Year 1989 was an exciting year for me - we moved into a new house and I also started following Indian politics as a boy, old enough to understand the basics. I think I still quite vividly remember how I found a small pamphlet in the local language, that was perhaps distributed along with the newspaper, talking about Ram Janmabhoomi movement. I can't recollect if it was under a BJP banner or an RSS or any of its offshoots, but I do remember sitting in a chair in the front portion of the house and reading it in one stretch .. and then rereading it
It must have been the moment when one more of the many thousands or lakhs from "my generation" was being transformed into a "right-wing India Nationalist" . And that was to stay and grow, so far for 25 long years.
Over the years, I read much more on Ayodhya dispute, was more than convinced that injustice has been done to the Hindus, felt glad that at least one political party in India had taken up the cause. Interestingly however, I realized that it was not the only issue that BJP had stood for - over the years, there were many more issues that I learned about - be it Kashmir and article 370, be it Uniform Civil Code or be it corruption in Congress party, minority appeasement and so on. It may be right to say that I learned the basics of Indian politics "through" BJP
photo taken from: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/india-39-main-opposition-party-debates-scrapping-income-075709649--sector.html#DtJhfxK
For a moment, think about the circumstances under which it was born - Indian politics dominated by Congress, essentially the Nehru family. A Nation unable to break away from the shackles of a misguided socialist model. Corruption already creeping into politics, and so also factors like caste and regionalism. When BJP began its journey, it did not project any of these as the main issue - what was projected was hindutva - and it was perceived as a male dominated, North-Indian hindutva party. 25-30 years later one sees what appears to be a different BJP - development oriented, with quite a good women representation, and continuing to appeal to the Youth of that generation. Has the party drastically changed or has it been a slow transformation ?
Here is how I look at it - the core of the party hasn't changed. Well, one might ask hasn't hindutva, Ayodhya and so on been kept in the back ? Having seen the party for 25 years, I think the core of the party - the part which remains unchanged - is Nationalism - to put it in a more popular phrase these days "India First". Take any issue, the ideal stand that BJP would like to take is driven by just this little policy - India First. Be it Kashmir or Uniform Civil Code or economic policies and so on. What has changed over the years however, are the manifestations of this "India First" core - things that the party wanted at different point in time to be its image.
In the late 80s and early 90s it was Ayodhya and Hindutva as the party believed that for India to be stronger, its majority, the Hindus, have to unite above caste and regional barriers. In the late 90s and early 2000, the party projected itself as a credible alternative to Congress party at the National level and a party ready to rule at the Center, and not just sit in opposition. The decade of 2004-2014 at the surface appears to be a dull period for the party, but look carefully, the party has been transforming its image to one that is highly development oriented, and able to govern key states with great leadership skills. In fact the last of the factors - transforming itself from a party known more for its National politics, to one that has been capable of giving strong state governments, has been an amazing one. It did appear to fumble a bit in the early 2000 period - with Keshubhai Patel changed in Gujarat, Uma Bharti and Babulal Gaur changed in Madhya Pradesh - but once it reached a 'steady state', we saw them win the states for a third time in Gujarat, MP and Chattisgarh. Even in states where it alternately seems to lose power, it seems to be losing by a small margin ( Rajasthan in 2008, Uttarakhand in 2012, Goa in 2007) and winning by a big to huge margin ( Rajasthan in 2013, Uttarakhand in 2007, Goa in 2012 )
http://deshgujarat.com/2013/08/11/an-audacious-attempt-to-project-bjp-as-an-option-in-anti-congress-wave-gripped-andhra/ (Hyderabad rally)
One also sees the emergence of a new generation of leaders from within, without really shaking up the older generation as much as media and many others have always predicted it to be. The first generation - the Atal, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi types - perhaps were much more "idealists", and the newer generation, one might say is perhaps much more practical. But at the ideology level ( yet again, "India First") I do not see much has changed. The youth appeal - may have temporarily taken a beating in the mid of last decade, but it seems to be back, though in a different form ( with quite a dominance in social media for example) . It may still not be a fully women-supported or minority supported party, but sure enough there has been significant transformations in those areas as well . South India was considered never "reachable" for BJP, it did rule Karnataka and is making gains in AP/TN
Along with its own transformation, though keeping the core intact, it indeed changed Indian politics itself. Congress has remained the centrist party (in my opinion, the party without much of strong policies, and hence the never die party because a good number of India people are like the "I do not want to think too much types") . Parties have come and gone and still keep coming up to occupy the left-of-center space, and by that I mean most regional, caste based parties as well, because for me, right of center is "India First" and any regional or caste base party beats that purpose and hence is naturally the wrong side of center. BJP has remained the only genuine "right" of center party
This is not to say that all has been good with BJP. As a supporter, one always wish it had done better. Though corruption during the NDA regime has been almost neglogible and corruption within the party itself has been quite low except in certain regions for a certain amount of time, the well-wisher always wants to see it completely clean. One cannot blame a Kerala volunteer, unhappy that even after 34 years of existence, BJP couldn't still win even an assembly seat. True, miles to go still, but overall I would say, the party has reasonably well. And I sincerely believe that just like the few fumbles that it had initially in managing state governments was immediately transformed into lessons learned, the next time BJP (or NDA) gets to power in center, will be an even better govt than before
And now it is at the threshold of yet another National election. Though expected to do well, the battle ground has become much more vicious. TV channels "generating" tweets that it assign to senior BJP leaders to show that there is infighting, self-proclaimed "honest" new entrants chanting lies and distorted facts non-stop and the media giving non-stop coverage for that, the Congress party always on the look out for its "dirty tricks". The BJP leadership and volunteers has so far done okay and now with a month to two left for various phases of the poll, it is entering the key time - it is the time to wrap up the candidate selection, step up the door to door, make sure no big blunders are committed and to go the extra mile to be prepared to counter any further attack from the other parties. As a long term follower, I sincerely hope that Bharat Mata will bless the party whose very existence is to serve HER