The rise of Hindu Nationalism… The rise of Bharatiya Janata Party

| Monday, April 6, 2015 - 15:26
First Published |

DELHI: The nation has given a warm welcome to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Amid loud cheers and enthusiasm, people even now chant the Bharatiya Janata Party slogans and on its founder’s day today, let’s study some parts of the history of the saffron party.

Smashing out Congress party who scored ‘duck’ in seven states in the last General Elections depicted the rise of 35-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party.

Gradually but persistently moving out from the wings of Indian politics, the BJP has proven itself capable of sustained competition with the once-dominated political party, Congress Party (INC) which was witnessed as an epic example in last Lok Sabha Elections.

The rise of BJP becomes significant as it not only ended the era of Congress party but also boosted the Hindu nationalism in India.

While secularism is the ideology of the Indian state, Hindu nationalism is not a new force in the Indian political system.

In fact, BJP rose out of an unusual nationalist organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS--National Volunteer Organisation) and as the party is still connected with the network of the organization, it is popularly known as the RSS family.

History of RSS

Founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the RSS was established as an organization that would offer guidance in the martial arts and spiritual matters to revitalize the spiritual life of the Hindu community and construct its unity.

Hedgewar had grown up with enlarged discontent with the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and was particularly critical of Gandhi’s stress on non-violence and civil disobedience, which he felt dejected the forceful political action necessary to gain independence. 

Hedgewar along with his successor M.S. Golwalkar, thoroughly attempted to define the identity of RSS identity as a cultural group that was not straightly involved in politics. 

But at the same time, the rapid growth of the membership and the paramilitary-like uniforms and obedience of its activists made the political potential of the RSS evident to one and all on the political scene. 

There was a substantial reaction within the Congress that RSS members should be permissible to be looped in and, in fact, on October 7, 1947, the Congress Working Committee voted to authorize in RSS members but in November 1947, the Congress passed a rule requiring RSS members to give up their membership before joining. 

In 1948, the RSS was then banned after a former RSS member Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi and the ban was lifted in 1949 only after the RSS drafted an organizational constitution that was okay to the government. 

Jana Sangh’s Attention

The strong loyalist of RSS further refused to surrender their affiliation to join the Congress and, as an alternative, channeled their political energies to the Jana Sangh (People’s Union) after its founding in 1951.

Following the same, the Jana Sangh grew slowly in the span between 1950s and 1960s and in spite of the efforts of the RSS members who quickly took control of the organization of the party. 

Even though the Jana Sangh was successful in displacing the Hindu Mahasabha (a communal party established in 1914 as a counter to Muslim separatists) as the preeminent party of Hindu activists in the Indian political system, it was unsuccessful to expand into a major opponent to the Congress. 

The Jan Sangh associated with the Janata Party in 1977 which defeated Indira Gandhi and the Congress (I) in parliamentary elections and shaped a government through the end of 1979. 

The quick development of the RSS under Janata rule soon carried calls for all members of the RSS family to unite with Janata Party affiliates and ultimately, intraparty tensions encouraged those allied with the Jana Sangh to leave the Janata Party and establish a new party which was called the BJP.

Birth of BJP

Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP was formed on April 6, 1980. 

The incantation of Gandhian socialism as one of the steering principles of the BJP rather than the doctrine of ‘integral humanism’ associated with the Jana Sangh was another indication of the impact of the party members’ experience in the Janata Party and ‘J.P. movement.’

While the BJP was already given a birth, the new synthesis however failed to achieve the desired political success and in 1984, in the wake of elections, the BJP shifted its course where famous leader of the party, LK Advani replaced Vajpayee as the party President.

Rise of BJP

Under the leadership of LK Advani, the BJP chose the plan of tempting the Hindu activists by criticizing measures it interpreted as pandering to minorities and advocating the revoke of the special status given to the Muslim majority state of Jammu & Kashmir. 

At the same time, the party cooperated more closely with other RSS affiliates, particularly the VHP and during the 1980s, the BJP-VHP jointly developed into a dynamic political force through its brilliant use of religious symbolism to rouse the passions of the public. 

The BJP and VHP attained national fame through their campaign to convert back to Hinduism members of the Scheduled Castes who had converted to Islam.

The VHP also restless to get back the Babri Masjid site encouraged the villagers across the nation to hold religious ceremonies to sanctify bricks made out of their own clay and send them to be used in the building of the Ramjanmabhumi Temple in Ayodhya.

Following the fame, in the General Elections of 1991, the BJP extended its support more than did any other party and its number of seats in the Lok Sabha amplified from 85 to 119, and its vote share increased from 11.4% to 21.0%.

In Uttar Pradesh, BJP was particularly successful as it increased its share of the vote from 7.6% (eight seats) in 1989 to 35.3% (fifty seats) in 1991. 

On the other hand, in Gujarat, where the votes and seats increased from 30% (twelve seats) to 52% (twenty seats) was another victory for the saffron party in the same year. 

In adding to the same, BJP support appeared to be spreading into new areas as well as in Karnataka, its vote increased from 2.6% to 28.1%, and in West Bengal the BJP’s share of the vote expanded from 1.6% to 12%.  

However, the elections also revealed some of the limitations of the BJP juggernaut. Exit polls showed that while the BJP received more upper-caste support than all other parties and made inroads into the constituency of Backward Classes, it did poorly among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, constituencies that it had long attempted to grow in. 

In Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, three state governments run by the BJP since 1990, the BJP lost parliamentary seats although its share of the vote increased. 

The losses in the November 1993 state elections further revealed the limits of the BJP's Hindu nationalist strategy. The party then lost its control over the state-level governments of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh while winning power in Gujarat and the National Capital. 

The BJP won state elections in Gujarat and became the junior partner of a coalition with Shiv Sena (Army of Shivaji-Shivaji Bhonsle was a seventeenth-century Maratha guerrilla leader who kept Mughal armies at bay) in Maharashtra in the spring of 1995.

In view of the potential end of the Congress (I), the BJP stands balanced to come out as a largest party in India in the 1990s. However, it is likely to have to play down the more troublesome aspects of Hindu nationalism and find other issues to expand its support if it is to win a majority in the Lok Sabha.

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