Jan Sangh: The BJP's Predecessor


By Bipan Chandra

The Jan Sangh drew its organised strength, centralised character and ideological homogeneity from the RSS. Also, the grass roots workers, the well-trained and disciplined cadre and organisers and top leaders of the Jan Sangh were provided by the RSS.

Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party has come to occupy the seat of power at the Centre, it is of some interest to take a look at its predecessor, Jan Sangh. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, founded in October 1951, was basically a communal party and has to be understood as such.

A communal party is one which is structured around a communal ideology. The communal ideology is central to it, it is the very reason for the party's existence. Without the communal ideology, the party disintegrates. Also, a communal party cannot be defined by specific policies, for it can discard any of its programmatic and policy elements and sometimes adopt the very opposite ones. Its economic, political and social policies are generally a husk or mask which can be changed at appropriate moments to suit its electoral or other political needs, which it perceives as essential for capturing political power which, in turn, is needed for implementing its communal agenda. A communal party is not a conservative party for it is not committed to the conservation of large elements of the existing social, economic and political structure. It is, however, a right-wing party for it cannot communalise the state and society without strengthening the reactionary, exploitative elements of the economy.

The Jan Sangh could not, however, openly profess its communal ideology as it had to function within two major constraints. Being an electoral party within the confines of a secular democratic polity and Constitution, it had to try to cobble together an electoral majority and therefore appeal to non- communal voters as also obey the electoral laws forbidding political appeals to religion. Second, because of the firm ideological commitment of the national movement and the anti- communal sentiment in India, especially after the assassination of Gandhiji, communalism had a bad odour about it.

Hence, to understand the basic communal character of the Jan Sangh and its politics, one has to first study the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), for the former was a creation of the RSS and had remained under the latter's tight ideological and organisational control since its foundation, especially after the death of its first president, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, in 1953. It drew its organised strength, centralised character and ideological homogeneity from the RSS. Also, the grass roots workers, the well-trained and disciplined cadre and organisers and in time almost all top leaders of the Jan Sangh, especially its secretaries and general secretaries, were provided by the RSS.

Founded in 1925, the RSS was organised on authoritarian and militaristic lines and, functioning below the surface and glorifying violence, it was developed basically as an anti-Muslim organisation. It did not participate in the anti-imperialist movement or wage any anti-imperialist struggle even of its own conception on the ground that it had to conserve its strength for its main task of protecting Hindus from Muslim domination. It grew in northern India in the 1940s because of communalisation of politics during the War years and large-scale communal violence, in which it played an active role during 1946-1947.

The RSS was banned and its leaders and workers were arrested after the assassination of Gandhiji. Though not directly involved in the assassination, it had been waging a campaign of hatred against Gandhiji and other Congress leaders publicly and in its shakhas or branches, it often branded Gandhiji and other national leaders anti-Hindu and ``traitors.'' Referring to them, M. S. Golwalkar, supreme head of the RSS nominated as such for life, wrote in 1939: ``Strange, very strange, that traitors should be enthroned as national heroes.'' In 1947, he accused Gandhiji of asking ``all Hindus to become Muslims.'' Pouring venom, he said the Congress leaders were asking the ``Hindu'' to ignore, even submit meekly, to the vandalism and atrocities of the Muslims. In effect, he was told: ``Forget all that the Muslims have done in the past and all that they are now doing to you... if they carry away your wives and daughters, let them. Do not obstruct them. That would be violence.'' The reference to violence in the end makes it clear that Golwalkar's finger was pointing at Gandhiji. It was this vicious communal campaign of hatred which created an anti-Gandhi hysteria and the atmosphere for his assassination. It is immaterial which group the assassin belonged to.

Keen on persuading the government to lift the ban on the RSS, its leaders gave an undertaking in 1949 that it would not take part in politics. But, in fact, they were quite keen on playing an active role. And since the RSS could not directly enter politics under its own banner, it decided to do so through a party of its own, Jan Sangh, which it could run and control firmly from behind the scenes, through its cadre and organisation men.

Working in the shadows through the `front' organisation gave the RSS another advantage: it did not have to camouflage over-much its basic ideological commitment as the Jan Sangh had to. The RSS was avowedly communal and anti-Muslim. However, its communal ideology seldom found expression in print. It was assiduously, orally articulated in and spread through its shakhas or branches, where its young members imbibed it in its full virulence. The only two major publications of the RSS were by Golwalkar: the pamphlet We or Our Nationhood Defined, published in 1939, and a collection of his speeches and articles, The Bunch of Thoughts, published in 1966. Since 1949, the other sources of the RSS's ideological moorings have been the two unofficial organs of the RSS and the Jan Sangh, the weeklies, Panchjanya (Hindi) and Organiser (English).

The basic guidelines of communalism and the communal approach of the RSS were laid down by Golwalkar in We, where the Muslims were portrayed as a perpetually hostile and alien element within the Indian body politic and society, who must either accept total subordination to the Hindus or cease to be Muslim, as will be evident from the following quotation...

``In Hindustan exists and must needs exist the ancient Hindu nation and nought else but the Hindu nation... So long, however, as they (Muslims and other non-Hindus) maintain their social, religious and cultural differences, they cannot but be only foreigners ... There are only two courses open to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at the sweet will of the national race ... The non-Hindu peoples in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion ... in one word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizen's rights ... in this country, Hindus alone are the Nation and the Muslims and others, if not actually anti-national, are at least outside the body of the Nation.''

Golwalkar repeatedly referred to the Muslims as ``our foes'', ``our old and bitter enemies'', ``our most inveterate enemies'' and so on, and said: ``We Hindus are at war at once with the Muslims, on the one hand, and the British, on the other.'' In October 1991, Balasaheb Deoras, successor of Golwalkar as the head of the RSS, condemned ``the aggressive and divisive mentality of the Muslims'' and accused the secular parties of not hesitating ``to sacrifice national interest and to fulfil even the anti-national political aspirations of the Muslims.''

Consequently, in view of the carefully cultivated communal feelings among its cadre and adherents by the RSS, it was not accidental, as the noted journalist Krishan Bhatia wrote in 1971, that ``the RSS has been behind some of the worst communal riots during the past 30 years.''

On a more popular plane, the Organiser and the Panchjanya continue to this day to publish articles stressing, with greater or lesser stridency depending on the political situation, that the Hindus constitute the Indian nation and emphasising the dangers from schemes of `Islamisation of India'.

The issues which really mattered to the Jan Sangh and on which the party and its members exerted themselves were communal. The party's popular slogans and everyday agitational issues were filtered through the communal glasses or ideology.

THE Jan Sangh was launched as a political party in October 1951 with Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee as its president. After his resignation from Jawaharlal Nehru's Cabinet in April 1950, Mookerjee was looking for a party and the RSS was looking for a leader - the two came together. Ostensibly, the Jan Sangh was a party in its own right and under Mookerjee it did enjoy a certain degree of independence, but even then its spearhead was the RSS and its carefully- chosen cadre who were put in crucial positions in the new party. After Mookerjee's death in 1953, the fig-leaf of its being an independent party was gradually given up. Since 1954, when its second president, Mauli Chandra Sharma, resigned in protest against the RSS domination of the party, the Jan Sangh and its later-day reincarnation, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have been more openly associated with and controlled by the RSS, which has provided them with the bulk of their leaders at the top as well as lower levels.

The Jan Sangh, as a communal party, could not be defined by its economic and political policies, since it could change them with how the wind blows, without hesitation. It did, of course, have an economic programme, foreign policy, etc, but they were not of much relevance to its politics apart from serving its demagogic purposes. For example, it was initially opposed to the Nehruvian economic policies and quite pro-private enterprise. But, later, it adopted quite a radical economic programme befitting a petit bourgeoise-based `national-socialist' type party. It then championed a mixed economy based on planning and public sector, the latter controlling the commanding heights of the economy. It also supported zamindari abolition, land ceilings and land to the tiller, the cause of agricultural labour and of the working class in the modern sector regulation of large-scale industries, nationalisation of key industries, service cooperatives in the rural sector and ceilings on personal income, etc.

For the Jan Sangh, all its economic and political positions were merely formal. The issues which really mattered and on which the party and its members concentrated and exerted themselves were very different, namely communal questions. All the party's popular slogans and everyday agitational issues were filtered through the communal glasses or ideology.

But the party declared itself non-communal and secular and formally admitted Muslims as members. Initially, it also declared that its objective was to work not for a Hindu Rashtra but a Bharatiya Rashtra; but the latter was so defined as to stand for a Hindu Rashtra. Admitting the Muslims was perceived by the party leaders and cadre as a mere formality and technicality - a political manoeuvre. The Jan Sangh workers at the lower level, its leaders in public speeches and its journals promoted in a subtle and subterranean manner distrust and hatred of the Muslims. In particular, they carried on a campaign against the Muslims for their alleged disloyal and anti-national proclivities.

The Jan Sangh consistently accused the secular parties of appeasing Muslims and pandering to their interests. Even a sober leader like Mookerjee attacked Nehru regularly for following ``a suicidal policy of appeasement of Muslims''. On its part, the Jan Sangh declared that it would promote national unity by ``nationalising all non-Hindus by inculcating in them the ideal of Bharatiya culture''.

The Jan Sangh was strongly anti-Pakistan. According to one of its resolutions passed at the end of 1960s, Pakistan's ``aim is to sustain the faith of Indian Muslims with the ultimate objective of establishing Muslim domination over the rest of India as well.'' In its initial years, the Jan Sangh argued for reuniting India and Pakistan in pursuit of its central objective of an Akhand Bharat. The Jan Sangh also accused the government of consistently pursuing a policy of appeasement of Pakistan. Later the slogan of Akhand Bharat was abandoned and even hostility to Pakistan muted, especially after the Jan Sangh merged with the Janata Party in 1977 and Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee became the Foreign Minister; but hostility to the Muslims as proxies for Pakistan remained as before.

The Jan Sangh emphasised the propagation of the Bharatiya culture and the establishment of Bharatiya nationalism. These two terms were never defined except vaguely as being based on non-Western and traditional values. In fact, the word `Bharatiya' was a euphemism for `Hindu' and using it was an attempt on the part of the Jan Sangh to avoid the communal label. As communalism began to grow, the Jan Sangh publications openly started using the terms `Hindu culture' and `Hindu nationalism' and continue to do so. In reality, even the term `Hindu nationalism' was a misnomer and substitute for `Hindu communalism'.

Denying the cultural diversity of India, the Jan Sangh raised the slogan of ``one country, one culture, one nation'' and asserted that all those who did not accept this one culture had imbibed `anti-national traits'. There was also a strong element of revivalism in its talk of Bharatiya spiritual and material values and of the revival of the Bharatiya culture and not of its development. It also accused the Congress of importing foreign technology and promised that instead it would aim at developing ``a self-sufficient and self-governing economy'' by developing ``our own technique''. A disguised opposition to parliamentary democracy and secularism was also intended when it repeatedly accused the Congress of developing Indian political life on the basis of foreign ideas. However, it gradually gave up such revivalist formulations, as also its talk of the Bharatiya values. Their place was taken by the openly communal term `Hindutva'.

For years, the Jan Sangh took a strident stand and agitational approach in favour of Sanskritised Hindi and against the retention of English as an official link language. Later, keeping in view its need for expansion in non-Hindi areas, it quietly accepted the 1965 decision to retain English along with Hindi so long as the non-Hindi States wanted this. It also opposed the development of Urdu in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of northern India. It forcefully opposed the Hindu Code Bills and, after their passage, pledged to repeal them.

Interestingly, the Jan Sangh opposed the linking of religion with politics and did not take up any religious issue other than that of a legal ban on cow slaughter. The why and how of the change in this respect in the 1980s belong to the history of the BJP.

In fact, significant changes in the official programme and policies, as also in the social and regional base of the Jan Sangh-BJP, occurred over the years. Only the centrality of communal ideology remained. And, of course, no party or leadership can be separated from the ideology with which it operates among the people.

Electorally, the Jan Sangh remained throughout its first existence on the margins of the Indian polity. In 1952, it won three seats in the Lok Sabha with 3.06 per cent of the national vote. (The combined total of the Jan Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ram Rajya Parishad was 10 seats with 6.4 per cent of the votes. Thus, the overall performance of the three Hindu communal parties was quite poor). In 1957, the Jan Sangh won four seats with 5.97 per cent of the total votes. This did not mark any real growth of communalism, for it occurred because the Jan Sangh absorbed a large part of the political base of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RRP, the total score of the three parties being five MPs with 7.17 per cent of the votes.

In 1962, the Jan Sangh won 14 seats with 6.44 per cent of the total votes - the three communal parties got 17 seats and 7.69 per cent of the votes. The high watermark of the Jan Sangh before it became the BJP was reached in 1967 when it won 35 seats with 9.35 per cent of the popular vote, with the Hindu Mahasabha and the RRP having disappeared as political forces. Its tally, however, came down again in 1971 when it got 22 seats in the Lok Sabha and 7.4 per cent of the votes.

Throughout, the party did not win a single seat in south India and it lost its political hold completely in West Bengal after the death of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. In fact, its political influence was confined to Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, U.P., Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

(The writer is a former Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

[Source: THE HINDU ONLINE : Monday, May 11, 1998 Opinion]

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