The Spring Tide of Saffron Power: India between Democracy and Nationalism

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Rudolf Heredia, SJ

 Rudolf Heredia, SJ / October 2017, Vol. 1 no. 9 / Published Date:14 October 2017/Last Updated Date:3 July 2020

The national election for the Lok Sabha (the people’s parliamentary chamber or lower house) in April-May 2014 was a watershed in India’s democratic polity. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made a quantum leap over the threshold of coalition politics in which it seemed to have settled for good. The BJP won 282 seats out of 543, an absolute majority on its own. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the coalition they led, won 336 seats, an almost two-thirds majority. And this happened because the BJP connected to a strong network of associations involved with the national volunteer organization Rastriya Sevak Sangh.

The legislative assembly elections of 2015 in Bihar, India’s second largest state by population (99.2 million), might have presaged a new dawn with a united opposition. In the assembly of 243 seats a grand alliance of six parties won 178, while the BJP got just 53, and with its NDA allies just another five.

But with the election in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state (population 202.4 million) this year, the BJP bounced back with 323 seats in a house of 404, and 13 more with its allies, trouncing a fractured opposition, which together has to make do with 78 seats. A confident BJP went on to appoint the current Hindu leader as Prime Minister. People speak of a rising saffron tide, saffron being a color of the Indian flag, a color of the garments associated with Hindu religion, and with the BJP party. The BJP now rule 13 of India’s 29 states and there is no viable alternative to challenge it.

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