Bharatiya Janata party

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bharatiya Janata party

Bharatiya Janata party (bär´ətēə jän´ətə) [Hindi,=Indian People's party] (BJP), Indian political party that espouses Hindu nationalism. The BJP draws its Hindu nationalist creed from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Self-Service Organization), a group founded in 1925 in opposition to Mohandas Gandhi and dedicated to the propagation of orthodox Hindu religious practices.

The BJP's direct political antecedent is the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a party established in 1951 that stood in staunch opposition to what it perceived as the evils of Western cultural imperialism. Its principles were retained when the party became the BJP in 1980. Opposed to the secular democracy advocated by the long-ruling Congress party (see Indian National Congress), the BJP objected to the separate code of civil laws for India's Muslims, supported India's nuclear defense capability, and favored restrictions on foreign investment.

At first largely a northern party popular in Hindi-speaking areas among urban middle-class traders, by 1989 the BJP had won 85 seats in parliament. In the 1990s the party became part of the mainstream political life of India. It scored a major success in the 1996 general elections, winning the most parliamentary seats (161 of 545) but falling short of a majority. Shortly thereafter, the BJP formed a government, with its leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as prime minister, but it fell prior to a confidence vote. The BJP again garnered the largest number of parliamentary seats in the 1998 and 1999 elections and successfully formed governments, again with Vajpayee as prime minister. In power, the BJP tended to avoid many of the Hindu nationalist issues originally central to it, and promoted economic reforms and development, including foreign investment.

Although the BJP moved to distance itself somewhat from the RSS and attract Muslim voters, party members were accused of complicity in the violence that killed perhaps as many as 2,500 in Gujarat in Feb.–Mar., 2002, and a BJP lawmaker in the state was convicted of murder in 2012. The BJP lost the 2004 elections to the Congress party coalition, and suffered additional losses in the 2009 elections. In 2014, however, the party won a majority, and Narendra Modi became prime minister.

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