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Vajpayee’s personal charisma paved way for BJP’s electoral successes

The BJP was born at an executive meeting called at New Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla grounds with Vajpayee as its first president and LK Advani, Sikander Bakht and Suraj Bhan as its general secretaries.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2018 07:35 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Atal Bihari Vajpayee,LK Advani,BJP
This file photo taken on May 16, 1996 shows then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with President Shankar Dayal Sharma after Vajpayee took the oath of office from Sharma as India's 10th prime minister in Delhi. (AFP)

Veteran politician LK Advani once told a group of journalists it took a lot of effort to convince Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the need for a new political party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India’s current ruling party was founded on 6 April 1980 – it was Easter Sunday that year – after an executive meeting of the erstwhile Janata Party decided on 4 April that year to expel all members of the former Jan Sangh over dual membership.

A membership of Janata Party mandated affiliation to no other outfit – not even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“There was some conspiracy to throw us out,” Advani said in the interaction some years ago. Advani and Sundar Singh Bhandari, a fellow pracharak of the RSS, returned to Vajpayee after travelling across the country between February and March 1980.

There was deep resentment among Jan Sangh activists at being treated as “second class citizen” and Advani insisted Vajpayee should lead the new party.

“He had some doubts,” Advani said. “Is there scope for another party in India?”

Some persuasion from Advani and fellow party men, and Vajpayee gave in. The BJP was born at an executive meeting called at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla grounds with Vajpayee as its first president and LK Advani, Sikander Bakht and Suraj Bhan as its general secretaries.

The BJP suffered a humiliation in the 1984 parliamentary election, winning just two seats. Vajpayee lost to Madhavrao Scindia in Gwalior. A tough phase started for him.

Advani took over from Vajpayee as the BJP president in 1986, and steadily grew into India’s first Hindu Hriday Samrat (king of Hindu hearts) with his Ram Rath Yatra. Vajpayee had taken a back seat of sorts, spending a lot of time on something he loved – cinema, reading, meeting, travelling, gossiping, cooking and, of course, eating.

The 1989 election injected a huge dose of euphoria into the BJP. It won 85 Lok Sabha seats in 1989; and 120 in 1991.

The limitation of BJP’s image as a hard-line Hindu party was exposed. The demolition was Babri mosque at Ayodhya in December 1992 made it a political “untouchable”.

This was when the need for Vajpayee was more acutely felt. And Advani himself declared, at a party national executive in Mumbai in 1995, that Vajpayee would be the party’s prime ministerial candidate. In general election the next year, the party’s tally touched 161.

If Advani took the BJP up from 2 seats in 1984 to 120 in 1991, it was Vajpayee’s magic and personal charisma that helped the BJP achieve 161 seats in 1996 and 182 in 1998 and 1999. And this helped the party grab power. Vajpayee’s contribution was two-fold.

One, he appealed to a large swathe of voters beyond the BJP’s core. And second, his presence made many leaders such as George Fernandes, Farooq Abdullah, Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee, and even Karunanidhi shed their misgivings about the BJP and support the party’s bid for power. This was the reason he became the first non-Congress PM to complete a full term in office.

The BJP today has grown into India’s most powerful political force. It would not have arrived here but for the contribution of Vajpayee – from the days of being a grassroots organiser and a backbencher MP to eventually becoming India’s most popular leader and widely loved Prime Minister.

First Published: Aug 16, 2018 22:48 IST