Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 to “obtain a greater share in government for educated Indians and to create a platform for civic and political dialogue between educated Indians and the British Raj”. Congress claimed to represent all castes, ethnic and religious groups in India but as early as 1906, a separate political party came into existence; All India Muslim League. Muslim League’s aim was to safeguard and promote the welfare of Muslims in India. In response to that Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1915 to protect the rights of ‘Hindus’ and see to it that their interests are guarded.
The years before the Partition show us a bleak picture of India as a deeply divided nation. A nation divided along ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious lines. These difference were made irreconcilable by politicians who exploited these schisms to further their agendas. The resolve of Lucknow Pact drowned in the torrent of Khilafat Movement and disintegration is caused. Situation worsened with the time, and the polity became ever more divided and fractured.
With Congress in power, Indian society was guided by Gandhian and Nehruvian policies of non-violence, secularism, Democratic Socialism and national cohesion. Congress was a National party that represented all the castes and cultures of India, and remained undefeated and unchallenged for decades.
But as always, there was a group of disenchanted Indians who felt that their rights were being neglected by the Congress Party and wanted to have more say in the National Politics. So an organization was formed in 1926. This organization that was to stir a great deal of drama, intrigue and power politics in Independent India.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a far-right nationalist movement that has as its motto the phenomenal task of ‘reversing the loss of national consciousness’ and reclaim the Hindutva identity of Indian subcontinent. The organization was banned for its alleged involvement in the assassination of Gandhi, but was later acquitted of the charge and the ban was lifted. Since RSS was not a political organization, a need was felt to extend its philosophy through a political organization and work towards the change they aimed to bring in the Indian society.
Thus, Jana Sangh was founded in 1951 as a Hindu Nationalist party and political wing of RSS by S.P. Mukherjee. The party inherited ideological and tactical support from RSS and had the same mission as its parent organization. While the party failed to capture wide support in subsequent elections, its gradually organised itself to a motivated and strong political party in Northern India. However, the party had limited or no presence in South and was seen as a party that represented only upper class Hindus. Men like Balraj Madhok and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya played a decisive role in bringing the party out of the shadows and giving it a wider support base among lower caste Hindus during the 60s.
With the passage of time, the party’s presence in UP and other northern provinces became stronger. But then Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi, and major opposition politicians were sent to prison. Later on, Jana Sangh formed an alliance with like minded parties to form Janata Party. The party contested 1977 elections and won. For the first time since independence, a party other than Congress won and formed a government under Morarji Desai. This was the greatest success BJS had achieved thus far. But the coalition soon started to crumble under the weight to factionalism and party politics and before long the government was dissolved.
From the debris of Janata Party emerged the Bharatiya Janata Party. A party with a huge concentration of Jana Sangh member, BJP became RSS’s new political face, as well as the representative of right wing Hindutva aspirations of the electorate. Led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishan Advani, this party was to achieve all that its predecessors had desired, and more.
While the early years of Jana Sangh positioned it as just another nationalist party cashing on the conservative Hindu vote bank, the situation changed with the passage of time. There were regional parties sprouting up around the country, and Congress was still the only party with a nationwide electoral appeal. So, in order to gather popular support, the BJP needed a point of convergence to rally the Hindu vote. The cause espoused by the BJP to serve this end was the issue of ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (the name given to the site that many Hindus believe to be the birthplace of Rama, the 7th avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu.)
It was a claimed by some radical historian and nationalist Hindus that the Babri Masjid (Built by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1527 at Ayodhya) was built on the foundations of a temple which was demolished by the Muslim invaders. Their belief that the Rama Temple was constructed at the Birthplace of Rama, the 7th Avatar of Vishnu, and hence the issue had immense religious and emotional significance for the Hindus. The contention had continued for decades until BJP in collusion with Vishwa Hinda Parishad organized ‘rakh yatras’ throughout the country to agitate the Hindus into action. This gave BJP a lot of media coverage and due to the obvious religious undertones, it was supported by many conservative Hindus as well. The slow build up culminated in the demolition of Babri Masjid by a Hindu mob. Riots broke out and nearly two thousand people were killed as a result of clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
Although the party later attempted to distance itself from the actions of ‘kar sevaks’ who destroyed the mosque, it still came into lime light and considerably expanded its electorate. Vajpayee and Advani duo went on to consolidate party’s position. The party had a solid presence outside of Northern States for the first time, and it had successfully captured the imagination of many lower-caste Hindu voters as well. So after a brief stint of 13 days in 1996, Vajpayee came into power in 1996 with a bang, literally.
The Vajpayee years have been praised for the improvement brought in terms of economy and foreign relations. Vajpayee was an efficient and astute politician who succeeded in making a permanent place for BJP as the only national party that could take on Congress.
After a successful stint, the BJP was thrown out of power and Congress was elected to power once again. But by now, the strong organizational structure and successful central and provincial governments had given the party a new life and a permanent presence in the political sphere.
Despite the 2002 Gujrat Massacre, Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat State, became the face of the party. He superseded Advani and Rajnath Singh to become the top contender for PM in 2014 elections. Modi with his glitzy performance in Gujarat and strong business-friendly credentials became an instant success with the voters and the influential business community.