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EDITIONS
Friday, 2 April, 1999, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
BJP - riding the wave of Hindu nationalism
BJP
The |BJP's Atal Behari Vajpayee takes the oath of office
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is one of India's largest and most controversial parties. It believes that India should be a Hindu rather than a secular state, contrary to the country's current constitution.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee
The BJP's Vajpayee during the election campaign
At the general election in 1996, the BJP won 194 out of 545 seats and became the largest party in parliament. The BJP tried to form a government, but failed to gather enough support from other parties and had to surrender power after less than two weeks in office.

In the latest elections, the BJP improved on its success of two years ago, but did not win a clear majority in India's lower house. To form a government, it has had to do deals with allies in eastern and southern India, where its support has traditionally been weak.

The BJP is considered to be a nationalist Hindu party, and its support has traditionally come from upper-caste Hindus in northern and western India.

The BJP ascent to power might be considered especially upsetting for the country's 120 million Muslims. In its election manifesto, the BJP said that it would introduce uniform laws on issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance. Muslims fear that such laws would effectively be a Hindu civil code and a direct attack on their religious practices.

Fleeing the riots in Ayodhya
Fleeing the riots in Ayodhya
Even though the BJP has tried to play down its Hindu nationalism and proposed a few Muslim candidates for parliament, many secular and Muslim Indians still associate the party with the ethnic unrest that swept India in 1992.

Then, Hindu militants in Uttar Pradesh, spurred on by the BJP, destroyed a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya. Several of the BJP's leaders, including current president L K Advani, were present during the destruction, which triggered weeks of massive violence across the country.

Manifesto pledge

BJP president Lal Krishna Advani
BJP president Lal Krishna Advani
In its election manifesto, the BJP promised to allow the construction of a Hindu temple on the Ayodhya site. Such a move could cause yet more communal violence between Muslims and Hindus. The BJP has, however, had to sing a different tune to build its coalition, and its government programme suggests its more contentious policies may be modified.

In its manifesto, the BJP also warned that it would consider arming India with nuclear weapons. Although the country says that it has no nuclear weapons, India is known to have the capability to build them and has refused to join the international treaty designed to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Indian soldiers on patrol in 1992
Indian soldiers on patrol in 1992 to stop ethnic violence
The introduction of nuclear weapons would harm India's relations not only with its old rival Pakistan, but with many smaller countries in the region and the established nuclear powers. However, the BJP's agenda for government chose ambiguous phrasing when it came to nuclear weapons, merely saying it reserved the right to "induct" them.

Trade relations could be put under strain as well. The BJP is backed by some of India's largest businesses who fear economic competition from abroad and favour nationalist economic policies, including the rolling back of some economic reforms. A BJP government could show greater hostility to inward foreign investment, although much will depend on the choice of the new finance minister.

On national level, the BJP has never really been in government, apart from a brief period in 1996 and regional government in Maharashtra and Bombay. When in power, it has usually been more tolerant than its opposition rhetoric has suggested.

Nonetheless, the party remains the antithesis to the modern secular country envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India.

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 ON THIS STORY

The BBC's Andrew Whitehead on the enigma of the BJP (4'30")
See also:

03 Jan 98 | S/W Asia
04 Feb 98 | S/W Asia
04 Feb 98 | S/W Asia
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