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Elections in 2014 in India seems to a hot topic of discussion everywhere.  With the BJP in the eye of storm on its Prime Ministerial candidate, I take a look at the apparently phenomenal rise of the BJP from 1984 to the mid 1990s when it went from 2 seats to forming a government in 1998.

My take is that one should not read too much into the numbers. In annals of recent Indian politics elections of 1977, 1980, 1984 and 1991 (after Rajiv was killed) were very unique.

  • 1977 – immediately after the emergency; Mrs. Indira Gandhi had, for the first time probably, lost touch with the reality on the ground and actually believed that she would win since the coterie was saying so (this is known to happen to dictators who become isolated from the people over time and give credence only to their close companions who tell them what they want to hear)
  • 1980 – on the back of disastrous infighting and complete lack of any political acumen of the Janata Party which had come together purely on an anti-Indira plank (I am sometimes grateful for the fact that JP did not live long enough to see this)
  • 1984 – everything changed after Indira’s brutal assassination. The numbers speak for themselves. Never has any one got such an overwhelming mandate and never has anyone squandered it so spectacularly.
  • 1991 – post Rajiv assassination swing got Narsimha Rao into power; it was surely headed for a hung parliament like 1989.

Anyway, this is only the background. Suffice to say that the results of 1984 mean nothing. Even Vajpayee lost. It was Indira Congress all the way and if they had nominated an lamppost, even the lamppost would have won (this was what people said in 1977 about the Janata Party).

The BJP surge happened on the back of six events

  1. The disillusionment with the Congress which failed to deliver in spite of a big mandate in 1984.
  2. The disaster that was the third-front experiment of 1989-91. Constant squabbles, rapidly changing PMs and in general  political chaos which made people believe the BJP slogan, A party with a difference.
  3. The near bankruptcy that the country faced circa 1991 accentuated the disillusionment with 1 & 2 above.
  4. Advani’s Rath Yatra that whipped up Hindu sentiment like never before; previous attempts by the Hindu Mahasabha (in the 1950s) and the Jan Sangh (1970s) had failed because the Congress was still not as tarnished as it was in the 1980s.  People, for the first time, felt that there was an alternative to the Congress.
  5. The emergence of the highly respected Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the undisputed leader of the party. This was a man, everyone thought, you could do business with. He was not as extreme as Advani. He was also a superb orator without being a rabble rouser like Uma Bharti. That made him acceptable to the middle class as well.
  6. 6.      Vajpayee also ensured that the BJP understood that it could never get enough seats to form a government on its own (the 13 days experiment had shown that) and that led to the BJP softening its stand and actually getting into coalitions. The Janata Party experiment was not truly a coalition in that there was no common vision or shared goals except may be removal of Indira Gandhi from power .

The surge reached its peak and the BJP (well the NDA) getting into power.  Very systematic and very natural. However, in all of this, especially point #6, the BJP has lost its key slogan “a party with a difference”. On critical matters – defence, foreign policy etc, it is just impossible to differentiate between the BJP and the Congress. But then – you win some and you lose some and after all politics is the art of the possible.