Books

The Saffron Saga

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Book: The Saffron Tide: The Rise of the BJP
Author: Kingshuk Nag
Publisher:  Rainlight Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd., New Delhi
Pages: 247
Price: Rs. 50 (Hard Cover)

Asif Anwar Alig


Secularism lost impetus when Gujarat’s three-time chief minister, Narendra Modi, became India’s prime minister. The Saffron Tide: The Rise of the BJP is India’s political biography and the advent of rightwing political coalition. It portrays facts on Indian politics from rising fortunes of a small Hindu ideological coterie to ruling party BJP, end of Congress fiefdom and dithering regional parties in 2014 general elections.  

Modi’s elevation to premiership materialised the BJP manifesto but disappointed stalwarts like LK Advani and MM Joshi, who had groomed him in politics. This book projects the lives of “now cornered politicians” encountering the “fallen shadow of self.” Such leaders had once ruled the Hindu roost but the changing political scene has  made them insignificant.

The Congress, which  had a soft-Hindutva stance from the beginning, ruined the secular foundations of the country and monopolised the Indian polity. Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS), renamed Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), gradually became an alternative political force.  

Syama Prasad Mookerjee founded BJS in 1951 to protest what he called discrimination against thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees who had poured into West Bengal from East Pakistan. Reinvented in June 1980 after parting ways with erstwhile Janata Party, the BJP adopted Gandhian socialism and a  kesariya (saffron) flag.

On 21 October 1951, Mookerjee and Balraj Madhok were elected BJS founding national president and general secretary respectively. The party won four seats in the 1957 election bringing Atal Behari Vajpayee into Parliament for the first time. He became prime minister some four decades later.

The BJP, which pursued the cause of Hindi vigorously, was defeated in 1967. The Congress retained power with a thin majority but BJS remained blank in the southern part of the country compared to the north, where it had taken root. Balraj Madhok’s efforts in the 1960s for Indianisation of Muslims and non-Hindus to adopt Hindu way of life with emphasis on a temple of nativity of Ram at Ayodhya, Krishna at Mathura, Shiva at Kashi and Viswanath in Varansi holiest for Hindus like Ka’aba and Bethlehem for Muslims and Christians” caused a stir.  

Keshavram Kashiram (Keka) Shashtri formed Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on 29 August 1964 for Hindu social consolidation. Swami Chinmayananda, the first VHP president, had least influence on BJS in the 1960s. VHP proved to be a milestone for BJP after 25 years when India’s secularism diminished through Ayodhya.

A frenzied Hindu mob demolished Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 while Advani and other BJP/VHP leaders witnessed it. Narasimha Rao led Congress government at the Centre was its silent spectator. A series of communal riots erupted across India leading to mass murder of Muslims and destruction of their property on a huge scale. Within the next 10 years came the Sangh-led pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.

The BJP lost 2004 polls narrowly. A turning point came when Vajpayee was out of power and RSS-deputed Rajnath Singh to preside over the party. Advani led the party in 2008 general elections, with a dream to become prime minister, but he lost.  

Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984 by Sikh bodyguards brought a sympathy wave for Congress. Winning 414 seats, it had come into power while BJP encountered obliteration with a mere two seats, one each from Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Vajpayee had stepped down to pave the way for Advani to lead the party, who alongside MM Joshi, Kedar Nath Sahni, Pramod Mahajan and K. L. Sharma overhauled it. Advani tried to rebuild the party on an anti-Muslim platform.

Communal riots broke out in Mumbai, Surat and Bhopal after the Babri Masjid demolition. It was time for BJP to take Ayodhya issue to the next level-Ram Mandir construction.

After 13 days a Vajpayee-led government at the Centre fell in 1996 as it had only 161 seats in Lok Sabha. BJP increased its seats to 182 after fresh elections and Atal Behari Vajpayee became prime minister again on 19 March 1998.

Vajpayee faced embarrassment when the then BJP president, Bangaru Laxman was caught on camera accepting bribe.

Hawala operator SK Jain claimed to have paid LK Advani Rs 35 lakhs which stopped him from staking a claim to premiership in 1996 and 1998.  He came in forefront once again in 2009 elections with the BJP projecting him as prime ministerial candidate that he would always fancy. The party’s “India Shining” and “Feel good factor” did not work and it got only 116 seats, less than 138 of 2004.

The BJP was got restructured on March 31, 2013 for  2014 general elections. Modi became the party’s parliamentary board member. He became chief of campaign committee on June 9, 2013 and prime ministerial candidate on September 14, 2013. Advani resigned from the party’s parliamentary board, national executive and election committee.

 Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. Paradoxically, the historic win made the party tinnier than the prime minister.

The reviewer is assistant professor and media relations specialist at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education. He worked earlier as an executive producer in ETV Networks. He may be contacted at asifanwaralig@gmail.com. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2015 on page no. 21

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