Religion and the Indian Election

May 19, 2014

The Harvard Gazette looks at how religion played a role in the recent election of Indian president Narendra Modi, head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), featuring an interview with Harvard Divinity School student and former editor of the Times of India, Kalpana Jain.

HDS: What role has religion played in the BJP’s rise to power?

JAIN: It’s an example of how political parties can exploit religious sentiments and create divisions for political gains. Look at how BJP acquired a base after it launched a campaign for constructing a Ram temple at the Babri masjid [mosque] site, which was destroyed in religious violence in 1992. In the Lok Sabha [India’s lower house of parliament] elections of 1984, the BJP got only two seats. By 1989, following the campaign, the BJP won 85 seats.

It then continued to increase its political base. In 1991, it got 119 seats and in 1998, 182 seats. It retained 182 seats in 1999. Following the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, though, the BJP lost seats. This was an indication that secular Hindus had rejected the BJP for what had happened in Gujarat.

HDS: What’s the significance — both to Hindus and Muslims — of the BJP’s pledge to build a temple to the god Lord Ram on the site of the Babri mosque?

JAIN: There are strong sentiments on both sides. There is a section of Hindus for whom the construction of a temple is part of their Hindu identity, and so is keeping the Babri masjid site intact for Muslims. While the BJP may make election promises for a section of the electorate, it is not likely to carry it out, as it would result in large-scale communal violence.

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See also: India