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40 years ago, after losing its political identity for a national cause, this is how BJP was born

Today the BJP formed by Atal and Advani is the world’s largest party by membership size, with more than 18 crore members. It has formed the government in the center the 5th time in its history in 2019, with last two governments under PM Narendra Modi having absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Today on 6th of April, 2020, 40 years after the formation of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), lets dive deep into it’s formation.

Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the precursor to BJP, fought the general elections of 1977 as part of Janata Party group, though there was no formal merger of the two. The Janata Party won 299 seats out of 405 it fought. Interesting part was that the BJS emerged as the largest constituent of the Janata Party, with 93 seats, but BJS leaders Atal and Advani, never claimed for the Prime Minister’s post. BJS selflessly sacrificed the whole party, in the Janata Party Experiment, emerged as the biggest faction in the Janata Party and did not even claim for the Prime Minister’s post, as for them the nation’s interest was supreme. It’s noteworthy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, captured this core essence of BJS/BJP and gave the motto of ‘Nation First’ and ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ to the lead the aspirational New India.

1977 Janata Party experiment, failed due to Prime Ministerial ambitions of Chaudhary Charan Singh and a few others and country had to face fresh elections. In 1980 elections, The Janata Party managed to win only 31 seats out of 432 it contested and again BJS contributed almost half of it – 15 seats. At this moment, factions started to re-surface with in the Janata Party group. Threatened by the electoral successes of BJS section in the Janata Party in 1977 and 1980 elections, many socialist leaders with in The Janata Party again raised the issue of ‘dual membership’ – meaning members of The Janata Party, cannot be a member of Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS).

Ousted PM Morarji Desai did try to work out a compromise to keep the former BJS members within the Janata Party fold. But the national executive of The Janata Party on 4 April 1980 rejected the ‘compromise’ and, instead, resolved to expel all former BJS leaders from the party. This came both as a jolt and a relief to Vajpayee, Advani and their followers. It was a jolt because they had made the ‘supreme sacrifice’ of merging the BJS with the Janata Party in 1977, following a call by Jayaprakash Narayan, with the hope of giving the nation a firm political alternative. And it was a relief because it was ‘good riddance and finally, liberation’, though they were ‘proud to have been associated’ with the party. 

On 5–6 April 1980, at a two-day national convention, the erstwhile BJS members met in Delhi and resolved to form a new political outfit—the BJP, with Vajpayee as its founding president. It turned out to be a milestone in its journey as the party came into its own, and Vajpayee established himself as the undisputed leader of the Indian political spectrum. Vajpayee was of the opinion that the party should not look back but forward.

‘We look to the future, and not to the past, as we begin our endeavour to rebuild our party. We shall move ahead on the strength of our original thinking and principles,’ Vajpayee said in his inaugural presidential speech. His speech, delivered in Hindi, was a typical example of his oratory excellence and his hope and confidence about the future. ‘Andhera chhatega, suraj nikalega aur kamal khilega [Darkness will subside, the sun will rise and the lotus shall bloom],’ he thundered. His speech was appreciated by leaders and journalists alike. 

Today the BJP formed by Atal and Advani is the world’s largest party by membership size, with more than 18 crore members. It has formed the government in the center the 5th time in its history in 2019, with last two governments under PM Narendra Modi having absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. It’s ruling in 18 states, directly or through its partners. It’s getting good vote share even in states like Kerala and West Bengal. It is no more a party of north India or the cow belt. The Prime Minister, the President of India, the Vice President of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker are all from the BJP. At no other time in history has any non-Congress party been this dominant in India’s polity. In many ways, the BJP today is where the Congress used to be in the 1950s. 

Growth in BJP’s seats in the Lok Sabha over the years. In 1977, 93 out of 298 members were Bharatiya Jana Sangh. In 1980, 16 out of 31 members were of Bharatiya Jana Sangha

Though the BJP was formally founded in 1980, its political journey started with the formation of the BJS in 1951. The BJS has his roots in the RSS and in other dharmic, cultural and nationalist movements before it. So to understand the BJP, we have to go to the roots, the formations, the ideas, the leaders and the ideological frameworks of the BJS, the RSS and the other movements before them, right back to the Arya Samaj & Hindu Mahasabha.

Today is the day, when we should reflect back that current Ghar Wapsi debates have their roots in the Shudhi Andolan of Arya Samaj in which Swami Sharaddhanand lost his life by a member of Tablighi Jamat, today’s Hindutva and nationalist doctrine has its roots in the ideas of Savarkar, debates around cow find its history in the cow protection movements of 1881, today’s political tactic of Muslim Appeasement has its roots in the divisive ideas of Sir Syed Ahmed (Founder of today’s Aligarh Muslim University), todays corrections like removing article 370, Implementing National Citizen Register (NRC) and Ram Janm Bhoomi Verdict have their history in major political blunders of the Congress Party in the past, today’s dissolution of centralized top-down governance structure of Planning Commission, finds its roots in BJS’ initial manifestos. 

I strongly feel that whole of Bharatvarsha, from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, is and has been,  a living organism, through the ages –  geographically, culturally and historically. Bharat is an ancient nation and Bharatiya nationalism, therefore, must naturally be based on undivided allegiance to Bharat as a whole and her great and ancient culture, which distinguishes her from other lands.

To my understanding, the BJP of today is the latest political manifestation of the years of nationalist movements that India has seen. As the Congress ruled the government for decades after Independence and the left ruled the academia, the story of the nationalist movement—from the Arya Samaj to the Hindu Mahasabha to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the BJS) to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—never got narrated in its entirety and purity. Today on #BJP@40, it’s time to ponder, read and reflect back on the true history of BJP and the history of nationalist movements in India,

[Shantanu Gupta is the author of  BJP – Past, Present and Future (Story of Worlds, Largest Political Party). You could buy a copy here.]

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Shantanu Gupta
Author. Biographer of Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, titled The Monk Who Became Chief Minister. Founder of youth based organization Yuva Foundation.

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