New Delhi: 21 October 2021 is the 70th foundation day anniversary of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), considered to be the predecessor or forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is important to understand the reasons for the establishment of the BJS and its subsequent evolution, as it helps one to understand the present-day BJP’s organisational structure and the ideological framework that guides its governments and the party.
It may be underlined here that the establishment of the BJS was significant in post-independence Indian politics as it was the foremost counter-measure to challenge the Nehruvian paradigm of politics and present an alternative paradigm. One must not forget that it was an era where Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and Nehruvian ideological framework was the most dominating and driving force in Indian politics. It was impossible to think at that time that someone could successfully challenge and present an alternative paradigm against Nehru and the Congress.
It has been a long journey for first the BJS and then the BJP. But 70 years later, as we analyse the Indian polity and public discourse, it is clear that the Nehruvian paradigm is struggling to survive, while the BJS’s ideology and programmes based on a non-Nehruvian paradigm dominate both the polity as well as the public discourse in the form of BJP’s policy and programmes.
That is why it is important to look back at the evolution of the BJS as it laid the foundation on which the BJP, which was set up in 1980, later evolved and has finally become the most dominant political force in the country since 2014.
For a brief period (1977-80), the BJS had merged in Janata Party, but the latter disintegrated in 1980 and BJS leaders carried forward their battle to set up an alternative paradigm under the name of the BJP. The organisation had received a new name, but its ideology and structure remained firmly rooted in the BJS’s organisational and ideological framework.
The founding of the BJS
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the founding president of the BJS. One of the key factors that led to the formation of the BJS was the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which never agreed with the Nehruvian paradigm.
The RSS had realised that after a ban was wrongly imposed on it in 1948 after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, there were hardly any political voices to support the organisation when its cadres were hounded and victimised.
When the ban on the RSS was lifted in 1949, there was an intense debate about the future roadmap of the RSS within the organisation. A section of the Sangh wanted it to enter politics directly. Following this intense debate and discussions at several levels, the second Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar decided to back Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s efforts to establish a political party which could challenge Nehru and the Congress.
Dr Mookerjee had resigned from Nehru’s cabinet in the wake of the Nehru-Liaqaut pact between India and Pakistan. Dr Mookerjee had accused Nehru of betraying the cause of Bengali Hindus which were being targeted in East Pakistan in communal violence.
Interestingly, the establishment of the BJS was a unique experiment from organisational perspective also. No other Indian political party has been able to replicate it. Generally, political parties set up their national structure first and then start setting up their state and district units. But in the case of the BJS, the state-level units had already been established even before it was formally founded at the national level. The BJS units for Punjab, PEPSU (Patiala and East Punjab States Union was a state of India that comprised eight princely states. It existed between 1948 and 1956 with Patiala as its capital) and Delhi were formed by May 1951.
In the next six months, provincial party units were formed in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Bharat (Central India) also. The BJS was, however, formally, set up as an all-India party in a national convention, held in Delhi on 21 October 1951.
In the run up to the formal setting up of the BJS, Mookerjee had met Golwalkar, Balasaheb Deoras and Bhaurao Deoras in early 1951, at the home of Nagpur sanghchalak Babasaheb Ghatate. This meeting was significant as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh not only decided to fully back the BJS, but it also loaned out some of its pracharaks (full-time workers) for organisational work to help the newly-set-up political outfit. That tradition continued with the formation of the BJP also and the RSS continues to loan its full-time workers to the party.
The first manifesto of the BJS released in its founding convention underlined the key issues that find resonance in the present BJP government’s plans and policies. Some of the key issues were — promoting Swadeshi economics, ensuring cow protection, decentralisation of power, a strong policy on Pakistan, making Kashmir an integral part of India, promotion of Indian languages, but most importantly doing away with the western framework of decision making at the policy level. The BJS kept its stand largely unchanged on all these issues in subsequent years and continued to focus on them.
The BJS’s ideological approach to address any issue, which is reflected in today’s BJP too, was outlined in the first manifesto of the BJS in 1951 itself where it stated: “The mistaken policies and ‘Abharatiya’ and unrealistic approach to the national problems by the party in power is primarily responsible for this state of affairs in the country. In their anxiety to make Bharat a carbon copy of the West, they have ignored and neglected the best in Bharatiya life and ideals.”
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an RSS pracharak and a BJS stalwart who later became the first BJP Prime Minister summed up the economic approach of the BJS in an introduction he wrote for the first multi-volume set of Party Documents of the BJS released in 1973.
He wrote: “On economic issues the Jan Sangh’s approach right from the outset has been based on pragmatic consideration and not on dogma. It rejected both complete nationalisation as well as free enterprise and favoured a middle course. It advocated nationalisation of defence industries but in respect of other industries, suggested an approach which under overall state regulation, ‘encouraged private enterprise to expand in the interests of the consumers and producers alike’. The three-pronged approach — growth in production, equity in distribution and restraint in consumption — commended by the Jana Sangh in 1951 is as valid today as it was then.”
(The writer is a research director at RSS-linked think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. Views expressed are personal.)