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What Explains the Meteoric Rise of the BJP since Its Creation in 1980?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3005 words Published: 16th Mar 2021

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Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a political party belonging to a family of various Hindu nationalist organizations collectively known as ‘Sangh Parivar’ which under its umbrella comprises of nationalists, liberationists and isolationists; all with a mutual idea of building an India with a robust and nationalist foreign policy for international development and aiding business growth in the country.

BJP’s unprecedented rise from the 1980s is because of a myriad of reasons like Hindutva, charisma of its leaders (especially Narendra Modi), mobilising the lower classes, pro-business mindset and welfare politics among others. All these reasons explain the social, regional and political rise of what’s today India’s largest political party and a contender of a sweeping majority not just at the centre but even states like Uttar Pradesh which were once unfathomable. BJP’s rise can be tabled into two time-periods: the 1990s and the 2014 elections. The rise of BJP is intrinsically linked to the Power Vacuum caused due to the inefficiencies of the Congress Party which sowed the seeds for the rise of another party.

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The rise of BJP in the 1990s has its roots in election problems faced in the 1989 elections by the Congress which were as Balraj Puri says posed, “a concern for the stability and the integrity of the country; consciousness of community, caste, and ethnic identities; resentment against corruption and scandals; and an urge for socio-economic equality" (Puri,1992). Indians were tired of the downfall and inefficiencies caused by Congress over the years and wanted to look for Markets to trade and increase their profitability. The rise of the BJP is also linked to the decline in the Congress party following ‘Nehruvian Virtues’ of secularism, tolerance of diversity and social diversity to simply criminalise politics and use it as a tool for violence and benefit. This was epitomised during the 1975 National Emergency rule by Indira Gandhi where rationality and public morality were forgotten leading to the steps where BJP could rise from the ashes. 

Another reason for its rise in the 1990s is BJP’s shift from a party with no target-group to a party focused on being the elitist party; since Indian identity of being elitist was intrinsically linked to being Hindu. As Singh says, “To Indian elites of the time, the concept of Indian national identity was indistinguishable from Hindu identity” and BJP represented this voice of an Indian nationalistic elite class who were united by Hindu culture, traditions, ideology and practices. This Hindu ideology shifted from being reform-oriented and non-ritualistic to much more fundamentalist and ritualistic so as to connect to the voter bases. Enforcement of these Hindu ideologies in BJP has acquired various forms in the 1990s and in the 2014 elections depending on its leaders.

The front of libertarian model along with a moderate Hindu nationalism was the one which Atal Bihari Vajpayee undertook to appeal to a wider voter base and to emphasise on welfare policies, new order and revolution against corruption. Using Gandhian socialism of principles which believed in identifying common values and aiding religious tolerance without overlooking the religious values and promoting personal discipline and altruism as opposed to the ‘Nehruvian Model’ which the Congress had used and diverged from to support its minorities was one key feature in the BJPs rise.

L K Advani was opposite to Vajpayee even though they belonged to the aforesaid party because Advani’s belief in religious secularism emphasised on him denying the minorities, and particularly the Muslims, any concessions on the basis of their religious or cultural needs. In 1989 elections, Advani paired with Shiv Sena a Hindu organisation in Maharashtra to portray growing strength of militant Hindu nationalism. The 1991 BJP election manifesto proves this as a result of Advani’s efforts when it says, “Our Commitments Towards Ram Rajya," (We are committed to creating a land of Ram {Ram-Hindu God}) (Manifesto, 1991, p.323)

This sentiment of Hindu nationalism strengthened when the BJP promised to erect a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, a highly emotional issue among the Hindus as a clever strategy to mobilize this sector of the population in rural area. They combined this  with public policies like advocating for substantial economically liberal policies and abolition of licenses, increasing privatisation of public-sector businesses, encouraging technological transfers and preventing protectionism and adding new jobs as a lucrative bait to the middle-class voters who would vote for them which occurred as “The Congress lost 350 seats, whereas the BJP gained 479.” (Malik, Singh, 1986) giving BJP a stronghold in key states like MP, Rajasthan, HP, Gujarat which would ultimately help in winning 1991 national elections.

After the Mandal Commissions backlash among upper-caste and middle-class Hindus, to cater its vote bank, the BJP in 1991 elections exploited religious issues to unite the Hindus. They used emotional psychology and gaining control of the Hindu sacred places from Muslims as a primordial affair, contributing to Advani’s rath yatra (A journey of a chariot in Hindu states) extending 10,000 km which although caused riots between Hindu-Muslim but paid extremely rich dividends to BJP because the vote share for the party was doubled helping it to emerge as the second-largest party in Lok Sabha and established its stronghold in UP; a state which resides at the apex among Hindu voters and politicians. 

These steps of Hindutva intertwined with social and economic policies which appealed to the middle and lower classes helped in BJP increasing from a meagre 2 seats in 1984 to 120 seats in 1991 and 182 seats (270 together as NDA) to have its first PM and establish a lasting stronghold in India.

Although the shift from an elitist party to the party of the poor had been in the pipeline since the 1990s, it necessitated a fiercer move in 2014 elections, with the nomination of a candidate who belonged to extremely humble beginnings of working and running his own tea stall before becoming a full-time RSS worker and later in 1985 being assigned to campaign for the BJP – Narendra Modi. 2014 elections where the BJP secured a historic majority were closely tied to what is called the ‘Modi Effect.’ -The rise of BJP linked to the charismatic personality of Narendra Modi. A survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), reported that a “third of BJP voters said they would have supported another party if Mr Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate.” (Rukmini, 2019). Modi’s appeal represents a perfect medley of nationalism and development goals and a systematic use of jargons like ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ (Growth for everybody), ‘Aache Din’ bringing (Good times) for his people. He portrays himself as a corruption-free leader of the BJP who is above dynasty politics and free from the shackles of corruption, leading him to connect effectively to voters by his eloquent speeches and bold moves. 

BJP before 2014 retained an effective rule in just 5 of India’s 29 states; hence, mobilising people with different status quo, backgrounds and casts were made the focus by both Narendra Modi and his long-time confidant and kingmaker Mr Amit Shah to increase BJP’s dominance. As Vaishnav (2017, cited in Dews, 2014) says one of the most important factors of mobilising classes was its “performance with the OBC voter, or other backward castes, who increasingly represent the Indian swing voter." The mobilising of this backward castes was achieved by tedious electoral strategies and voter outreach programmes like gathering and motivating BJP workers the minutest details regarding the castes, sub-castes and religious composition in each and every constituency which once prepared helped the BJP to identify the strongholds of other regional parties and Congress and thus, helped in selecting candidates with local strongholds in their constituencies to be persuaded and inducted in the party. Although there is a plethora of examples in various states which prove this, one significant example is mention in (ORF by Satish Mishra, 2018) from “Assam, A Congress leader and prominent minister in the former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's cabinet in Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, was admitted a year before the assembly elections and proved critical in the BJP's win.” (Telegraph, 2015)

These candidates were then strategically used to form an ‘organisational base’ as Prashant Jha says it. This base comprised of creating a system of top-down hierarchy so accurate that it gave the party tremendous coherence and layers of accountability which was significant for the BJP to identify and analyse the castes and sub-castes; those who haven’t been a part of the power structure; to sustain that it is the party of the poor and to mobilise their votes. They identified and offered seats to these financially poor and the socially backward groups. This strategy according to Vaishnav (2017, cited in ORF, 2018) promoted BJP’s rise especially in the Hindi Heartland of UP where the party roped in the non-Yadav castes from other backward castes and non Jatav Dalits among the Dalits; reaping rich electoral dividends. (Vaishnav, 2017) BJP won sweepingly high majorities (312 seats out of 384) in UP thereby making its rise even more prolific. (ECI, 2014)

When we critically analyse welfare politics, we can see a clear correlation between the BJPs rise and increase in the welfare of the poor. If we take a look at the NES Report (CSDS Report) and compare welfare politics based on 4 key features – housing, rural employment, health and pensions, we can deduce that during the Congress period less than one out of five people availed the benefits of any of these schemes. BJP capitalised heavily on these policies, although they were flagship UPA (Congress) policies but BJP utilized its micro-level data and centralised decision making to deliver on schemes like MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), Awaas Yojana (Housing Scheme) and free medical facilities and organised effective delivering of Pension Money.

Another integral element of BJPs rise was its pro-business mindset which was driven by Narendra Modi towards the 2014 elections. The idea of a pro-business mindset was synonymous with Modi’s record and chief ministerial policies in the state of Gujarat as the ‘Gujarat Model’ of growth. As the Economist quotes, “Gujarat is richer, enjoys faster GDP growth and a greater intensity of jobs and industry than India as a whole.” There are various instances where Mr Modi and the BJP government displayed an open-minded mindset to industrialists, conglomerates and Multi-National Companies. The epitome of this is the project initiated by the Indian conglomerate ‘Tata Motors’ for the opening up of a car-manufacturing plant in Gujarat simply because West Bengal didn’t offer ease of business and dispute-free land, thus, setting an example by portraying unique BJP policies to instil trust in existing and potential voters.

Vibrant Gujarat is global summit which has helped in as Milan Vaishnav says, bringing “healthy foreign inflows, in terms of both foreign direct investment and portfolio investment.” This is a global summit which was established by Narendra Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat was to reinforce the business mindset and thus since 2003, it has a maximum focus not just of Indians but the entire world. In 2014, it was proclaimed as the ‘Davos of the East’ and as KPMG says, 

“The event engaged a diverse global audience; more than 25,000 people attended, representing more than 110 different countries. John Kerry led the US delegation; Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon led the UN delegation and more than 21,000 ‘investment intentions’ were expressed during this event. Entire Federal Cabinet was in attendance, led by Prime Minister Modi to nurture this mindset.”

When we broadly assess the rise of the BJP, we see that what explains the meteoric rise of BJP isn’t solely a rhetoric of Hindutva which blossomed in the 1990s and stuck in 2014 elections; but, it comprised of a holistic agenda ranging from welfare politics all the way to effective booth and personnel management which created coherence and order like no other party. It additionally included a strong partnership from both the BJP and RSS backing each other periodically and aiding the development of its image as an alternative to a corruption-free and a dynastic free party with charismatic personalities and backgrounds of its leaders, especially Narendra Modi. Lastly, the pro-business mindset is something which has stuck with the Indian population with the promise of generations of jobs for the youth, skilled and unskilled. Thus, all of this concomitantly helps to explain BJPs rise from a mere of two seats to the largest, strongest and the most dominant party not just in India but worldwide in terms of its membership. 

Works Cited –

1)     Balraj Puri, Can Caste, Region, and Ideology Stem Hindu Wave? Economic and Political Weekly, January 6, 1990, p. 15.

2)     BJP ELECTION MANIFESTO 1991. (1991). BJP Central Library. BJP Manifesto 1991. Available at: http://library.bjp.org/jspui/bitstream/123456789/239/1/BJP%20ELECTION%20MANIFESTO%201991.pdf  [Accessed 11 Dec. 2019].

3)     Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and its Lokniti Program. See CSDS Lokniti Program, “National Election Study Postpoll 2014-Findings,” 2014, https://www.lokniti.org/media/PDFupload/1536130357_23397100_download_report.pdf.

4)     Dews, F (2014) Experts discuss Historic BJP and Narendra Modi victory in India’s Elections. Brookings Now. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2014/05/19/experts-discuss-historic-bjp-and-narendra-modi-victory-in-indias-elections/

5)     Election Commission of India, Report of the Ninth General Elections to the House of People in India 1989 (statistical), 1990, India Today, July 15, 1991, pp. 40- 48.

6)     Jha, Prashant (2017) How the BJP Wins: Inside India’s Greatest Election Machine. New Delhi: Juggernaut.

7)     Khushwant Singh, "Hindu Revivalism," Illustrated Weekly of India, December 7-13, 1986

8)     Mahajan, A. (2015). Vibrant Gujarat puts India back on the world stage A regional ‘Davos’ emerges. KPMG.

9)       Misra, S. (2018).  Understanding the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party. Observer Research Foundation. Available at: https://www.orfonline.org/research/44401-understanding-the-rise-of-the-bharatiya-janata-party/.

10) Malik, Y., & Singh, V. (1992). Bharatiya Janata Party: An Alternative to the Congress (I)? Asian Survey, 32(4), 318-336. doi:10.2307/2645149. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2645149?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

11) Palshikar, S., Kumar, S. and Lodha, T. (2017). Electoral Politics in India: The Resurgence of the Bharatiya Janata Party. India: Taylor & Francis

12)   Rukmini, S (2019). The BJP’s Electoral Arithmetic. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Available at: https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/04/04/bjp-s-electoral-arithmetic-pub-78678

13) State Election, 2017 to the Legislative Assembly Of Uttar Pradesh, Election Commission of India, 2017, https://eci.gov.in/files/file/3471-uttar-pradesh-general-legislative-election-2017/. [Accessed 12 Dec. 2019]

14) Telegraph (2015), Himanta & BJP ready to hug - Move for personal benefit Available from : https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/himanta-amp-bjp-ready-to-hug/cid/1480782 : The Telegraph, 24 August 2015.

15) The Economist. 2015. The Gujarat Model. [Online]. [13 December 2019]. Available from: https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2015/01/08/the-gujarat-model [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019]

16) Vaishnav, M. 'Modi's victory and the BJP's future', Foreign Affairs, 15 March 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/2017-03-15/modis-victory-and-bjps-future

17)  Vaishnav, M. (2017). Modi: Pro Business, Not Pro Markets. [online] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Available at: https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/08/15/modi-pro-business-not-pro-markets-pub-72829  [Accessed 13 Dec. 2019].


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