Following the historic victory in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is celebrating its 37th foundation day on Thursday. The party that is currently the largest political party in India, both in terms of representation in parliament, and in terms of party membership, has come a long way since its origins in the early 1980s. Overcoming several obstacles and failures, the BJP has at present formed a robust footing in the Indian political scenario, and significantly overturned the ideological framework that drove India’s national and international policies for a long time.
While the BJP was formed on April 6, 1980, its ideological origins can be dated back to 1951 when Congress politician Shyama Prasad Mukherjee broke away from Nehru’s leadership to form the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS). The party was formed in collaboration with the Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in opposition to the political practices of the Congress party. The mandate of the BJP was the preservation of Hindu identity and culture. Founded at a time when the Indian National Congress was practically the face of Indian politics, the BJS could barely be successful in its initial years since. In the 1952 general elections, the BJS could win only 3 Lok Sabha seats.
In 1975 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency on the country, members of the BJS held strong protests against the Congress regime. After the withdrawal of the Emergency, the BJS collaborated with a number of other parties and formed the Janata Party. When general elections were held in 1977, the Janata Party won a majority and formed the government at the centre with Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister. However, due to political disagreements within the party, Morarji Desai was forced to resign in 1980 and a fresh set of elections held. The Janata Party dissolved soon after, and a large number of its members who were previously members of BJS formed the BJP.
Immediately following its inception, the BJP maintained a softer position on Hindu nationalism, founding its ideological base in Gandhian socialism under party president Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, after the massive defeat of the party in the 1984 elections, the BJP decided to make amends to its political doctrine. The 1980s being a time of severe Hindu-Muslim clashes in the country, the party found an ideal dispute to uphold as its political mandate in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, initiated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). On December 6 1992, the BJP along with the VHP organised a mass rally at Uttar Pradesh demolished the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya. The incident sparked large scale communal riots and has till present been a huge trigger for communal polarisation, both in the state and the country.
A hardline Hindutva political ideology, particularly the Ram temple issue at Ayodhya, gave the party a strong impetus and has overtime aided it in achieving huge gains across the country that had, until very recently remained solidly in the hands of the Congress party.
When the general elections were held in 2014, the BJP made a sweeping victory upholding Narendra Modi’s image as its prime ministerial candidate and the successes he achieved in Gujarat as its chief minister. At present, the stronghold maintained by the party in central and state governments, is largely derived from the popularity of the prime minister, also referred to as the ‘Modi wave’.