It has attracted the sympathies of high-caste Hindus and has an electoral stronghold in the northern part of the country. Its success in securing a larger following among the lower castes has not been complete. The fortunes of the party have been linked to the intensity of anti-Muslim feeling in the country, and it has been repeatedly accused of political and religious extremism.
The forerunner of the BJP was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), or Indian People’s Association, established in 1951 as the political faction of the Hindu paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamesevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteers Corps) by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. The BJS started to gain support in the northern regions of India in the late 1960s, defeating the Congress Party in the state election in 1967.
Ten years later the leader of the BJS, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, formed, together with other minor political parties, the Janata Party and successfully challenged the premiership of Indira Gandhi. In the general election of 1976, the Janata Party was able to capitalize on the discontent caused by the authoritarian methods of Gandhi and on the corruption charges leveled against her, her family, and government.
The Janata Party won the majority of seats in Parliament and obtained the external support of the communists. Morarji Desai, a veteran fighter for the country’s independence, became prime minister, but the Janata government collapsed in 1979, after only two years, because of factionalism.
After the Desai government collapsed the Janata Party was dissolved, and the BJP was formed under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It started to appeal to the Indian masses in the late 1980s, when it campaigned to build a Hindu temple in an area of Uttar Pradesh considered sacred but already occupied by the Muslim Babri Mosjid mosque.
|Bharatiya Janata Party Campaign|
The mosque was eventually destroyed in 1992 by organizations that many considered allies of the BJP. The demolition of the mosque caused widespread rioting throughout the nation. Yet the party obtained a surprising electoral victory in 1996, becoming the largest political party in the lower house of Parliament.
In 1998 Vajpayee formed a coalition government, in power for only 13 months. Vajpayee contested the 1999 election, leading the BJP to become the first party of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition of parties against the Congress.
Because of this electoral success he was once again appointed prime minister, governing for a full term until 2004, when he unexpectedly lost the general election to the Congress, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv.