The Media and Neo-Populism: A Contemporary Comparative Analysis

By Gianpietro Mazzoleni; Julianne Stewart et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter Five
The Bharatiya Janata Party,
Ayodhya, and the Rise of Populist
Politics in India

John McGuire and Geoffrey Reeves


There is little doubt that since the 1980s the most significant development in Indian politics has been the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Established in the early 1980s from the remnants of the Hindu fundamentalist party (Jan Sangh) and formally linked to the powerful organizational structure of the Sangh Parivar (family of Hindu organizations), it moved from an inconsequential political position in the 1984 election to being the most powerful political party in the Lok Sabha (the lower house in the Indian parliament) by the late 1990s. Put simply, while there have been other populist movements in postcolonial India, none compare with the BJP in terms of their impact, whether in the short, medium, or long term

While origins of the BJP can be traced back to the Hindu Mahasabha in the colonial period and the Jan Sangh in the postcolonial period, it represents the first communal1 party to assume a national position on the political agenda. Although communal parties, such as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and the Akali Dal in the Punjab, have exercised a degree of influence on federal politics, they have never been considered national parties. On the contrary, they have been identified as regional groupings and marginalized as peripheral in the narrative of national politics. The BJP has assumed its national position by the skilful manipulation of communal/populist politics.

Its rise to power can be traced through its electoral performance at both state and federal levels. Whereas it won a mere two seats out of a possible 543 in 1984, it increased this figure to eighty-six in 1989. By 1991,


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