The Bharatiya Janata Party’s spectacular performance in the last 35 years has been analysed at length, both by its critics and the commentators who are favourably disposed towards the prime saffron party. What, however, has escaped the attention of analysts is a simple fact: the BJP is the only party of consequence in the country that is not a family enterprise. Many would say, after the results of the general election, that it is the only party of consequence in the country, but that’s another debate.
So, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders call the Congress owned by the Nehru-Gandhi family, they don’t overdo the dynasty element in Indian politics but actually understate the phenomenon.
Just look at the parties across the length and breadth of the country: in Jammu & Kashmir, it is the Abdullahs and Mehbooba who occupy the political space, in Punjab it is the Badals, in Haryana the Chautalas and Hoodas, in Uttar Pradesh the Mulayam Singh Yadav family, in Maharashtra Sharad Pawar’s kin and the Thackerays, in Madhya Pradesh an array of ex-royals, in Odisha Naveen Patnaik, in Andhra Pradesh YSR, in Telangana the KCR family, and in Tamil Nadu the progeny of M Karunanidhi. Even Mamata Banerjee’s and Mayawati’s kin are important and likely to inherit the family heirloom — if any.
When ideas and ideals cease to be the glue to bind a party together, homage and fealty replace them.
Except the Congress, all the above-mentioned parties are younger than the BJP, and yet the saffron party has not been taken over by any family. The party was founded in 1951 by Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-53) who hailed from a prominent family — his father Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee being a public figure. A barrister and then Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University, Syama Prasad Mookerjee was elected as member of the Legislative Council of Bengal as a Congress candidate representing Calcutta University, but he later drifted away from the grand old party and emerged as a spokesman for Hindus. He also joined Hindu Mahasabha and in 1944, became the president.
Though Jawaharlal Nehru inducted him in the Interim Central Government as a Minister for Industry, he resigned from the Cabinet on April 6, 1950, on the issue of the Delhi Pact with Pakistan prime minister Liyaqat Ali Khan. Next year, after consultation with the then RSS chief Golwalkar, Mookerjee founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
For two decades, the BJS was dominated by Deendayal Upadhyaya, the party’s chief ideologue, and Balraj Madhok, the party president who got expelled in 1973. The next four decades were dominated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, paving the path for the dominance of the Modi-Amit Shah duo.
There have been debates, even bitter ones, and differences between leaders, there have been personality clashes, dirty tricks, unscrupulous politicking, shenanigans in the BJS-BJP — things that happen in other parties as well. What made the BJP the ‘party with a difference’ was the fact that it was never appropriated by a leader and his family. There have been children of important BJP leaders who have made it good — Jayant Sinha and Anurag Thakur are examples. While such persons can be called privileged in a sense, they were never privileged enough to take over the party. Sinha is a junior minister, whereas Thakur is yet to enter the Council of Ministers.
How and why did it happen? This happened because of ideas, ideals, and ideology. In these cynical times, everybody says politics is all about power, in pursuit of which means don’t matter. Gone are the days of Mahatma Gandhi, we are told, when there were debates about the harmony between means and ends; now ends justify means. Realpolitik is politics; morality is just a mask, to be worn to fool people. Period. While this is true more often than not, the importance of ideas, ideals, and ideologies can scarcely be ignored.
The BJP is the only important party in the country that is devoted to an ideology, that of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. This is not to say that BJP leaders are the paragons of perfection, always committed to the tenets of integral humanism as propounded by Upadhyaya. Quite the contrary, most of their policies, programmes, and practices are dictated by the imperatives of expedience rather than that of doctrinal considerations.
In fact, Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, an anthology of four lectures that he delivered in April 1965, is more of a bundle of standard homilies and unexceptional statements than a cohesive ideology. At best, it can be called an idea of Hindu India rather than a comprehensive political philosophy. It is a measure of the intellectual deficit of the ruling party that after more than half a century of the publication of that book, nothing substantive has appeared that elucidates, let alone redefines and recalibrates, Upadhyaya’s principles.
Yet, there was an idea, however vague and nebulous, however platitudinous and impractical. Few BJP members have read the book, fewer adhere to it, but some kind of idea is there; and the party remains oriented around it.
It is interesting to note that the parties devoted to ideology are on the other side of the ideological spectrum — communist parties. Today, they are on the verge of extinction, but not before ensuring that their statist doctrines, especially pertaining to economic policy, got imbibed by the bigger parties, including the BJP, which is now wedded to statism.
So, we have a curious spectacle: the supposedly Right-wing colossus, the BJP, implementing the supposedly discredited socialist ideas. But then, such is the power of ideas.
(The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed in the article are personal)