BJP’s Karan-Arjun Kahani: How India’s Ruling Party Came Into Being

Here’s a history of the BJP in 3-and-a-half minutes.

4 min read

On BJP’s Foundation Day, The Quint is publishing its ready reckoner on the party’s ideological and political 38-year history, originally published on 6 April 2016.

Over the next eight days, till 14 April, senior functionaries will visit constituencies the BJP lost the last polls, but sees as winnable in the next. Party President Amit Shah will be in Hyderabad and senior ministers like Rajnath Singh will be in Kolkata South, Arun Jaitley in Bengaluru (Rural) and Nitin Gadkari in Nizamabad during this period.

This eight-day drive will end in Odisha, where the party will kickstart it’s two day national executive underlining its ambition to take over new territories in the 2019 General Election.

Video Editors: Nitin Sharma and Kunal Mehra


Long before the BJP’s kamal ‘prakat-o-fied’ on the political scene, there was its predecessor, the Jan Sangh. It was not a part of the RSS’ Sangh parivaar at least not as openly as later. Syama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha went to his buddy – the RSS big man MS Golwalkar and said – bhai… hamara naam bhi ek, kaam bhi ek. Chalo iss dosti ko rishetedaari mein badalte hain.

The election symbol of the Jan Sangh. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
The election symbol of the Jan Sangh. (Photo: The Quint)

A bunch of RSS guys joined, including these LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, let’s call them Sangh ke Karan-Arjun.

They had many adventures – fighting the Congress in elections together, going to jail in the Emergency together – generally being a significant, though peripheral, part of Indian politics.

Cut to 1977.

The Emergency is over, and all anti-Congress forces are like come on guys… iss dictator lady ko hatao.

The Jan Sangh merged with others to form the Janta Party to defeat Indira Gandhi. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
The Jan Sangh merged with others to form the Janta Party to defeat Indira Gandhi. (Photo: The Quint)

They get together and form the Janata Party, and the Jan Sangh guys are part of it. Vajpayee even becoming foreign minister. But the party for the Janata Party didn’t last. The sticky point was the RSS. The ‘socialist’ guys in the Janata Party wanted the Jan Sangh guys to give up their membership of the RSS – they said the RSS don’t fly the flag, they don’t sing the anthem - why be with them?

But the Jan Sangh gang said no holy way. And so, in 1980, led by Karan-Arjun they split and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party. Vajpayee became its first President.

But they did try to strike a balance between their RSS roots and their centrist side, personified by Vajpayee. The party’s ideology included elements like Swadeshi and Gandhian socialism. But in the 1984 general elections, the BJP won just two seats, and they were like, aaj kuchh toofani karetein hain. Thats when Hindutva became the new ‘it ‘thing.

Vajpayee, Advani, and other RSS members split from the Jan Sangh to form the BJP. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Vajpayee, Advani, and other RSS members split from the Jan Sangh to form the BJP. (Photo: The Quint)

And so begins Phase 2 of the BJPs Karan-Arjun saga. Two bros, differing styles and ideologies, but hanging in there together, like bros do.

From 1984 to 1989, the Congress handed Advani and Vajpayee issues on a platter. There was the cop out on the Shah Bano case, and the opening of the Babri Masjid (Ominous music).

By ‘89, the BJP was open about its Hindutva street cred. Allied with the seriously right-wing outfit, the Shiv Sena, they officially committed to building a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

In the 1989 elections, they won an eye-opening 80 seats. Advani soon became the party’s primary public face. His unapologetically shrill Rath Yatra, the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the communal violence that accompanied these events changed Indian politics forever with the BJP gaining each time.

In 1996, the BJP emerged as the single largest party. While it was Hindutva that got them there, the government lasted just 13 days.

They realised they needed Karan bhaiya back. In the era of coalition politics, you needed allies. And hardliners don’t get allies. But Vajpayee could. From 1999 to 2004 he ruled a full term, the first non-Congress PM to do so.

But then just when he thought he had got India Shining, he lost.

Arjun Advani, wanted to be the next Prime Minister. He tried to do a Vajpayee by praising Jinnah in Pakistan. But that backfired. The RSS didn’t like it and he was sidelined.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with LK Advani. (Photo: AP)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with LK Advani. (Photo: AP)

In 2014, it was Arjun Advani’s political heir who led the Lotus Party back to power, catching the voters’ imagination in SRK-Salman Khan style.

Har har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi. Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar.

Modi has managed to shrug off the stains of the 2002 Gujarat and sell development wearing many hats. And Instagramming. A lot.

He has managed to solve, at least for now, the Advani-Vajpayee, hardline-moderate debate. Personality and pop-nationalism have trumped core ideology for now.

And that’s the BJP story so far.

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