanskritisation and its privileging of Brahminical values and the Greater Tradition (of the literate elite among Hindus, as opposed to the ‘popular’ or folk-based and plebeian Lesser Traditions). But the BJP became an unintended beneficiary of the backlash produced by the two phenomena, especially the political assertion of lower-middle castes.

Thus, when in 1990, Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh introduced a policy of reservation of jobs in favour of the OBCs, there was a violent agitation opposing it, led by upper-caste. That upper-caste backlash immensely helped the party in the Hindi belt in political and electoral terms.

As for the third tendency, towards regionalisation of politics, the BJP was its biggest gainer through the accretion of regional parties as its potential and actual allies. Although greatly weakened after the mid-1990s, the Congress was still (and remains) India’s most broad-based and widely represented national party. Its state-level opponents became the BJP’s convenient allies.

In understanding the growth of the BJP, it should be kept in mind that its connection to the RSS gives it an unparalleled infrastructure of ideologically-motivated, highly disciplined cadres available for electoral and extra-electoral campaigning. Today, the RSS far outstrips the Left in numbers (estimated at over 2 million), organised strength in civil society (40,000 shakas or branches), and morale. It runs thousands of schools and has a plethora of front organisations for all sections of society, from housewives to pensioners to retired military personnel, unmatched by any other force. Its nervous system is a saffron brotherhood of pracharaks, several thousand celibate, spartan, full-time organizers, devoted to the pure Hindu Rashtra of their dreams

Above all, however, the ideologues of the Sangh were in this period extremely skilled in manufacturing a collective sense of Hindu grievance. This has been a vital move. Caste in India is a more powerful signifier than religion itself: without the threat of an external enemy, it would present insuperable obstacles to Hindu unity. Islam is the obvious candidate for this enemy. But it is hard to portray Indian Muslims which form only 12 per cent of the population, and overwhelmingly working class as the chief oppressors or exploiters of the vast Hindu mass. The Sangh proved adept at telescoping history to make present-day Muslims responsible for the Mughal rule of past centuries.

Growth of the BJP

“Ayodhya was responsible for dramatic rise of the BJP in U.P. and Bihar. Exit of Socialists in other regions like Gujarat, Karnataka, and Maharashtra helped the party grow in the 80s and 90s. BJP filled in anti — Congress space in states where opposition did not sustain itself.”

- Krishna Ananth, Political historian

The crucial period in the growth of the BJP is three years from 1989 to 1992. [4]Many observers assumed that the BJP’s influence would be short-lived, for Hindu nationalism violated the principles of centrism, socialism, and secularism that had governed Indian political life since independence. But contrary to their predictions, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the parliamentary elections held in 1996, 1998 and 1999 far surpassing the mainstream Congress party that had ruled India almost every year since 1947. Although its electoral platform was broader than it had been in 1991, it continued to define itself as a Hindu nationalist party. In its rise to national power the BJP overcame the obstacles that have traditionally hindered the growth of religious parties.

The major reason for the BJP’s success is that it became the voice of opposition to incumbent governments at national and regional levels. Beyond this broad generalization, the BJP was able to appeal to different regions and constituencies. In the early 1990s it was a vehicle for upper caste resentment at the growing political influence of the lower castes. It also gave voice to the economic aspirations of the industrial middle classes, who sought freedom from state control to collaborate with foreign capital. However, by 1996, the BJP had gained lower caste support in many states. It had also become an outspoken critic of the Congress party-led government’s neo-liberal policies and had come to speak on behalf of the workers and small producers who were disadvantaged by the reforms. The BJP has increasingly occupied the space created by the decline of Congress.

The period preceding the BJP’s rise in the mid-1980s was marked by considerable protest from below, directed primarily at the state. Groups in Punjab, Kashmir, and the north-eastern areas called for the devolution of power and resources, while agrarian movements sought more favourable terms of trade and lower castes demanded greater representation in state institutions. The Congress government’s response to these demands reflected its greater commitment to its own survival in office than to democratic practices.

The BJP captured public fears of political instability and national disintegration. At the same time, it channelled public attention toward one among the many biases Congress displayed, namely its tendency to “appease” conservative Muslim groups. The Shah Bano episode, the picture of Muslim appeasement and the Congress attempt to recapture Hindu sympathies by opening the locks of the disputed structure at Ayodhya have already been mentioned. On 9th November, 1989, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, allowed ‘shilanyas’or the ground-breaking ceremony for a new temple at an undisputed site near the old structure. This strengthened the Ram Janmabhoomi movement which increasingly came under the control of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an offshoot of the RSS.

The Congress government responded to the BJP’s campaign in Ayodhya, in much the same way it had responded to regional movements, alternately placating and ignoring them. In the case of the BJP campaign, the Congress government ignored threats that the BJP had been making since 1989 to demolish a sixteenth century mosque which a Muslim ruler (Babur) had built at the birth place of Lord Ram. Whether it suffered paralysis, or was communalized itself, its inaction during the riots displayed its extreme weakness.

[5]The period of the BJP’s growth coincided with shifts in government policies that had important implications for both class and caste relations. During this time, Congress governments sponsored a shift in India’s closed economy toward encouraging private foreign investment. As in the political arena, the BJP provided a principal alternative to the Congress party in the economic sphere. It gained the support of the business classes by supporting liberalization during a period when other political parties were subscribing to state socialism. Once Congress ushered in the economic reforms, however, the BJP’s position became more complicated.

To maintain support among its traditional constituencies — traders, businessmen and shopkeepers — the BJP continued to support the lifting of state controls, abolition of licenses, and devolution of power to the states. However, the BJP realized that it was no longer expedient to provide wholesale support for liberalization when it had more to gain by criticizing it and representing those groups that the reforms had adversely affected. The BJP denounced Congress for having failed both to achieve significant growth and to address the poverty, unemployment, and inflation that followed in the wake of liberalization.

The BJP’s economic platform also changed because economic liberalization conflicted with its nationalist aura. Under the influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP has embraced swadeshi (self-reliance) which favours Indian goods over foreign investment in high technology and infrastructural sectors. “We want foreign companies to give us computer chips, not potato chips,” L.K. Advani proclaimed at the BJP’s national convention in Mumbai.

At the same time as economic changes were occurring at the national level, there were important developments underway in the rural areas. The rise of the BJP was preceded by the growing politicisation of the lower and middle castes which sought to better their economic and social status through agrarian mobilization. In Uttar Pradesh, the middle castes (termed the “other backward classes”) threw their support behind a farmers’ movement which eroded the traditionally hegemonic position of the Congress party. The Janata Dal party which came to power in 1990 decided to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations, which reserved jobs in public education and employment at the national level for these middle caste groups.

The first BJP-led procession to Ayodhya took place in 1990 in response to the Janata Dal government’s decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations. Although the BJP officially supported these recommendations in order to avoid antagonizing the lower castes, it opposed them in practice, particularly at the state and local levels. To the other backward classes, for whom employment prospects in the lucrative private sector are limited, public sector employment is the key to upward social mobility. The government’s adoption of the Mandal recommendations unleashed upper class Hindus’ accumulated resentment at the State for making special concessions to the lower castes. In the fall of 1990, over 159 youth poured kerosene over their bodies and attempted suicide in a number of cities in northern India. One hundred people were killed in police firings and clashes that accompanied widespread unrest. Underlying the appearance of Hindu support for the Ayodhya movement was widespread upper caste opposition to caste reservations.

The BJP gained another important constituency during its meteoric rise to power by cultivating the support of women. It did so in part by proclaiming itself a champion of women’s interests, especially by supporting a uniform civil code which would expand women’s rights within the family and eliminate distinctions in personal law between religious communities. The BJP ensured that women played highly visible roles in the course of the Ayodhya movement.

As these examples suggest, the BJP succeeded in transcending the narrow framework of party politics. Organisationally, its close links with the RSS and VHP enabled it to gain access to activist networks outside the electoral arena and to associate itself with religious and cultural issues. By bringing questions of religious faith into politics, the BJP challenged the boundary that usually demarcates private from public life.

The BJP grew between 1989 and 1992 because it provided a vehicle for the expression of grievances against the state and for the mobilization of groups which felt victimized by the political system. In some contexts, anti-state sentiment was inextricably linked to anti-Congress sentiment, and the BJP created an alternative to Congress rule.

[6]A final aspect of the rise of the BJP is something which has been termed “insurgency of elites.” An overall feeling of insecurity in India (arising from separatist regional movements, caste awakening that have been mentioned earlier) has created a milieu that is very receptive to the BJP’s message of belligerent aggressive nationalism. The middle and upper classes with global ambition were particularly receptive to this message. This nationalism is also connected to a certain sense of internationalism — the idea that India must “stand tall and take its place as a world power.” The BJP has been saying this for decades, but it is only recently that it has been able to find an audience for it. The BJP came in with a message of building national strength, and the bourgeoisie, which obviously wants to expand, generally felt more mature and confident enough to open up the markets.

Chennai based political analyst Satyamurthy says, “BJP succeeded in redefining nationalistic agenda, which played a huge part in its success.”

The cumulative result of the above factors was the BJP’s victory in the 1999 elections where it won 182 seats with 23.75% of the vote share. The Congress was reduced to 114 seats. The BJP lead NDA had 270 seats and with the support of its alliance partner Telugu Desam Party (which had 29 seats) had a comfortable majority in the Parliament. The Government completed its full term till 2004.

Stagnation and Decline

“BJP leaders today do not seem interested in creating new constituencies. In certain states, the regional parties have used the BJP to come to power and later destroyed it.”

- Satyamurthy, Political Analyst

We may now pause and take a look at the electoral performance of the BJP. The party, in its current incarnation, first entered the fray in 1984 and has won only two parliamentary seats, securing just 7.4% votes. Its vote share rose to 11.4% five years later that gave the party 86 seats. Two years later, in 1991, the party’s performance has improved further and captured 120 seats in the Lok Sabha on the strength of 20.8% of the vote share. In the year 1996, the party’s vote share fell slightly to 20.3% but thanks to better management of the elections, it was able to win 161 seats. The party reached its peak in the year 1998 to ensure the votes of 25.6% and secure 182 seats. The decline started from there and the following year in 1999, if the number of seats has remained constant at 182, its percentage of votes decreased to 23.8%. In the year 2004, the percentage of votes has declined further to 22.2% and it could win only 138 seats. Coming to 2009, the decline in fortunes of the party became clearer. It could win only 116 seats on the strength of share of the votes of 18.8%.

This fall is paralleled by changes on the ground. [7]By 1993, the intense period of Hindu nationalist mobilization was over. Public support for BJP militancy subsided after the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya. The BJP’s ability to overcome caste divisions through religious appeals could not be sustained, as demonstrated significantly by its 1993 defeat at the hands of the backward caste-scheduled caste-Muslim alliance in Uttar Pradesh. Responding to these electoral reversals, the BJP saw fit to moderate its stance. At its national council meeting in Bangalore in June 1993 it downplayed religious issues and concentrated instead on economic liberalization and political corruption. BJP leader L.K. Advani affirmed his commitment to a secular state and depicted the BJP as a responsible alternative to Congress. In contrast to the aura of militant Hindu nationalism that surrounded its election campaign in 1991, the BJP was determined not to present itself as a single-issue party in 1996. Instead it addressed a range of issues, concerning corruption, economic reforms, the uniform civil code, immigration policy, and national security.

As can be seen from the figures given above, the momentum generated by the Ram temple movement and the other factors discussed above were sufficient (along with the alliances stitched up) to carry the party to power in 1999. Thereafter the momentum was lost and the party lost two consecutive elections in 2004 and 2009. The results of the 2009 elections are particularly striking:

2009 Elections:

United Progressive Alliance


National Democratic Alliance


The defeat in 2004 was largely attributed to the inappropriate “India Shining Campaign” and the party’s overconfidence. The defeat in 2009 however has bruised the BJP, leaving it searching for answers about its identity and leadership. In straight fights with the Congress, except for the southern state of Karnataka, where the BJP trounced the Congress, the party fared poorly in its strongholds of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. More significantly, it has slipped badly in the political heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends more MPs to Parliament than any other. This was the state where the BJP had built its political success on the back of its Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. Here the BJP is currently in fourth place.

Krishna Ananth emphasises, “As long as BJP doesn’t revive itself in U.P., it will not come to power in the centre.”

More important the party is losing allies. In Orissa after a wave of attacks on the Christian community in the state last year which was blamed on radical Hindu groups linked to the BJP, the party’s regional ally, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), severed ties. The BJD not only performed strongly in the Parliamentary elections, but also swept back to power in Orissa, which held simultaneous local elections. The BJP, in contrast, failed to win a single seat in Parliament from Orissa.

More than the loss of vote share and seats in Parliament and State assemblies, it is the sense of drift that should worry the BJP. The BJP has entered the post Advani and post Vajpayee period with no vision for India or strategy to win back power. While it remains the second largest party with 116 seats, there are problems and lack of clarity about the relationship with the RSS, the ideological stance that the party should take and leadership issues. The current President Nitin Gadkari is seen as an RSS imposition with little experience in national politics who will probably be unable to control heavyweights like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj.


“BJP have to move beyond the ‘Brahmin-Kshatriya-Baniya’ axis to come to power. They also need to take a clear position on economic issues to gain the trust of the public.”

- Satyamurthy

[8]Compared to its public persona of five years ago, the BJP has sought to moderate and soften its stance. That it has done so is testimony to the pressures the electoral system exerts on national parties to adopt centrist positions. However, if the BJP is under pressure to moderate its stance, it also experiences pressures to reissue periodically Hindu nationalist appeals. One reason is that is must maintain the support of the urban middle classes who have become increasingly committed to majoritarian nationalism. Paradoxically, at the very time that the Muslim intelligentsia has become increasingly critical of fundamentalism and committed to secularism, the Hindu middle class appears to have become more openly communal. It has become quite acceptable for middle class Hindus to depict the Muslim minority as the cause of India’s most serious problems, from overpopulation to the oppression of women to national disintegration

[9]Another issue facing the BJP is that it is a party of leaders without workers. The workers belong to the RSS. That is why the RSS controls BJP. That is why BJP leaders do not emerge through a healthy political process but are appointed by the RSS. The RSS is out of politics. It exercises power without responsibility.

The future of the BJP will depend on three issues:

1) Its ability to appeal to the youth who now occupy a large and growing part of the electorate. (24 % in the last election) The new generation is more cosmopolitan, more culturally adaptive and more impatient to get on in the world.

2) Its acceptability as one of the two natural parties of governance: gaining the people’s trust that they can handle power with responsibility.

3) Retaining the loyalty of its right wing, Hindutva oriented electorate. As the rise of the MNS in Maharashtra or the Hindu terror brigade shows, this is not something that can be taken for granted.

This brings us to the “horns of the trishul” theory. Assuming that the BJP needs about 240 seats to form the government, the party can win the first 80 seats by being hard core Hindu, the next 80 seats by appealing to mild Hindu and nationalistic voters. The third 80 seats will require appeal to a wider electorate more concerned with bread and butter issues but this may well upset the hard core Hindutva brigade which may turn to other more fundamentalist elements.

Another issue that the BJP will face is its relationship with the RSS. It does not appear that the BJP can continue to be only the political face of the RSS. Politics has its own dynamics. Some BJP leaders calculate that the RSS’s door-to-door mobilisation during elections cannot win the party more than, say, 5 to 6 percent of the popular vote, a fraction of the party’s 20-odd percentage point total. They believe that the NDA allies can contribute more to the BJP than the RSS. There is scope in India for a conservative Right-of-Centre party that is not aggressively communal, like the Christian Democrats in Western Europe. The issue is whether the BJP can evolve in this direction and give India an effective two party system.

Finally let us look at the recent Allahabad High Court decision on the Ayodhya structure. The judgment while recognizing the structure as the birth place of Lord Ram, has divided the area into three with one part going to the Muslims. [10]For the BJP, the judgement offers post facto legitimacy to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of 20 years ago but also an opportunity to put the ghosts of Ayodhya to rest. If a temple and a mosque are built in close proximity — and if the party expressly backs such an idea — Ayodhya will be buried as a political matter. The so-called ‘three contentious issues’ — the Uniform Civil Code and the status of Jammu & Kashmir being the other two — will be down to two contentious issues. It will liberate the BJP from the charges of being a denominational party, rather than a broad-spectrum political entity, and enhance its middle ground, middle India positioning.

Finally the BJP needs to have clear economic policies. Hindutva is primarily an emotional commitment to cultural norms and a way of defining national identity. Its importance is paramount when issues centred on these themes top the national agenda, as happened during the Ayodhya movement. However, in more normal times, Hindutva isn’t a guide to action.

[11]The deft bid to replace ‘Hindu nationalism’ with ‘nationalism’ and ‘ideology’ with ‘idealism’ are symptomatic of the leadership’s bid to take the party beyond Hindutva. But it is an uphill task. Apart from a loose and nebulous commitment to deregulation, decentralisation and swadeshi, economics was never a critical part of the party’s agenda. Party notables, all bound by a common faith in Hindutva, have been unable to arrive at any meaningful consensus over economics.

There is, for example, little in their stands to suggest that Arun Jaitley and Uma Bharati once belonged to the same party. One speaks the language of Thatcherism; the other of radical left populism.

Issues like Swadeshi have a gut appeal to many who entered the BJP via the RSS but the response among the BJP’s middle class supporters is more mixed. A large section of them expect the party and its government to come out openly in favour of public sector disinvestment, a low tax regime and minimum government interference in daily life. They have little sympathy for the RSS’ advocacy of a spartan society governed by curbs on consumption. Their vision of nationalism is that of an assertive India completely at ease with Indian values combined with western technology and consumption patterns. A vision that mirrors the experience of the very successful Indian diaspora, particularly in the US.

To be successful, political parties in India have to be grand coalitions but with distinctive personalities. The BJP has acquired a distinct personality and a defined ethos. It is now in search of causes that can blend idealism with good electoral politics. Its success will define the party’s future.


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[1] Dasgupta, Swapan, 2001, “BJP: Up for Grabs,” India Seminar.

[2] Bidwai, Praful, 2003, “A Critique of Hindutva,” South Asian Journal

[3] Bidwai, Praful, 2003, “A Critique of Hindutva,” South Asian Journal

[4] Basu, Amrita, 1996, “Caste and class: the rise of Hindu nationalism in India,” Harvard International Review.

[5] Basu, Amrita, 1996, “Caste and class: the rise of Hindu nationalism in India,” Harvard International Review.

[6] Basu, Amrita, 1996, “Caste and class: the rise of Hindu nationalism in India,” Harvard International Review.

[7] Basu, Amrita, 1996, “Caste and class: the rise of Hindu nationalism in India,” Harvard International Review.

[8] Basu, Amrita, 1996, “Caste and class: the rise of Hindu nationalism in India,” Harvard International Review.

[9] Puri, Rajinder, 2007, “BJP’s Future: Does it have one?” Boloji

[10] Malik, Ashok, 2010, “Ram Mandir redeemed,” The Pioneer.

[11] Dasgupta, Swapan, 2001, “BJP: Up for Grabs,” India Seminar.