The BJP: A crisis of identity

Print edition : December 16, 2005

WHICH anniversary will the Sangh Parivar's political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), be celebrating this month in Mumbai? The Punjab Hindu Sabha convened a meeting in Allahabad in December 1913 at which the All-India Hindu Mahasabha was set up; the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) came into being on September 27, 1925. When Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who had taken over as president of the Mahasabha from V.D. Savarkar in 1943, set up the Jana Sangh on October 21, 1951, under a pact with the RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar, Jawaharlal Nehru justly called the Jana Sangh the "illegitimate child of the RSS" (The Hindu, January 6, 1952).

In this, Nehru was not being vituperative, but simply accurate. Mookerjee had practised fraud on the nation and Nehru was out to expose it. As his Cabinet colleague, from August 15, 1947, to April 1950, Mookerjee was privy to a lot on which he reneged later; to the adoption of Article 370 on Kashmir, for instance, as Sheikh Abdullah's letter of February 4, 1953, sharply reminded him. He was privy, above all, to a resolution which the Constituent Assembly unanimously adopted on April 3, 1948, in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination through a conspiracy of which Savarkar was a member as Justice J.L. Kapur of the Supreme Court held.

The Constituent Assembly's resolution read thus: "Whereas it is essential for the proper functioning of democracy and the growth of national unity and solidarity that communalism should be eliminated from Indian life, this Assembly is of the opinion that no communal organisation which by its constitution or by the exercise of discretionary power vested in any of its officers or organs, admits to or excludes from its membership persons on grounds of religion, race and caste, or any of them, should be permitted to engage in any activities other than those essential for the bonafide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community, and that all steps, legislative and administrative, necessary to prevent such activities should be taken."

The resolution concentrated on form but overlooked the substance. A rabidly communal body could have mercenaries from other faiths as members without diluting its ideology. The resolution should have covered propagation of communal hate, as a resolution passed by the National Integration Council on October 16, 1969, did.

Mookerjee seized on this loophole. When the Hindu Mahasabha rejected his advice to admit non-Hindus as members, he turned to the RSS and struck a deal with it. Formally, the Jana Sangh would admit all to its membership; but it would reflect the ideology and ideas of the RSS which Mookerjee fully approved. Golwalkar would provide the cadres and officials, the muscle, and acquire a political front. Mookerjee would acquire a platform and a party to contest the 1952 general elections.

Mookerjee was deceitful to the core. When the issue of Hindu Rashtra came up in the preliminary talks, "he was opposed to the word being imposed on those who were not, for the time being, prepared to accept it. He, therefore, suggested that the word Bharatiya and Indian, which are synonymous of the word Hindu but are more acceptable to those under the influence of the West, as also to those who lack courage of conviction, should also be used along with the word Hindu till such people shed their inferiority complex and learn to take pride in their own name and traditions", his close associate in those days, Balraj Madhok, candidly admitted (Portrait of a Martyr; page 160). (Emphasis added throughout.)

The deceit is obvious. "Indian" or "Bharatiya" are not synonymous with "Hindu". The first two denote a nation; the last denotes a community. Only the Sangh Parivar treats them as being synonymous. Hence, Madhok's reference to the "cowardice" of the rest. This proves the truth of Nehru's perceptive remarks on January 5, 1961: "When the minority communities are communal, you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority community is apt to be taken for nationalism." The parivar rejects "territorial nationalism" - which regards all born in India as its nationals. The manifestos of the RSS and the BJP advocate "cultural nationalism" by which its president L.K. Advani still swears (October 16, 2005).

Mookerjee's prescription for Muslims was kept secret. "The Muslim problem, he was convinced, could be solved in free India, once [and] for all, if the outlook on cultural, social and political problems of the country was Hinduised or nationalised while leaving them free... to carry on their religion... ." (Madhok, page 93).

Deceit remained a constant companion of the parivar. A pledge forgotten by all bears recalling. During the Emergency, representatives of the Lok Dal, Congress (O), Socialist Party and the Jana Sangh met at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters at 7, Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, on July 8, 1976. The minutes record: "Choudhary Charan Singh raised the question of the RSS. He was opposed to its inclusion in the new party... Shri O.P. Tyagi said (on behalf of the Jana Sangh) that the new party can lay down whatever conditions it saw fit. Currently the RSS was banned and it stood dissolved" (The Janata - People's Struggle; Dhirendra Sharma; 1977; page 305). In 1980, when the Janata Party tried to do just that, the Jana Sanghis left the party and formed the BJP on April 5, 1980. Its first plenary session was held in Bombay (now Mumbai) on December 28-30, 1980. Is this anniversary being celebrated now?

Why did they not revive the Jana Sangh? Because it was totally discredited. Instead, as Geeta Puri recalls, at the plenary "A.B. Vajpayee linked the emergence of Bharatiya Janata Party with JP's [Jayaprakash Narayan's] vision of a glorious India". He said J.P.'s "dreams, his labour, his struggle and his unflinching commitment to certain values are a part of [an] invaluable legacy that we have inherited. The BJP is pledged to pursuing his unfinished tasks". The Jana Sangh was revived under false colours to deceive the nation.

Vajpayee and Advani left the Janata Party on the issue of the RSS' membership and claimed they were carrying forth JP's legacy, whereas the BJP has been "pursuing" V.D. Savarkar's "unfinished tasks". Mookerjee pleaded on Savarkar's behalf with Vallabhbhai Patel on May 4 and July 17, 1948, by which time the police in Bombay had collected material enough that implicated him. Patel's replies of May 6 and July 18 could not have pleased him (Sardar Patel's Correspondence, Volume 6; pages 63-65 and 320-324).

After Gandhi's assassination, both the RSS and the Mahasabha had come under a cloud. Their leaders "could not come out and face the public. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was then president of the Hindu Mahasabha and a Minister in the Union government. He dared not come out of his house and after some time resigned from the Mahasabha" only to set up the Jana Sangh (India Wins Freedom; Maulana Abul Kalam Azad; page 224).

Geeta Puri brings the narrative right down to the BJP's loss of power at the Centre in 2004 in a virtual text book on the party with its copious quotations from its pronouncements. Zoya Hasan's collection of essays by noted scholars, excerpted from their works, is a deserved celebration of India's democracy, its pluralism and resilience. They are grouped under five heads - the fortunes of the Congress; the rise and growth of Hindu nationalist politics; the Left; social diversity and party politics in which the Janata Party phase is discussed; and lastly, political competition and transformation of the party system. The BJP, the "party with a difference" which is opposed to the fundamentals of the national consensus fits uncomfortably in this system. If there is little hope that it will eventually, it is because it is, indeed, different - a party under the control of another group, the RSS. Of the same genre is Christophe Jaffrelot's collection of essays, by scholars excerpted from their works, in order to provide "a Reader" on the subject. Introductions by the editors knit the essays together.

William Gould's work is based on original and painstaking research. It is a sharp critique of what Nehru called the Congress "flabbiness" on the Sangh Parivar for which the country has paid a heavy price. The focus is on Northern India. On November 5, 1940, one of the leading lights of the Congress who was elected its president, Purshottam Das Tandon, tried to persuade students at the Allahabad University "to follow the example of German students in their admiration of the Fuhrer". The author rejects the argument that in the Indian context secularism is inherently flawed. "Congresssmen's ideas about Indian traditions helped them to create a theoretical model for the United Indian Nation. A latent sense of the Hindu Nation could exist alongside `secularism' in the creation of a national political culture. Whilst many of the most ardent secularists were least able to acknowledge the effect of Hindu nationalist ideologies and political languages, this was not necessarily a reflection on the quality of their `secularism', which obviously could continue to have a powerful and successful effect on political organisation. Yet Hindu nationalist ideologies and a Hindu idiom did affect and contribute to communal conflict in U.P. [United Provinces] in the 1930s and 1940s... .

"This has a bearing on contemporary debates about the fate of secularism. BJP power in the 1990s and 2000s and its (frequently challenged) assumption of the leadership of Indian nationalism is less surprising if Hindu nationalism is considered as a political language which had particular significance within the U.P. Congress... . Upper caste urban and rural elites in north India decided that a weakened, indecisive Congress could no longer be relied upon to help them maintain social status in the context of caste awards and reservations. A further question is how institutions of the Hindu right were able to take advantage of the political space created by Congress decline, not just from the point of view of direct electoral support, but by suggesting that its own ideologies were not inconsistent with Indian secularism. In other words, how have the Sangh Parivar and institutions of the Hindu right been able to champion themselves as the harbingers of `true' Indian secularism?"

WHAT distinguishes the Hindu right from the mainstream is their profoundly different legacy. No Congressman propounded the two-nation theory or advocated partition of India as a Mahasabha leader did nearly a century ago; perhaps the first to do so. He was Lala Lajpat Rai.

Craig Baxter's definitive work The Jana Sangh (1969) refers to the Mahasabha as the Jana Sangh's "political ancestor" and the RSS as its "ideological and organisational ancestor". The Mahasabha's president in 1933, Parmanand, said: "Hindustan is the land of the Hindus alone, and the Musalmans and Christians and other nations [sic.] living in India are only our guests. They can live here as long as they wish to remain as guests." On November 5, 2005, the RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan urged an "Indianisation" of Islam and Christianity. To Mookerjee, "Bengali Muslims were, by and large `a set of converts' from the dregs of Hindu society" (Bengal Divided; Joya Chatterji; page 189).

It was only during December 11-16, 1938, that the Congress' Working Committee barred members of the Mahasabha and the Muslim League from its membership and enforced Article V (C) of its constitution ("a communal organisation the object or programme of which involves political activities which in the opinion of the Working Committee are anti-national and in conflict with those of the Congress").

The veteran socialist Prem Bhasin wrote in Janata, a weekly founded by J.P. in Mumbai which is still going strong under another veteran socialist G.G. Parikh's editorship: "A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed, even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a United Independent India" (Annual Number, 1998). He mentioned two of the prominent ones - Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lajpat Rai, both scholars who stood head and shoulder above Mookerjee. Unlike him they were motivated by fear, not hate, and were men of stature who did not become Ministers under the Raj, as he did.

But it was a divisive legacy they bequeathed. As far back as on October 21, 1909, Lajpat Rai said "the Hindus are a nation in themselves because they represent a type of civilisation all their own". He added "between Indian communities, I will be a Hindu first and an Indian afterwards, but of India or even in India as against non-Indians, I am and shall ever be an Indian first and a Hindu afterwards" (The Collected Works of Lala Lajpat Rai; Volume 4; pages 159 and 168).

In an article in the Tribune of December 14, 1924, he advocated partition of India. It bears quotation in extenso: "My suggestion is that the Punjab should be partitioned into two provinces, the Western Punjab with a large Muslim majority, to be a Muslim-governed Province; and the Eastern Punjab, with a large Hindu-Sikhs majority, to be a non-Muslim governed province. I do not discuss Bengal. To me, it is unimaginable that the rich and highly progressive and alive Hindus of Bengal will ever work out the Pact agreed to by Mr. [Chittaranjan] Das. I will make the same suggestion in their case, but if Bengal is prepared to accept Mr. Das's pact, I have nothing to say. It is its own look-out.

"Maulana Hasrat Mohani has recently said that the Muslims will never agree to India's having Dominion status under the British. What they aim at are separate Muslim states in India, united with Hindu states under a National Federal government. He is also in favour of smaller states containing compact Hindu and Muslim populations. If communal representation with separate electorates is to be the rule, then Maulana Hasrat's scheme as to smaller provinces seems to be the only workable proposition. Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim states: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier, (2) Western Punjab, (3) Sindh and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India."

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar pointed out that while advocating the two-nation theory Savarkar opposed partition as well. The theory is intrinsically pernicious and divisive: "It would not have been a matter of such concern if inconsistency was the only fault of Mr. Savarkar. But Mr. Savarkar in advocating the scheme is really creating a most dangerous situation for the safety and security of India" (Pakistan or the Partition of India, 1946; page 133).

This explains the RSS' plank of Akhand Bharat and its twin, Hindutva. A party wedded to this creed can never be democratic, especially if it accepts subservience to a fascist volunteer organisation.

L.K. Advani is the third president of the RSS' political arm to be sacked by the RSS. All three were devotees of the RSS. Their offence was not ideological deviation but attempt at organisational independence. Hence, the sack. Mauli Chandra Sharma's statement on his resignation on November 3, 1954, could well have been issued by Advani in 2005. It bears quotation in full: "Acute differences of opinion on the question of interference by the RSS in the affairs of the Jana Sangh have been growing for over a year. Many RSS workers have entered the party since its inception. They were welcomed, as RSS leaders had publicly declared it was a purely cultural body having nothing to do with politics and that its members were perfectly free to join any political party. In practice, however, it did not prove to be so.

"The late Dr. Mookerjee was often seriously perturbed by the demands of RSS leaders for a decisive role in matters like the appointment of office-bearers, nomination of candidates for elections and matters of policy. We however hoped that the rank and file of the RSS would be drawn out into the arena of democratic public life through their association with the Jana Sangh.

"A vigorous and calculated drive was launched to turn the Jana Sangh into a congenient handle of the RSS. Orders were issued from their headquarters through their emissaries and the Jana Sangh was expected to carry them out. Many workers and groups all over the country resented this and the Delhi State Jana Sangh as a body refused to comply" (The Statesman, November 4, 1954).

Balraj Madhok dubbed Sharma guilty of "betrayal". He himself was given the order of the boot by Advani on March 13, 1973. Before the expulsion, the Jana Sangh's president sent the show-cause notice to Madhok, a former president, with a peon. The Sanghis excel in both inflicting and suffering humiliation. In an interview to Geeta Puri, Madhok, who had hitherto lavished extravagant praise on the RSS, said: "After I became president of Delhi Pradesh Jana Sangh, I could not tolerate too much interference by the RSS in party affairs. In 1962, I refused to accept organising secretary of RSS to share the burden of my work, and as a president I always endeavoured to create my own cadre of workers to avoid my dependence on RSS hard-core. The RSS though ideologically nearer to me, did not like this assertion of too much independent thinking on my part and they considered me as a dissenter. The RSS had a vital role in my expulsion from the party" (Bharatiya Jan Sangh; Geeta Puri; Sterling; page 53).

Advani's announcement, in Chennai on September 18, 2005, at the BJP National Executive, that he would step down as president at the National Council session in Mumbai this month was coupled with this complaint. "An impression has gained ground that no political or organisational decision can be taken without the consent of the RSS functionaries." He was being too clever by half, especially when he added that "the RSS too must be concerned" at such a "perception" (The Hindu, September 19). The RSS has no quarrel with the perception which accurately reflects the reality, as Advani knew all too well. A month later, on October 16, Advani waxed eloquent on "cultural nationalism" (The Hindu, October 17) in order to stave off the ouster. In his hour of need, in the good Sanghi tradition, none rallied around him.

It is too late in the day for the BJP to cavil at the RSS' control. Its top leaders themselves facilitated this for over half a century so long as the victim of the RSS' ire was someone else. They served as the RSS' tool enthusiastically. The BJP's ideological legacy is as oppressive as its organisational heritage. It cannot shed either. It will never grow.

Hindutva Politics in India: Genesis, Political Strategies and Growth of Bharatiya Janata Party by Geeta Puri; UBSPD; pages 516, Rs.595.

Parties and Party Politics in India edited by Zoya Hasan; Oxford University Press; pages 566, Rs.325.

The Sangh Parivar: A Reader edited by Christophe Jaffrelot; Oxford University Press; pages 445, Rs.675.

Hindu Nationalism and the Language of Politics in Late Colonial India by William Gould; Cambridge University Press, distributed by Foundation Books; pages 302, Rs.695.

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor