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India's Hindu Nationalist BJP Party Reflects on Election Loss

Indian newspapers prominently display images of leaders of the victorious Congress party, which won 205 Parliament seats. Rival BJP won 116 seats.
Indian newspapers prominently display images of leaders of the victorious Congress party, which won 205 Parliament seats. Rival BJP won 116 seats. (By Mustafa Quraishi -- Associated Press)
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The only time the party ruled for a full five-year term nationally was from 1999 to 2004, when it put forward the avuncular and moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee to lead a coalition government.

This year, the party chose its 81-year-old leader, L.K. Advani, as its candidate for prime minister.

Advani's career mirrors much of the party's present dilemma. In 1990, he climbed aboard a Toyota truck remodeled to look like a chariot and rode across the country to mobilize Hindus. That campaign culminated in a watershed event in contemporary Indian politics: demolition of a 16th-century mosque in 1992 by zealots who demanded the construction of a Hindu temple at the site.

In the past 10 years, Advani has tried to refashion himself as a moderate, which left many of the party's core voters dissatisfied. One member said that the BJP lost because Advani was "neither fully center nor totally right."

After the results were announced Saturday, Advani offered to resign as the party's leader in the lower house of Parliament, fueling speculation that a generational shift in the party may be imminent.

But analysts say a younger generation of BJP leaders is unlikely to break free of the Hindu political ideology.

"Our ideology remains the core and constant foundation of our identity. That is not a variable that can be changed with every election outcome," said Ram Madhav, a senior member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the umbrella organization that controls the BJP and other Hindu revivalist groups. "There will always be a genuine place for a conservative, right-wing alternative in Indian politics."


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