Prime Minister Narendra Modi and president of BJP Amit Shah
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah Image Credit: AFP

On April 6, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marked its forty-first Sthapana Divas (Foundation Day) with quiet online celebrations, both at the national and district levels. This was to be expected, given that the whole country is in the middle of a second Covid-19 wave, even more virulent than the earlier one.

With the latest daily caseload of over 150,000, the figures are nothing short of alarming. The good news, however, is that over 100 million Indians have already been vaccinated and the fatality rates in this second surge are considerably lower, even if the new strains seem to be highly infectious and transmissible.

With many parts of the country, including India’s financial capital, Mumbai, facing an imminent lockdown or at least much more stringent curfews, the Covid-19 pandemic in India is far from over. Oddly, though, the fear and alarm over the virus have really reduced.

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What is certain is that there is much that we are yet to learn about this deadly and deceptive enemy. Whom it infects, how it affects those infected, what our resistance or immunity levels truly are after getting infected once or receiving the first jab – answers to none of these basic questions is immediately forthcoming let alone definitive.

The country is also in the midst of assembly elections and farmers protests, both of which are fertile grounds for the spread of the virus. In addition, Cooch Bihar in West Bengal unfortunately witnessed poll violence, leaving four dead on April 10th. Just a few of days earlier, on April 4th, Easter Sunday, Maoist insurgents gunned down twenty-three state security personnel in an ambush.

Modi's message 

Given this unfolding scenario, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message to the members of his party could not have been more apt. “The nation is bigger than the party,” Modi said, just as the “party is bigger than the individual.” It is not clear how many of the reported 180 million members of the world’s largest political organisation were tuned in or paying attention. But the message is certainly relevant and valuable to all patriotic citizens.

Modi acknowledged the contributions of stalwarts before him who made the party great, especially leaders such as Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Kushabhau Thackre, Rajmata Scindia, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He praised senior living trailblazers, such as Lal Krishna Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi, who helped give direction and expand the party.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first prime minister from the BJP, was an erudite scholar and noted poet Image Credit: PTI

He remembered the founder of BJP’s earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Just two years after founding the party in 1951, Mookerjee died prematurely in Kashmir on 23 June 1953, under circumstances which many consider suspicious.

Mookerjee was campaigning against the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) because he believed that it divided and weakened the republic. Why wasn’t the jurisdiction of the President of India applicable in J&K? Why was a special permit required to enter the state? To protest, he entered the state without a permit.

He also popularised the slogan, “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan nahi chalenge, nahi chalenge” – two legislatures, two prime ministers, and two flags in one nation are not acceptable, not acceptable. By abrogating Article 370 and turning the erstwhile state of J&K into two Union Territories, Modi said that his government had fulfilled Mookerjee’s demand of fully integrating the province into the Indian Union.

Evolution from Jana Sangh

The Jana Sangh became part of the popular front, the Janata Party, which ousted Indira Gandhi from power after the Emergency in 1975. But in 1980, the Janata Party broke up after the erstwhile Jana Sangh members were banned for being “dual members” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in addition to the Janata Party.

The old Jana Sangh faction exited from the Janata Party to launch a new political formation, the BJP. At that time, who would have imagined that they would one day become the dominant political force in the country? This spectacular rise was remembered and emphasised by current party president, J. P. Nadda.

He underscored the 303 BJP members elected to the Lok Sabha in the 2019 general elections, besides the twelve states of India where the BJP was currently in power. He praised Modi’s leadership in taking the party to new heights.

Modi, in turn, criticised the opposition for dubbing his party “an election-winning machine.” On the contrary, he argued, BJP should be credited for freeing the country from “dynastic politics.” He said, “Parties that began with help from local aspirations, became a family-based party later.

These parties, who were wearing a mask of secularism, are finally being unmasked." He maintained that his party worked for the development of the whole nation, for the “hopes, dreams, expectations of the people of this country.”

He warned that false narratives were used to divide and mislead the people. He urged his party workers to spread awareness against the opposition conspiracy to instigate political instability through divisive appeals, lies, and rumour mongering. “The BJP means defeating dynasty-based politics. It means an opportunity to able leadership. It means transparency and good governance. It means 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas, Sabka Vishwas',” he stressed.

The results of the keenly contested state assembly elections, especially in West Bengal, will indicate whether the people believe him or not. What is, however, quite evident is that at 41 the BJP is poised to go to even greater heights of political power and prowess in India.