This Article is From Apr 08, 2009

BJP: A journey of 29 years

New Delhi:

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can look back with some pride as it starts the 30th year of its eventful history on Monday.

It is no mean achievement for a party to emerge as one of the nationally visible leading contenders for power in India's political spectrum in such a short period.

Few would have imagined the BJP would be able to travel this far when it was founded April 6, 1980, as a successor to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh after the Janata Party - into which it had merged - splintered.

From an outfit that won only two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the BJP now stands tall, occupying the political centre stage with the much older Congress party.

The biggest challenge before the BJP now is to transform itself from a Hindu nationalist party to a national party minus an aggressive Hindu tag.

That is not going to be easy as a section of BJP leaders and cadres are vociferously pushing for a further strengthening of the hardline Hindutva agenda.

Another section wants a more liberal and conservative approach.

While the economic policies of the BJP suggest the emergence of liberal thought within the party, the BJP's stand on cultural and religious issues reflect a conservative approach.

This dilemma has its roots in the historical evolution of the party.

Its previous incarnation, Bharatiya Jana Sangh (1951-77), was set up by former Congress leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee with the support of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

This drew criticism that the Jana Sangh, as it was popularly known, was a communal outfit.

The BJS tried to carve out a distinct identity for itself by adopting an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda. It emerged as a significant player in 1967 when the Congress lost a number of states for the first time.

The Jana Sangh's aggression was best defined by three H's: Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan. While this helped it to grow, its appeal was mainly confined to Hindi-speaking northern India.

Vajpayee became the BJS chief in 1969 and Advani held the post in 1973 for the first time. Both men, who would later emerge as frontline leaders, were groomed by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.

The BJS merged into the Janata Party in 1977 in a bid to put up a joint front against then prime minister Indira Gandhi. But the Jana Sangh's RSS links played a role in the break up of the Janata Party.

Vajpayee was picked to head the newly-born BJP in 1980. Advani succeeded him in 1986 after a disastrous electoral showing.

This was one of the turning points for the BJP as Advani, who enjoyed the image of a hardliner, took charge when the party was demoralised.

It was the emotive campaign to construct a Rama temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh that revived BJP's fortunes from 1989.

But by mid-1990s the BJP realised that to rule a vast and complex country like India it must be more acceptable.

It projected Vajpayee, who was respected across the political spectrum, to lead the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The BJP first tasted power in New Delhi in 1996 but that regime lasted just 13 days.

A BJP-led coalition again took power in 1998. Felled by a parliament vote, the alliance won elections again in 1999 and became the first non-Congress government to rule India for five years.

In 2004, the BJP-led NDA was voted out of power. Vajpayee opted out of active politics.

But Advani, once again, is back at the helm as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the April-May Lok Sabha polls.