The BJP's promise of ‘integral humanism’
Why all members, fans and followers of the ruling party should come to grips with the party's own constitution
On the third page of its constitution, the Bharatiya Janata Party lays out its conditions for membership: ‘Any Indian citizen of 18 years or above who accepts Articles II, III and IV of the Constitution shall, on making a written declaration… become a member’ of the BJP. What are these things that are important enough to make a written declaration?
Article II of the BJP constitution concludes with the lines ‘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…’.
Article IV says the party commits itself to a ‘Gandhian approach to socio-economic issues leading to [the] establishment of [an] egalitarian society free from exploitation’. It goes on to say that the ‘party stands for decentralisation of economic and political power’. [All emphases above this author’s.]
How do any of these values compare to the way the party today actually conducts itself? That would be interesting to see, but that is for another time. The subject of today’s column is Article III, a single line which reads: ‘Integral Humanism shall be the basic philosophy of the party.’
What is ‘integral humanism’ per the BJP playbook?
‘Integral Humanism’ is defined and elaborated in the text of four lectures given by Deendayal Upadhyaya in Bombay between 22 and 25 April 1965.
Upadhyaya held a bachelor’s degree in arts and was a journalist at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) house publication, Panchjanya. He was about 50 when he gave these lectures and became president of the Jana Sangh (the BJP’s precursor) a couple of years after he delivered them. The following is a summary of the argument that Upadhyaya presents in the Bombay speeches:
The cause of the problems facing Bharat is a neglect of national identity, he says. The nation is like an individual and becomes ill if its natural instincts are disregarded or suppressed. He claimed that 17 years after Independence, India was still undecided about the direction it would take to realise its development. Independence was meaningful, he held, only if it was an instrument to express its culture.
He saw at the time that the focus in India was on episodic problems: economic, social and political. This was because India adopted a Western way of looking at economic, social and political doctrines, along with Western science, he said.
Westernisation had become synonymous with progress for Indians; yet, he argued, the West was also unable to reconcile nationalism, democracy and socialism. These were all essentially Western ideals and they were all in conflict with one another. These ideologies were not universal, nor free from the limitations of the particular people and cultures which gave birth to these isms either. (He also spoke of Ayurveda arguing that we need to find local cures to local diseases, and suggested that surely Bharatiya culture could provide a solution for global health in this regard.)
Dharma is given foremost place in Bharatiya culture, according to Upadhyaya’s lectures. Dharma is to be understood here as the natural law that is eternal and universally applicable. Dharma is those ethics that teach us not to lie, not to fight. When nature is channelled according to the principles of dharma, he said, there is culture and civilisation.
Now comes a key assertion: Dharma is higher than the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, and it is also higher than the people. If out of 450 million Indians, all except one voted for something, it would still be wrong if it was against dharma. The people have no right to act against dharma.
It follows from this that the words ‘secularism’ or ‘dharmanirapeksha (the Hindi phrase for secularism, meaning ‘that which is not dependent on dharma’) used in the Constitution are wrong and bad because dharma is a necessary condition for the State. That which is not based on dharma is unacceptable and therefore ‘secularism’ is fatally flawed.
National unity is India’s dharma, he argued, and so diversity was problematic. For this reason, he held, India’s Constitution needed to be changed from federal to unitary with no legislative powers for the states, only for the Centre.
Conflict between individuals and institutions of society is a sign of decadence and perversion, continued Upadhyaya—the West was wrong to see the adversarial relationship between the individual and the state as the reason for progress.
The individual was made up of body, mind, intelligence and soul. A human being is born with a soul; but personality, soul and character are different from one another. A person’s soul is unaffected by personal history.
However, national culture is continuously modified by history. Culture includes all the things held as good and commendable, but it does not affect ‘chiti’, the national soul. India’s national soul is fundamental and central, to Upadhyaya. Chiti determines the direction of cultural advancement. It filters out what is to be excluded from the national culture.
Societies too are animate, according to this lecture series, and a society too has a body, mind, intellect and soul.
Some Westerners were beginning to accept this truth, he said. One of them, William McDougall, said that a group had a mind and a psychology, its own methods of thinking and acting, just as an individual did. Societies have an inborn nature that is not based on their history; events do not affect it. This group nature is like the soul in individuals, which is also unaffected by history. (This group mentality sounds like a mob mentality—but developed over a longer period.)
The nation, Upadhyaya says, needs both an ideal and a motherland, and only then is it a nation. And the State only exists to protect this nation which has an ideal and a motherland.
This was the message of the four lectures. It is not easy to figure out what the meaning of it all is, however.
What, for instance, is the difference between mind and intelligence? What is a soul? How are these three separate from a body? What does it mean that personality, soul and character are all distinct from one another? And what is the role of a political party and of a government in any of this?
The national soul, chiti, and the group mind (national hive mind?) are of course not scientific phenomena and the works of William McDougall are not science either (he thought, like Upadhyaya did, that the mind influenced evolution).
However, one does wonder how many BJP members who sign the written declarations saying they accept ‘Integral Humanism’ as their ‘basic philosophy’ actually understand what it is that they have accepted.
Views are personal