From 1980 to 2021, the BJP’s journey
If there is one political story that captures the shift in Indian politics over the last four decades, it is that of the birth, failure, success, failure, and then even greater success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On April 6, 1980, the BJP was born. While acknowledging its roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in a sign that it would be distinct ideologically, the party adopted Gandhian socialism as one of its founding principles.
The BJP, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the initial years, faltered electorally, which led to the rise of LK Advani as the party chief. Mr Advani steered the party towards Hindutva, the most powerful symbol of which was the Ram temple movement. This made secularism a contested word, spawned an entire generation of activists who are today at the top of the BJP leadership, and made the party one of the poles of Indian politics. But India wasn’t ready for this brand of politics, and it was by returning to Mr Vajpayee’s moderate avatar that the BJP was finally able to win power.
The party, under Narendra Modi, is now the primary pole in Indian politics. It has become, arguably, even more committed to the Hindutva project, while appealing to the subaltern, expanding in newer areas, carving out multi-class and multi-caste alliances, and creating the most formidable election machine India has ever seen. Mr Modi said, on Tuesday, however, that BJP was not an election machine but a campaign to win over the hearts of citizens. This is an important message, but to truly operationalise it, the BJP must become a more inclusive party, reflecting India’s social diversity. It need not be socialist, but turning to Gandhi, as was originally pledged in 1980, will help.