In This Review

India Before Modi: How the BJP Came to Power
India Before Modi: How the BJP Came to Power
By Vinay Sitapati
Hurst, 2021, 400 pp.

Since the 1920s, Hindu nationalists in India have labored to create a political arm that could win elections by unifying Hindus across divisions of caste and region. This electoral component went through several incarnations, emerging in 1980 as today’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which mobilizes its vote base on a fear of enemies at home and abroad, especially Muslims. Sitapati offers an innovative analysis of the party’s evolution by focusing on the intertwined lives of two of its founders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a member of Parliament and three-time prime minister, and Lal Krishna Advani, a longtime activist, parliamentarian, and party official. Sitapati’s sweeping and richly textured account details how the two initially moderate leaders led the party through a series of victories and defeats, in the process stirring up an intense culture of “defensive violence” among their followers, which eventually led to several tragic incidents of mass violence by Hindu mobs. As the party became more radical, a new and younger leader arose from within its ranks: Narendra Modi, who as prime minister today is driving India in an increasingly exclusionary and authoritarian direction.