BJP’s 1996 Win: Only 13 Days In Power But A Huge Victory

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    It lasted only 13 days in 1996 but it was a huge achievement for the Bharatiya Janata Party as it was the first time the BJP headed a government at the Centre. Astonishingly, from just 2 seats in 1984, the BJP won 161 seats in the 1996 elections.

    The BJP rode to power on its campaign to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Ironically, it was also the reason the government, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, collapsed in just 13 days.

    The BJP’s victory was aided by a weakened Congress led by P V Narasimha Rao. Although the liberalisation programme had breathed life back into the Indian economy, the Rao-led government was riddled with corruption at the highest levels.

    Rao had bought Opposition votes when he faced a trial of strength in Parliament, and engineered splits in vulnerable parties to bolster the Congress. By 1993, he had mustered a majority.

    But endemic corruption ruined Rao's stability, with cases like the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, cash-for-votes scandal. Senior ministers like P Chidambaram, C K Jaffer Sharief, Kalpnath Rai, Madhavrao Scindia, V C Shukla and Kamal Nath, were also accused of corruption.

    The 1992 Harshad Mehta stock market scam too tainted Rao's reputation as Mehta had used public sector banks and companies to manipulate the stock market for his personal gain. The Congress also lost the people’s support after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992.

    Then, in 1995 and 1996, the Congress split twice and lost many senior leaders. Besides, the party had lost the support of Muslims following the Babri Masjid demolition, while upper caste Hindus in the Hindi belt deserted the Congress in favour of the BJP.

    By 1996, the Congress was weak. On the other hand, the BJP’s seat tally had risen from 161 to 201 due to pre-poll alliances. But when Vajpayee was invited to form a government, not a single MP supported him due to the BJP's track record on the Babri Masjid demolition.

    After 13 days in power, Vajpayee resigned on 28 May 1996. Subsequently India saw two short-lived, coalition governments, under H D Deve Gowda and then I K Gujral, before the BJP returned to power in 1998.

    This time, Vajpayee put together an alliance with those very parties that had spurned him 2 years earlier. In his second stint as Prime Minister, Vajpayee survived only 13 months. The BJP had failed to hold office twice in 3 years but its fortunes were clearly on the rise.

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