(This is chapter 1 from my book BJP vis-à-vis Hindu Resurgence, Delhi 1997. It shows how disappointments in the BJP government's lack of enthusiasm for Hindu causes is unwarranted: eighteen years ago, it was already clear. To be sure, me too, I had been hoping against hope.)
The strange thing about the BJP is that its voters consider it a Hindu party, its enemies denounce it as a Hindu party, but the party will call itself anything except a Hindu party.
Unlike most critics of the BJP, who tend to make their point by quoting sources openly hostile to the party, we should prove our case by going to its own formulations of its ideology. To summarize the ideological positions of the BJP and its former avatar, the BJS (Bharatiya Jana Sangh), from authentic sources, we will reproduce the brief professions of ideological commitment given in the Constitutions of the BJS (1973) and of the BJP (1992). The summary given in the BJS Constitution under the heading "Aims and Objectives in Brief", a programme to which all BJS party members pledged their loyalty, are as follows (we give it in its entirety, but change the order so as to group the different points under headings of our own making):
1) Cultural nationalism: "Political, social and economic reconstruction of the country on the basis of Bharatiya Sanskriti [= culture] and Maryada [= "limit", ethics]. Protection and promotion of the cow. Use of Hindi and other Pradesh [= provincial] languages as official languages in their regions. Changes in the judicial system to suit the genius of India and fit in with present-day conditions."
2) Political nationalism: "The establishment of a unitary government and decentralisation of political and economic power. Establishment of Akhand Bharat [= undivided India including the Pakistani and Bangladeshi territories]. Complete integration of Kashmir. Liberation of territory occupied by China and Pakistan. A foreign policy based upon enlightened self-interests of the country. Modern-most military armaments."
3) Social concerns: "Protection of the fundamental rights of the individual and the promotion of interests of the Society. Guarantee of the fundamental right to work and livelihood. Upholding establishment and protection of the tiller's right to ownership of land. Ceiling on agricultural land and redistribution of land. Eradication of untouchability. Elimination of corruption. Free education up to middle class. Facilities for medical care and social security."
4) Economic programme: "Encouragement to small mechanised and rural industries. Nationalisation of basic industries. Curbing monopolistic tendencies in the economic sphere. Determination of minimum and maximum expendable income. Worker's participation in the profit and management of the industries. Stabilisation of prices." [Reproduced in Bharatiya Jana Sangh Party Documents 1951-1972, vol.1, p.222.]
Under headings 1 and 2 we certainly find a nationalist programme, considerably more radical than anything stated by the later BJP. Under headings 3 and 4, we do not find the "rightist" policies which the leftists always attribute to the Hindutva forces, but a typical social-democratic programme. But either way, what we do not find, is an explicitly Hindu orientation underlying this programme. One may argue that in its practical application, Hindu social philosophy boils down to an "integral humanism" of which this programme is the logical explicitation; but even then, there should be no reason to be so modest (not to say secretive) about the Hindu source of this orientation.
The BJP defines its ideology as follows:
"Article II: Objective. The party is pledged to build up India as a strong and prosperous nation, which is modern, progressive and enlightened in outlook and which proudly draws inspiration from India's ancient culture and values and thus is able to emerge as great world power playing an effective role in the comity of Nations for the establishment of world peace and a just international order.
"The party aims at establishing a democratic state which guarantees to all citizens irrespective of caste, creed or sex, political, social and economic justice, equality of opportunity and liberty of faith and expression.
"The party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
"Article III: Basic Philosophy. Integral Humanism shall be the basic philosophy of the Party.
"Article IV: Commitments. The Party shall be committed to nationalism and national integration, democracy, Gandhian Socialism, Positive Secularism, that is 'Sarva Dharma Samabhav', and value-based politics. The party stands for decentralisation of economic and political power." [Constitution and Rules (as amended by the National Council at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on 2nd May 1992) of the Bharatiya Janata Party, p.3-4. "Sarva-Dharma-Samabhava" is a Gandhian slogan meaning "equal respect for all religions".]
Upon joining the party, every BJP member makes the following pledge:
"I believe in Integral Humanism which is the basic philosophy of Bharatiya Janata Party.
"I am committed to Nationalism and National Integration, Democracy, Gandhian Socialism, Positive Secularism (Sarva Dharma Samabhava) and value-based politics.
"I subscribe to the concept of a Secular State and Nation not based on religion.
"I firmly believe that this task can be achieved by peaceful means alone.
"I do not observe or recognize untouchability in any shape or form.
"I am not a member of any other political party.
"I undertake to abide by the Constitution, Rules and Discipline of the Party." [Constitution and Rules, p.19.]
I have taken the trouble of quoting the BJP's explicit statement of its political objectives and methods in full, because these official self-declarations and the received wisdom about the BJP are miles apart. These statements can be used as counter-evidence by those who are concerned about the slanderous descriptions of the BJP as "Hindu fundamentalists" standing for "preservation of caste oppression", for a "theocratic state", for "communal violence", if not for "fascism". However, while comforting for those who try to prove that the BJP is a nice secularist party, the cited official statements of the BJP party-line are somewhat worrying from a Hindu viewpoint. Indeed, the word "Hindu" does not figure in them at any point.
Moreover, like in the Indian Constitution, there is nothing typically Hindu about these BJS/BJP programmes. The BJS text still contained some Sanskrit words which could have been replaced with English terms without loss of meaning, but the operative term is Bharatiya, "Indian"; the BJP can do without the Sanskrit altogether (except for one problematic expression, cfr. infra). These manifestoes are entirely in the tradition of Western liberal-democratic nationalism, and most of the expressions used can be found in texts of the American and French Revolutions or the speeches of 19th-century liberal nationalists like Lajos Kossuth or Giuseppe Mazzini. Not that this is objectionable in itself, but from a party claiming "Bharatiya culture" as its inspiration, this wholesale borrowing from the West is not very promising.
The term integral humanism, the BJP's official ideology, was introduced in Sangh ideology by Deendayal Upadhyaya, as a social doctrine based on Hindu instead of Western thought. It was given a universalist rather than a "national" name, which in principle I consider a good thing; "Western" ideologies like liberalism and socialism have not been labelled after their country of origin either. At the same time, a nagging suspicion remains that the term was chosen and promoted as yet another attempt to acquire a "secular" identity.