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The BJP's ideology

Bipan Chandra

Hindu communalism and its political organisations remained amarginal force in Indian politics both before and afterindependence.

Hindu communalism as also Muslim, Sikh and Christiancommunalism have, however, grown since 1977. What isperhaps even more important, there has been a certainconfusion among sections of the middle classes and theintelligentsia regarding BJP, the main political party of Hinducommunalism today.

It is not that they have gone over to communalism, but ratherthey have failed to understand the basic character of BJP.

Many see it as some sort of right-of-the-centre ChristianDemocratic type of party with some religious or culturalappeal for Hindus. They also regard it as functioning withinthe limits imposed by its own constitution, leaders andprogramme. Both these assumptions are wrong.

There is also a misunderstanding regarding communalism.Communalism is not a set of specific policies such as thebuilding of a temple at Ayodhya or the enactment of a uniformcivil code. Communalism is basically an ideology, a beliefsystem, a way of looking at society and polity. Variouspolicies acquire a communal character only when they arearticulated with a communal ideology. Communalism is alsonot to be confused with communal violence, which is anindirect product of the spread of communal belief systemamong the people.

A major aspect of BJP is that it is a communal party becauseit is structured around communal ideology. The cadres of BJP(and RSS) the sinews of any party or movement are recruitedand enthused over the years through strong and nakedcommunal ideology. To suggest that BJP minus communalismwould be 'alright', is to ignore the centrality of communalideology to its existence. BJP minus communalism would notbe 'alright', it would be a big zeroand BJP leaders know it. They can sugarcoat the communalideological pill but they cannot function without it.

Many people also think that once in power, BJP would be'tamed' ideologically and would gradually get humanised andsecularised, especially under the leadership of liberal anddecent persons like Atal Behari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani.Such people forget that once an ideology spreads widely andprevails for a long enough period it acquires a life and forceof its own and not even those who nurtured and spread it cancontrol its effectivity.

For example, after 1937, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and theMuslim League propagated an extreme, near-fascist versionof communalism. Suddenly, on August 13, 1947, Jinnahdeclared in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly that therewould be no distinction or discrimination in Pakistan ongrounds of religion. But he and the leaders of Pakistan couldnot shed communal ideology so easily. It was nowindependent even of Jinnah's will. Certainly, as a person,Jinnah had no communal hatred in him. But once he tookrecourse to communal ideology for years, he became asmuch its prisoner as his ardent followers. And even if, havingused it to get into power, he was willing to abandon it, thoseon whose backs he had ridden to power would not do so.Consequently, communal ideology was to become andremains Pakistan's dominating ideology.

Furthermore, and above all, BJP is not its own master. Likeits predecessor, Jan Sangh, it is a creation of RSS; itsideological character and strength and its cadres—its steelframe are provided by RSS. Critically important in thisrespect is the thought of M. S. Golwalkar, the only majorideologue of RSS, whose two books, "We or Our NationhoodDefined" and "Bunch of Thoughts" continue to be the onlyavailable published ideological guidelines for RSS and BJPcadres.

In his writings, Golwalkar usually referred to Muslims as'murdering hordes', 'free-booters', 'the enemy', 'forces ofdestruction', 'old invaders and foes', and 'our old and bitterenemies'. In 1939, he condemned the nationalists forspreading the view by which Hindus "began to classourselves with our old invaders and foes under the outlandishname—Indian". He went on to add: "The result of this poisonis too well-known. We have allowed ourselves to be dupedinto believing our foes to be our friends and with our ownhands are undermining true nationality. That is the realdanger of the day, our self-forgetfulness, our believing our oldand bitter enemies to be our friends."

And what should the non-Hindus do? Golwalkar's answerwas: "The non-Hindu people in Hinds must either adopt theHindu culture and language.... So long, however, as theymaintain their racial, religious and cultural differences, theycannot but be only foreigners... there are only two coursesopen to the foreign elements, either to merge themselves inthe national race and adopt its culture, or to live at the sweetwill of the national race... they must cease to be foreigners,or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindunation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less anypreferential treatment not even citizen's rights.... In thiscountry, Hindus alone are the Nation and the Muslims andothers, if not actually anti-national are at least outside thebody of the Nation."

In 1947, Golwalkar launched a venomous attack on Gandhijiand the Congress leaders for their secularism. For example,he said: "Those who declared 'No swaraj withoutHindu-Muslim unity' have thus perpetrated the greatesttreason on our society." These leaders, he said, were tellingthe Hindu "to ignore, even submit weakly to the vandalismand atrocities of the Muslims. In effect, he was told: Forget allthat the Muslims have done in the past and all that they arenow doing to you.... If they carry away your wives anddaughters, let them. Do not obstruct them. That would beviolence."

It was therefore, not accidental that Indian people turnedagainst communalism after the assassination of Gandhiji inJanuary 1948 they rightly concluded that Gandhiji's deathwas caused not by the act of a few disoriented youngmen butwas the result of the spread of communal ideology and hatredduring 1946-47.

Some object to this critique of Golwalkar and BJP-RSS onthe ground that all this was said and written in the past andGolwalkar has in any case been dead for years. But apartfrom the fact, pointed out earlier, that Golwalkar's writings arethe only published works available as ideological guidelines toRSS and its front organisations, their basic content is dailypropagated orally among young persons in the RSS shakhas.It is also to be noted that RSS and BJP leaders have at nostage publicly or in their two journals, "Panchjanya" (Hind))and "Organiser" (English), disowned or critiqued or evenexpressed their disagreement with any of Golwalkar's views.In fact, tghe very opposite. In thepages of their two journals, the RSS ideologues andpropagandists continue to propagate the basic ideas ofGolwalkar as any perusal of these journals would show.

In contrast, those Marxists and Communists who disagreedwith Stalin's thoughts and politics of the 1920s and 1930shave had no hesitation in making a public and detailedcritique of Stalin. And only then could they convince othersthat they were no longer Stalinists. In fact, the Marxists havealways either defended or critiqued many of the ideologicalformulations of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao.

Lastly, the danger of BJP coming to power is not that it wouldimmediately take anti-Muslim or anti-Christian steps or that itwould start implementing its agenda regarding templeconstruction at Ayodhya, Article 370, etc., or that it would notgive enough or important portfolios in its Cabinet to itssecular allies such as Samata Party, Hegde's Lok Shakti orJayalalitha's AIADMK.

The real and long-term danger is that it would start using statepower to communalise society. The state can through itsmyriad channels, from educational system to mass media andadministrative measures, promote various elements ofcommunal ideology. BJP-RSS can also start penetrating thestate apparatuses, the educational institutions and theinformation channels through hardened communal cadresrecruited and communalised at an early age.

In fact, this is precisely what they attempted even in 1977and, of course, later when they were in control of severalstate governments. They could not go far because their rulein the states did not last long; and what is more importantbecause basic state power in India lies with the CentralGovernment which has been hitherto under the control ofCongress, Janata Dal or the UF.

To learn and understand what happens when communal-typeforces capture state power, we have the experience of notonly Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Japan under fascismbut also of Pakistan where the secular forces find it difficult,and even impossible, to get out of the quagmire after thecommunal forces captured state power in 1947 under theleadership of the mild-mannered, sober and personally decentpersons like Jinnah and Liaqat All Khan in alliance withex-Communists and liberals like Mian Iftikharuddin, Mazhar AllKhan, Maulana Bhasani and Abdul Hashim.



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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .