The inception of the Hindu nationalist ideology was largely a result of India’s colonial history. While the movement was in many ways a reaction to the British presence, as well as the Christian missions that accompanied it, it had many aspects which were borrowed or inspired by the colonial rule itself. Concerned about the momentum of the Khilafat movement of the 1920’s, the hindu nationalists adopted strategies of stigmatization and emulation of groups that were perceived to be threats. Hindu nationalism remained active in India throughout the 1900’s, and was solidified by the publication of the Hindutva and were characterized by groups such as the Sang Parivar and the RSS. The success experienced by the BJP in the late 1990s can be explained by its effectiveness in creating coalitions, its strategies of gaining state-level support in contentious areas, and most prominently, the manipulation of ethno-religious vulnerability. All of these factors contributed mobilization of the hindu nationalist ideology, and the success, however brief, experienced by the BJP.
The success of the BJP in the 1980s and 1990s was largely due its ability to use a series of events to emphasize the vulnerability of the Hindu religion and identity, as well as its collaboration with the RSS and the VHP, which were integral to it’s mobilization and gaining of popular support. Events such as the Meenakshipuram conversions of 1981, where 300 low-caste Hindu families converted to Islam, caused anxiousness among many Hindus, and the Shah Bano case reinforced the perceived need for a homogeneously Hindu civil code. The RSS was able to utilize its old strategies of emulation and stigmatization to counter the internal threats posed by separatist sentiments among the lower castes, as well as external threats posed by pan Islamic movements among the country’s Muslim minority.
The VHP in particular was a driving force behind the BJP’s mobilization, the Ayodhya issue having “catapulted the party into power in 1991” (Jaffrelot 2005, p. 238) As the result VHP’s Ayodhya movement, the state of Uttar Pradesh became a stronghold for the BJP in the 1990s, accounting for one-third of it’s seats. The riots, and the destruction of the Babri Mosque were an indication of the fervency that the event managed to create on the religious grounds of liberating Ram’s birthplace. This event is the most prominent example of the BJP’s most effective strategy.
Since India’s independence in 1947 and under the popular leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Indian National Congress had remained consistent, enjoying a parliamentary majority from 1950 until the state of emergency was declared in 1977. With its policies based on equal treatment of religions by the state, the INC provided a strong opposition to the ideals of the BJP. The state of emergency was a pivotal moment in Indian political history, providing both a moment of weakness for the INC, and the opportunity for mobilization within the...