Conservatism in India refers to expressions of conservative politics in India. Conservative-oriented political parties have included the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress Nationalist Party,[1] and the Uttar Pradesh Praja Party. In addition, a number of figures within the Indian National Congress, such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were conservative.[2]

A Pew research survey conducted between late 2019 and early 2020 found that India is a largely conservative country.[3]


National level

19th Century : Rise of modern conservatism

Modern Indian conservatism arose as a reaction to colonialism under European powers and the subsequent loss of sovereignty and political power-it harkened back to a glorious Hindu past before the time of foreign invasions.Social and cultural changes laid the groundwork for Hindu revivalism as well as traditionalism.[4]

1906 - 1933 : Establishment of political organisations take place

All-India Muslim League was a political party formed as a response to Hindu opposition(supported by Congress party)to Bengal partition of 1905.It aimed to safeguard the interests of Muslims.This along with the creation of a separate Muslim electorate under Morley-Minto reforms in 1909 consolidated the Hindu Right, resulting in formation of Hindu Mahasabha.[5] Later Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was started by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar[6] after being disillusioned by the participation of INC in the Khilafat Movement.

1934 - 1976 : Splits from Indian National Congress and formation of Jan Sangh

Conservatism manifested under the aegis of Indian National Congress as well in early to mid 20th century.[7]

Madan Mohan Malaviya along with Madhav Shrihari Aney split away from the party in 1934 in protest of the Communal Award (announced in 1932). They began Congress Nationalist Party afterwards.[8]

Syama Prasad Mukherjee started Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1951 as a nationalistic alternative to Congress after he left Hindu Maha Sabha.[9] The party platform included legislating a uniform civil code, banning cow slaughter and abolishing the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir.[10] The party was able to form coalition governments after the assembly elections of 1967 in states including Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.[11]

The Swatantra party was formed by right-leaning congress members in response to the socialistic turn of INC after the Nagpur resolution of 1959.They stood for free markets and dismantling of dirigiste policies prevalent at the time.

Later another conservative faction known as the Indian National Congress (Organisation) also split from INC in 1969 due to the left-wing economic policies of Indira Gandhi, like bank nationalisations.[12]

The Swatantra party later merged into Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1974.

Conservative political parties had very limited success in the national arena even in the late 1970s.[13]

1977 - 1980 : Interregnum between Indira governments and Janata Party rule

Congress(O) and Jan Sangh merged into the Janata Party in 1977. The big tent arrangement led to a government whose foreign policy led India towards closer relations with the United States. But it also caused the exit of several multinational companies from the Indian market due to economic nationalism under the Janata rule.[14]

The former Jan Sangh contributed largest number of seats to Janata Party's contingent with 93 seats (31% of the Janata Party seats). The previous leader of Jan Sangh, A.B. Vajpayee was appointed the Minister of External Affairs.[15]

The national leadership of the former Jan Sangh attempted to integrate with the Janata Party but assimilation proved to be a failure since the state and local units retained strong association with RSS.[16].The moderate constituents of Janata Party demanded that they break the connection and revoke dual membership in both RSS and Janata Party.Eventually the coalition rule collapsed due to infighting among members of different ideologies and subsequent economic deterioration.[17].After defeat in the 1980 elections, the party executive council finally banned dual membership to RSS in April of that year. This led to the former Jan Sangh members leaving to create a new party, Bharatiya Janata Party.[18][15]

1980 - 1998 : Emergence of BJP and ascent to power

The electoral misfortune of political conservatism changed with the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party and its later adoption of Ram janmabhoomi campaign which ultimately resulted in BJP going from two seats in 1984 to leading government at the central level in 1996 and 1998.

Vajpayee was named the first president of the party, the bulk of which was identical in rank and file to its predecessor (Jan Sangh).[19]

The party initially had a moderate agenda in contrast to the Jan Sangh and focused on Gandhian socialism and emphasised its earlier links with Janata Party to gain wider appeal. However, the Congress party, riding on a sympathy wave after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, won a landslide victory in the 1984 election.[20][21]

Subsequently, the party traded the moderate agenda for a more aggressive Hindu nationalist program under the leadership of L.K. Advani from 1984 onwards.[20][22]

The party backed the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and made it their electoral plank. By 1989 elections, they secured 86 seats, providing crucial support to V. P. Singh's government.[23] The support was later withdrawn after Hindu religious volunteers called Kar Sevaks were killed while fighting with paramilitary forces guarding Babri Mosque(which is on the disputed site).

Fresh elections ensued and BJP raised its tally to 120 seats and won a majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly. RSS and its affiliates called for a massive rally at the site of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. The rally later gave way to violence and led to the destruction of the mosque. Riots occurred between Hindus and Muslims resulting in over 2,000 deaths. BJP was able to capitalise on the heightened communal polarisation and further increased its strength to 161 seats in the Lok Sabha. Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister as he was the leader of the largest party. However, he couldn't muster majority and stepped down after 13 days.[24]

A coalition of regional parties took over the government but lasted only for two years. BJP fought 1998 elections leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition. Vajpayee returned as Prime Minister after gaining outside support from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The coalition later lost majority after All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) withdrew support in May 1999.[25]

1999 - 2004 : First full term by non-Congress-led government

BJP retained power after the success of Kargil war in 1999 elections but lost 2004 polls in spite of its India shining campaign.

RSS was the ideological mentor of BJP but Vajpayee couldn't push key issues like building Ram temple (in Ayodhya), Abrogation of Article 370 (in Kashmir), implementing Uniform Civil Code (for adherents of all religions) since his government was dependent upon coalition support. As a result, there were reports on January 2000 that hard-line BJP leaders along with RSS were threatening to restart Jan Sangh, the predecessor of BJP.[26]
In December 1999, terrorists hijacked Indian Airlines IC 814 flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi. The government later accepted their demands to exchange terrorists in prison for the passengers.[27] Two years later, a group of terrorists stormed the Parliament building in Delhi and killed several security guards before being stopped.[28] The Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 was subsequently passed in March 2002.
Vishva Hindu Parishad held the government in a standoff between December 2001 and March 2002 by trying to perform a foundation stone laying ceremony at Ayodhya.[29][30] The ceremony was later moved to a location a kilometer away and thus ended without further incidents. However Vajpayee was later accused of doing nothing to stop violence during 2002 Gujarat riots. He reportedly wanted to remove the then-CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi but decided against doing so after party members discouraged him. Vajpayee later admitted that the situation was mishandled and that not removing Modi was a mistake.[31]

During late 2002 and 2003, the government pushed through economic reforms, increasing privatisation, foreign investment and modernisation programmes. This resulted in GDP growth exceeding 7% between the years 2003 and 2007.[32] [33][34]

2004 - 2014 : In opposition wilderness at national level

Vajpayee called for general election six months ahead of schedule. NDA suffered an unexpected defeat (186 seats vs 222 for Congress and its allies). Failure to reach out to rural Indians and a divisive agenda was blamed for the defeat.[35][36]

Vajpayee retired from active politics after the 2004 defeat and appointed L. K. Advani to lead the party.[37] On December 2005, Advani stepped down as party president and Rajnath Singh was elected in his place.[38] On 10 December 2007, the Parliamentary Board of BJP formally announced that L. K. Advani as its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections in 2009.[39]Although he won his 6th term as MP, NDA lost again. Sushma Swaraj was named as Leader of the Opposition. [40][41] She retained this position until May 2014 when, in the 2014 Indian general election, BJP won a major victory.[42]

In May 2008, BJP won the state elections in Karnataka-the first time the party won assembly elections in any South Indian state. But in the 2009 general elections, its strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced to 116 seats. The party went on to lose the Karnataka assembly election in 2013.[43]

2014 - present : Resurgence under Modi

Later BJP returned to power with larger mandates in the 2014 and 2019 elections[44] and is currently leading opinion polls for 2024 election as well.[45]

BJP won 282 seats in the 2014 Indian general election, leading the NDA to a tally of 336 seats.[46] Narendra Modi was sworn in as the prime minister of India on 26 May 2014.[47][48] The vote share of the BJP was 31% of all votes cast.[49] This was the first instance since 1984 of a single party achieving an outright majority in the Indian Parliament.[50] The reasons suggested for this included Modi's popularity and decline in support for Congress due to corruption scandals in the previous years[51] while the BJP was also able to expand its traditionally upper-caste, upper-class support base receiving significant support from middle-class and Dalits, as well as among Other Backward Classes.[52][49]

Under Modi's rule, further privatization and liberalisation (especially foreign direct investment) was carried out. [53][54] Labour law reforms were also passed[55], even while Modi refused to sign a trade agreement in July 2014 permitting WTO to implement a deal agreed in Bali, citing lack of both bargaining power and protection to Indian farmers as well as needs of food security.[56] Make in India initiative was launched in September 2014 to boost local manufacturing and jobs.[57] In October 2014, the government deregulated diesel prices,[58] Modi continued the previous INC administration's policy of increasing military spending every year, announcing an increase of 11% in the military budget in 2015.[59][60] On 29 September 2016, the Indian Army stated that it had conducted a surgical strike on terror launchpads in PoK.[61]

Railway budget was merged into the Union Budget of India-the date of presenting the budget was moved from 28 to 1 February and the financial cycle was changed from July to April. Further, the artificial distinction between planned and non-planned expenditure was removed. Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), considered as a hurdle for FDI, was scrapped by the Modi government.[62] Also, 2017 unemployment was at a 45-year high level after demonetisation in 2016 and implementation of GST from July 1, 2017.[63][64] Income inequality increased[65], even while the economy grew at rate of 7.23% for the first four years in comparison to 6.39% during previous 4 years under UPA rule.[66]

The Lok Sabha passed Muslim Women Bill 2017 on 28 December 2017. The act criminalises instant triple talaq with upto 3 years of jail time for the husband. It was reintroduced on 21 June 2019 and passed by both houses by 30 July, receiving assent from President on the next day.[67] The act had retrospective effect from 19 September 2018.

On 8 January 2019, lower house of parliament approved a bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants who entered the country before 2014 – including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from three Muslim-majority countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan) – and make them eligible for Indian citizenship while excluding Muslims.[68]

In response to the Pulwama terror attack, jets of the Indian Air Force struck terrorist bases in Pakistan on 26 February, 2019.[69]

On 6 August 2019, the Supreme Court of India passed a resolution on creation of Ram temple on disputed site of Ayodhya. Modi laid the foundation for the temple a year later.[70]

State/Regional level

Shiromani Akali Dal was formed in 1920 as a vehicle for Sikh conservatism in Punjab.[71]

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was founded in Hyderabad in 1927 as a party which wanted setting up of a separate dominion instead of integration with India.[72] [73]

Indian Union Muslim League is the successor of All-India Muslim League in post-independence India. Its first council was held on 10 March 1948 in Madras (now Chennai), adopting a constitution on 1 September 1951.[74] The party is primarily active in Kerala.

Uttar Pradesh Praja Party was formed in the state of Uttar Pradesh to oppose the abolition of the zamindari system on April 5-6 1951.But the party soon disappeared after 1951-52 Lok Sabha elections.[75][76]

On 19 June 1966, Mumbai-based cartoonist Bal Thackeray founded Shiv Sena as a Marathi nativist organisation.[77]

Current conservative parties

Defunct conservative parties

See also


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