Beyond saffron: Revealing their true colours

What Jana Sangh manifestoes tell us about BJP policies today, or what they don't

There is little or no continuity in the way the BJP thinks. Surprised (photo: @BJP4India/X)
There is little or no continuity in the way the BJP thinks. Surprised (photo: @BJP4India/X)

Aakar Patel

On its website, the BJP says, "The philosophy of Integral Humanism looks at the individual not merely as a material object but one who has a spiritual dimension. It talks of integral approach to economic development that has individual at its core that is linked to the family, the society and the nation."

What do these words mean? What does a government and political party have to do with the ‘spiritual dimension’ and, even if there is a link, how can this spiritual dimension be leveraged by the state? How are these words reflected in the BJP’s manifesto or in the BJP’s budgets through actionable policies? If they are, in what way are they missing from the policies of other parties?

Let us have a look at the manifestoes of the BJP/ Jana Sangh, which were published by the party a few years ago. It may surprise readers to know that there is little or no continuity in the way that the party thinks; in fact, on critical issues, it has reversed its position with no explanation.

In its 1954 manifesto, and again in 1971, the Jana Sangh resolved to limit the maximum income of all Indian citizens to Rs 2,000 per month and the minimum to Rs 100, maintaining a 20:1 ratio.

It would continue working on reducing this gap until it reached 10:1 which was the ideal ratio; the income of all Indians, based on their position, would have to be within this range. Additional income earned by individuals over this limit would be appropriated by the State for development needs "through contribution, taxation, compulsory loans and investment".

The party would also limit the size of residential houses in cities and not allow plots of more than 1,000 sq yards i.e. 9,000 sq ft (someone should tell the Ambanis and Adanis this). Tractors were to be used ‘only to break virgin soil. Their use for normal ploughing purposes will be discouraged’. This was, of course, because the party was trying to protect the bull and the ox from slaughter.

In its 1951 manifesto, prohibition of cow slaughter was explained as something needed "to make the cow an economic unit of agricultural life". In 1954, the text was more religious and called cow protection a "pious duty".

The party that champions a uniform civil code today has consistently opposed divorce and nuclear families. Its 1957 and 1958 manifestoes state that "joint family and indissoluble marriage have been the basis of Hindu society. Laws that alter this basis will ultimately lead to the disintegration of society. Jana Sangh will therefore repeal the Hindu Marriage and Hindu Succession Acts".

Its 1973 analysis of caste violence reveals that "in most cases the conflict is not between Harijans and caste Hindus as such, but it is between Harijans and a set of people who are in power and who also happen to belong to upper castes". Meaning that caste itself was not the source of the conflict.

Culturally, the party stood firmly against alcohol and sought nationwide prohibition. It wanted English to be replaced in all spheres by local languages, chiefly Hindi. Most interestingly, the Jana Sangh said it would also repeal preventive detention laws like the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act (UAPA) which (it said) were in absolute contradiction to individual liberty.

This promise was made repeatedly in the 1950s. However, by 1967, it began to qualify the mandate, saying that "care will be taken to ensure that fifth columnists and disruptionist (sic) elements are not allowed to exploit fundamental rights". Over time, the Sangh and the BJP would become the most enthusiastic supporters of preventive detention.

In 1954, the party said it would repeal the first amendment to the Constitution that curbed freedom of speech by imposing "reasonable restrictions". The list of what was seen as ‘reasonable restrictions’ was so expansive, it essentially took away freedom of expression. However, after 1954, the Jana Sangh’s demand that the first amendment be repealed and freedom of speech, association and assembly be restored to Indians disappeared from its manifestos, again without explanation.

According to the BJP constitution, Integral Humanism is the party’s ‘basic philosophy’. It opposes the idea of linguistic states by saying (in Lecture 3, 24 April, 1965): “the first para of the Constitution ‘India that is Bharat will be a Federation of States’, i.e., Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, are all put together to make Bharatmata. This is ridiculous. We have thought of the provinces as limbs of Bharatmata and not as individual mothers. Therefore, our Constitution should be Unitary instead of Federal.”

When was the last time we heard the BJP push for this?

The Jana Sangh was unable to express its majoritarianism as clearly and vociferously as the BJP was later able to. This was because it lacked a specific programme to mobilise anti-Muslim sentiment, such as the campaign against the Babri Masjid. Even though the idols were smuggled into the mosque a few months before the Jana Sangh was formed, there was no reference to Ayodhya or a Ram temple in any of the Jana Sangh manifestos from 1951 to 1980.

Once power was secured, everything that the Jana Sangh claimed it stood for over the decades, including its manifestoes and its ‘basic philosophy’, was cast aside.

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