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10 November, 2007

Bharatiya Janata Party achieves a breakthrough in the South

FOR several decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the Congress party’s major challenger for power in India. However, its credentials for acceptance as a truly national party remained suspect for two reasons. One, it did not command much influence south of the Vindhyas. Two, it opted to remain an essentially Hindu party. With the disappearance of the obstacles to B. S. Yeddyurappa’s elevation as Karnataka’s Chief Minister, it is all set to break through the first barrier.

In the first general elections after Independence several Hindutva outfits were in the arena. The most prominent among them was the Hindu Mahasabha, which now describes itself as a religious and cultural body, but had been active in electoral politics in the pre-Independence days. In fact, it even shared power with the All India Muslim League for a while.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who had expounded the Hindutva philosophy and was the President of the Hindu Mahasabha for years, was still around at the time of the 1952 elections. But he was under a shadow, having been arraigned in the Gandhi murder case as a conspirator. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, floated in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, a former Mahasabha leader and minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's government, eclipsed the rest and emerged as the main instrument of Hindu politics.

On the eve of the 1977 elections, the BJS merged in the Janata Party, which was put together with Jayaprakash Narayan’s blessings, to take on the Congress. When the Hindutva elements came out of the Janata Party to work under the banner of Bharatiya Janata Party some who had been part of other streams like Sikander Bhakt, Yashwant Sinha and Sushama Swaraj also joined them.

The BJP, like the BJS, was at loggerheads with the secular parties. It branded them pseudo-secular and accused them of appeasing the minorities, especially the Muslims. On their part, the secular parties were reluctant to have any truck with it. Two factors helped the BJP to overcome this disability. One was the respectability the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the spearhead of the Hindutva movement, had acquired as a result of its association with JP and his associates before and during the Emergency. The other was the willingness of even the Left parties to collaborate with it to keep the Congress out of power. The V. P. Singh government was sustained by the support it received from both the Left and the BJP. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and BJP President, L. K. Advani were members of an informal coordination committee that met once a week in Singh’s residence.


In the 1980s, the BJP increased its religious support base by championing the cause of constructing a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. On December 6, 1992 RSS volunteers demolished the mosque. By the mid-1990s the BJP emerged as the ruling party in several States and the likely alternative to the Congress at the national level. As elections threw up a hung parliament, making it difficult to form a stable government, parties which did not want to be seen in its company until then started softening their stand. In 1996 the BJP was able to put together a coalition government at the Centre with A. B. Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. It, however, lasted only 13 days. In 1998 Vajpayee became the Prime Minister a second time. This time the government lasted 13 months. In the elections of 1999, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance secured a comfortable majority and Vajpayee became the Prime Minister once again. This time the government served a full five-year term. Vajpayee’s affable personality, which earned the party friends across the political spectrum, played a part in the BJP’s ability to form and hold together a coalition of two dozen parties.

In the south, the BJP was able to find allies like Telugu Desam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. It could also develop pockets of influence in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, it could not make headway in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Clearly the Hindutva image posed a major problem for it in these States because of the lingering impact of the anti-caste movements of Periyar E. V. Ramaswami and Sree Narayana Guru.


In the 2004 elections, the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Karnataka Assembly with 79 of the 224 seats. The Congress came next with 65, followed by the Janata Dal (S) with 58. The Congress and the JD (S) came together with a view to keeping the BJP out of power. Dharam Singh of the Congress became the Chief Minister and Siddaramaiah of the JD (S) the Deputy Chief Minister. Early last year JD (S) President and former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda’s son, H. D. Kumaraswamy, struck a deal with the BJP to share power for the remaining term of the Assembly. Kumaraswamy was to be the Chief Minister for 20 months and Yeddyurappa for the next 20 months. When the time for handover came, Kumaraswamy reneged, hoping the Congress would help him to stay on so as to keep the BJP out. However, the party found it necessary to honour the commitment to the BJP in order to avert a split in its ranks.

Will the BJP be able to get rid of the other blot on its credentials as a national party, namely its pandering to communalism? It is not the first or only party to have played the communal card to gain support. However, democratic decency demands that a party in power must rise above such narrow loyalties. M. A. Jinnah, after achieving the goal of Pakistan, had called for a secular democratic polity. Of course, the effort came too late and failed. The BJP leaders do not have the courage even to try.


Until recently the Karnataka BJP leader used to write his name as Yediyurappa. The chief ministership, which he almost lost, comes to him after he changed the spelling to Yeddyurappa last month, reportedly on astrological advice. J. Jayalalithaa had added the last 'a' to her name under similar circumstances. How come an Indian politician’s fate depends upon how he writes his name in English?

1 comment:

Govindan said...

someone entered my name in my school certificate as "govinda." for some obscure reason, it turned into "govindan" over time. and, that should have been the cause of all bad(?) things that happened to me. so, taking a cue from yeddyurappa, i should go back to my old name, and hope to go dancing around in gay abandon in these days of, what i am tempted to call, onomastic revivalism.