The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; "Indian People's Party") is one of the largest political parties in India. In the 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004) it was the single largest party with 182 (out of 545) members. It is the successor party of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS; "Indian Peoples Alliance", often referred to as just the Jan Sangh), which merged itself into the Janata Party in 1977. The BJP was formed as a separate party in 1980 after internal differences in the Janata Party resulted in the collapse of its government in 1979.
Founder (of BJS): Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-1953)
It is the dominant component of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). As the largest party in opposition former party president and Deputy Prime Minister in the previous government Lal Krishna Advani is the leader of the opposition in the 13th Lok Sabha. The party has close ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organization. The rise of Mr. Advani, a product of the RSS cadre, post the 2004 elections in which the BJP-led NDA lost power, is seen as indicative of the return of a hardline RSS policy stance in constrast to the more moderate Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the outgoing prime minister in 2004. Economically, the party's policies of late have been reformist and fiscally conservative though earlier there was a strong flair of protectionism. Apart from economics, key planks have been and remain in varying degrees the cultivation of Hindutva, induction of a uniform civil code, development of the Indian nuclear programme and the contentious reconstruction of temples destroyed during the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's reign in place of the mosques that now inhabit their places. In 1998, the BJP government gave the go-ahead for the Indian nuclear tests .
Officially, the BJP considers itself to be a secular party and defines Hindutva not in terms of religion but as Indian-ness. According to the party this is in consonance with the root meaning of the word Hindu. Nevertheless, a number of third-party commentators describe the party's politics and policies as Hindu Nationalist. The party has also throughout its history tried to highlight the achievements and political idealogy of the RSS and its founder Vinayak Damodar Savarkar during the Indian independence movement. The matter has been highly contentious given allegations, never proven in a court of law, that Mahatma Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram Godse was a member of the RSS and was linked to Mr. Savarkar. Mr. Savarkar, still a highly controversial figure, was put on trial and acquitted in conspiring to assassinate Mr. Gandhi. The RSS on the other hand, inspite of concrete judicial proof, was banned for several years post.
The party has been part of several instances of communal violence in the previous two decades. In particular, the party's role in the Babrij Masjid demolition of December 6, 1992 and subsequent riots, and the Gujarat riots of 2002 stand out. In the Gujarat riots of 2002, Narendra Modi, the BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat and a RSS man, in particular, came under severe censure domestically and internationally for his government's role in the matter. An attempt to take disciplinary action against him by the moderate Mr. Vajpayee and his supporters, was forestalled by Mr. Advani and hardline members of the party.
In 2002, Abdul Kalam, architect of the Indian missile programme and a Muslim, was nominated by the BJP to become the President of India – a highly respected nominal figurehead with several important constitutional responsibilities. Mr. Kalam won the subsequent elections for the post. While BJP supporters saw this nomination as an example of BJP's multi-religious organization, critics of BJP saw it as a ploy to offset the negative impact of recent riots in Gujarat. There are very few prominent leaders who are not Hindu. One example is Mukthar Abbas Naqvi , a Muslim.
Following the 2004 elections, NDA (the BJP-led governing coalition) was confronted with its failure to secure sufficient seats to form a government. There were significant setbacks in rural states, but the BJP also had major reversals in key urban centres including Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai. This electoral shock was due to its perceived inability to extend the benefits of strong economic growth to a broader range of the populace. Disaffection was particularly evident amongst the rural electorate, suffering under the pressures of drought, a dearth of infrastructure investment, and relative impoverishment. The mantle of power has thus passed to the alliance headed by the United Progressive Alliance. Furthermore, since the election there has been a fair degree of internal politics, previously unknown in party famed for its discpline, as the BJP tries and re-organizes itself and its policies in anticipation of future elections.