In 2019, the BJP won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. It is hard to see why it will not win the Assembly elections now because it has so much more resources than the rest (more than 90 per cent of electoral bond money, which is the anonymous but legal funding by corporates to political parties, according to RTI reports) and also the power of the Central administration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised he will bring real change to West Bengal. Perhaps he will. The interesting thing to me is that his party has never defined what this “change” is.
Formed in 1951, the Jan Sangh/BJP manifestos move effortlessly back and forth from grand and formless expression like “national rejuvenation yagna” directly to things like running more trains with third-class compartments as opposed to air-conditioned ones, pushing the benefits of cow manure and asking linguists to introduce technical and scientific terms based on Sanskrit to replace English.
The party’s ideologue, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, did not want the states to exist. In his Integral Humanism lectures, he had said: “According to the first para of the Constitution: ‘India that is Bharat will be a federation of states’, that is Bihar Mata, Banga Mata, Punjab Mata, Kannada Mata, Tamil Mata, all put together make Bharat Mata. This is ridiculous.” He did not tell us that if we removed the states, what mechanism of administration would come between the Union government and the village.
In the first manifesto, the party identified black-marketing, profiteering and nepotism as the country’s key problems. Over time, the Jan Sangh dropped all references to these problems without saying whether they had been solved or had become less relevant to the party.
On agriculture, the party was for “encouragement of the use of mechanical appliances in agriculture”. However, later it said that “tractors will be used only to break virgin soil. Their use for normal ploughing purposes will be discouraged”. (1954). This was because it was trying to protect oxen from slaughter.
In 1971, the Jan Sangh resolved to limit the maximum income of all 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 till it reached 10:1, which was the ideal gap and all Indians could only have incomes inside this range based on their position. Additional income earned by individuals over this limit would be taken by the government. Residential houses in cities would be on plots that did not exceed 1,000 square yards.
In 1954, the party said that it would repeal the Constitution’s first amendment that curbed freedom of speech by imposing “reasonable restrictions”. However, after 1954, this demand disappeared from the manifestos.
Interestingly, the Jan Sangh also said that it would repeal preventive detention laws which it said were absolutely in contradiction to individual liberty. This promise was made repeatedly in the 1950s. In time, both the Jan Sangh and the BJP became the most enthusiastic champions of preventive detention and laws like UAPA.
Even though the idols were smuggled into the mosque in December 1949, there was no reference to Ayodhya or a Ram temple there in any manifesto from 1951 to 1980.
In defence policy, it wanted compulsory military training for all boys and girls, removal of licences for possessing muzzle-loading guns (an eighteenth-century weapon) and expansion of the National Cadet Corps.
Like “Atma Nirbhar Bharat”, the Jan Sangh’s swadeshi meant giving subsidies to local industries and tariff protection. Import of consumer goods and luxury goods would be discouraged. Labour rights, including strikes and lockouts, would be discouraged.
Culturally, the party was against alcohol consumption and called for nationwide prohibition. It wanted English to be abolished and replaced in all spheres by local languages, and especially Hindi.
There is no comment whether positive or negative on the Constitution, which was adopted months before the first Jan Sangh manifesto, or even about the ideals it represents. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had proposed modest changes to Hindu personal law, especially on the question of inheritance for women. He identified two dominant forms of traditional inheritance law and modified one of them to make inheritance fairer for women. In its 1951 manifesto, the Jan Sangh opposed this reform.
While it signals anti-Muslim intent, the Jan Sangh did not have the transparency of the BJP and its open dislike of Muslims. The Jan Sangh was unable to express its majoritarianism as clearly and in as full-throated a fashion as the BJP was later able to.
This was because it lacked a specific programme on the back of which to mobilise anti-Muslim sentiment, such as the campaign against the Babri Masjid. It was not important as an issue all this time. The lack of a mass-mobilisation issue nationally meant that the Jan Sangh remained a minor political player, getting only a few seats in each election. In the last election it contested under its own name, in 1971, the Jan Sangh won 22 seats and seven per cent of the vote, making it only the fourth largest party in Parliament. It was only under Lal Krishna Advani, and then especially under Narendra Modi, that the BJP became the mass-based electoral force it has become, from the cadre-based party that was the Jan Sangh. It is remarkable that this should have been achieved in the absence of a coherent, consistent ideology and even a definition of what “parivartan” it stood for and would bring.