The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a nationalist party of India. It grew out of a Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Organization), which was founded in 1925 by K. B. Hedgewar as a reaction to Muslim fundamentalism. That organization was dedicated to propagating orthodox Hindu religious practices and building Hindu unity.
In 1947 upon independence the Indian subcontinent was divided into two separate states, India and Pakistan. Although most Muslims remained in Pakistan and most Hindus stayed in India, some Muslims lived in India while some Hindus continued living in Pakistan. This situation, along with a territorial dispute over the Kashmir region, created tensions between the two nations.
In 1951 Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS)—a political wing of RSS that grew during the 1950s and 1960s— was established. In 1971 East Pakistan seceded and created a new nation, Bangladesh. The BJS supported the movement for the creation of Bangladesh.
In 1977 the BJS joined the Janata Party, a coalition of opposition parties that defeated Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party in parliamentary elections and formed a government that lasted through the end of 1979, when Gandhi returned to the government.
In 1980 BJS was renamed and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was born. The principles of the BJP are inspired by Hindu nationalism and the main objectives are to build up India as a strong, unified, and prosperous nation.
In 1984 the BJP separated from the RSS; it became the main opposition to the Congress Party. In the 1991 elections the BJP became an effective opposition party winning so many seats that the Congress Party had to govern with a coalition. In 1996 the BJP emerged as the largest party in Parliament.
When parliamentary elections were held in 1998, again the BJP and some opposition parties won the largest number of seats and formed a government. This government lasted only one year but during that time the administration fulfilled an electoral promise and carried out the country’s first nuclear tests, making India a nuclear power. As a consequence, Pakistan also conducted nuclear tests, making both countries nuclear.
The BJP administration faced a new conflict with Pakistan whose soldiers had occupied ground on the Indian side of the line of control demarcated by the United Nations in Kashmir. However, peace was restored in 2001.
Under the BJP government, India’s economy became decentralized and market-oriented with privatizations of government corporations, increasing foreign investment, and the liberalization of trade under World Trade Organization rules. There was improvement in infrastructure and production and the middle class grew. However, there was little improvement for the rural and poor classes.
In February 2002 a series of violent incidents in Gujarat State discredited the BJP government. Many activists and members of the BJP were accused of leading the violence against the Muslim minority in that state. In the 2004 elections the Congress Party coalition won the elections and the BJP became the opposition party.
Verónica M. Ziliotto