In his moving reminiscences of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, popular Bengali writer, late Chittaranjan Maity, brought to light an interesting episode during the first general elections. A respected headmaster, who was a popular Gandhian and lived a frugal life, was zeroed in as a candidate for the Jana Sangh. Syama Prasad himself approached the teacher with the proposal. The teacher pleaded with Dr Mookerjee, that he was far removed from politics and did know the art of election speech-making. Dr Mookerjee replied that he would not need to give speeches, “that is left to me; you should go from door to door and tell people with folded hands, ‘give me an opportunity to serve you.'” The headmaster won, defeating his nearest rival, a heavyweight Congress leader, by a huge margin. Elections to the Assembly and the Parliament were held simultaneously in those days and the Jana Sangh, despite being a few months old, emerged as the third largest party in the newly formed state’s Assembly. Syama Prasad’s simple and earthy formula had struck a chord among people.
As the BJP, the political heir of Jana Sangh, shaped by its essence and core political ideals, observes its 42nd foundation day, that dictum, that talisman, ‘give an opportunity to serve you’ has become a vibrant mantra for the party with Prime Minister Narendra Modi symbolising its dynamic expression in governance, statecraft and in the transforming of India’s political narrative and direction.
Addressing Jana Sangh workers, who were despondent with the results of the first general elections, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya had advised them to ensure that the contacts ‘we have made with the people of our areas in recent days and months’ do not vanish like waves in water, but make every effort to strengthen them.’ The Jana Sangh, Upadhyaya told the new team of workers, ‘has risen on the Indian political scene as a political phenomenon that cannot be ignored’. Laying out a basic frame-work of programmes, Upadhyaya spoke of the need to set up Jana Sangh units in every village, create electoral machinery, draw up of creative programmes, take up agitational programmes, propagate and work towards becoming an organised opposition party — both within and outside the legislature. Upadhyaya told the party workers, that ‘when people realise that our candidates and party members approach them not merely for the sake of votes, but are with them in their difficulties, it won’t be long before we become their real representatives.’
Over the decades, through various vicissitudes, that basic approach did not alter. A systematic and dedicated approach to these fundamentals kept the political movement and journey going. From being a credible and authentic opposition voice for decades, the BJP has now emerged as the only trusted party for governance and societal transformation. Upadhyaya’s formula was given a new shape and direction, and was imparted a new energy and structure by Prime Minister Modi and the party.
The Congress’s being reduced to a rump in state after state, being wiped out in its stronghold and suffering from a prolonged ideological and political confusion are indicative of the BJP’s impact as a party of governance and as a political entity pledged to bring about fundamental and lasting change. From the grassroots empowerment, to a greater and an actual participative approach, to plugging deliberately engineered systems of leaks and pilferage, to initiating transformative movements – cleanliness, water connectivity, electrification, clean energy, result yielding people’s movement for a self-reliant India, innovations, cultural self-recovery, gen-next infrastructure, greater equity, a dynamic neutrality based on national self-interest and held on national strength, pragmatic wielding of realpolitik – the Narendra Modi-led BJP has ushered in a fresh paradigm of governance and of politics that was thought impossible all these years. For quite some time in the past it was only the Indira-led Congress’s prerogative to play hard politics in order to remain in and hold on to power. The BJP today has emerged as an adept at hard-politics but, unlike the Congress, which had proved to be a disaster on the governance front, the BJP continues to set new benchmarks and achieve new milestones. Each of these new milestones has just one objective and motto, to push India at the forefront as a vibrant and unparalleled civilisational democracy.
In its heydays, during the freedom struggle, the Congress had a distinct dimension which expressed its commitment to societal transformation. Gandhi in Sabarmati and Wardha, Patel with his Swaraj Ashram in Bardoli, Rajaji’s Gandhi Ashram at Tiruchengode and the Congress’s various outreach activities, besides political programmes, signified this urge to serve society going beyond political action and to bring about lasting changes in India’s socio-economic fabric.
The Congress’s ministries in the provinces which had taken office under the 1935 Act, did well in terms of social empowerment, improving lives, connecting dry villages with water, bringing about food sufficiency and more. That these ministries had a social commitment and worked on a serious governance agenda was primarily and solely because of Patel’s ‘vigilance’ and ‘supervision.’
But the Congress behemoth that evolved, post-independence, especially after Patel’s demise, gave up all such activities. It rapidly turned into a family conglomerate, promoting cronyism, spawning syndicates and setting up an intricate network of middlemen whose primary role was to keep the Congress and its family well supplied. Legendary cartoonist Shankar, best portrayed this opportunists-driven crony-system, through one of his cartoons, which, as journalist DF Karaka described, showed ‘a typical opportunist couple in conversation with Pandit Nehru. With a sheepish grin on his face, the man was saying to Pandit Nehru: Well, Panditji, if you can’t spare an ambassadorship, maybe you can give us some extra petrol coupons.’
Many episodes divulged the deep degeneration that the Congress had allowed and how it had corroded the entrails of the Indian republic. Some of them, like the Nagarwala Case in 1971, in which the Prime Minister’s voice was mimicked to withdraw Rs 60 lakh from the State Bank of India; the Bhopal Gas leak and the facilitation, by Rajiv Gandhi, for its mastermind Warren Anderson to escape from India; and the Bofors payback were the apogee of this corrupted, decaying and putrefied system that the Congress had patronised for decades. Jana Sangh, and then the BJP, since its founding on April 6, 1980, kept hammering away at this forbidding edifice.
The BJP’s championing of tribal and Dalit rights, is not a new-fangled political strategy. When Congress mocked it for being just two in Parliament, the BJP’s was the most strident voice calling for social justice and equity. Its admiration and championing of Babasaheb Ambdekar’s legacy is not a new phenomenon. Ever since its founding, the BJP kept observing Dr Ambedkar’s birth anniversary as ‘Samata Diwas’. In 1982, Bhubaneshwar National Executive declared a country-wide movement against increasing atrocities on Dalits while announcing the observance of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary as ‘Samata Diwas.’ The party also directed ‘its workers to engage themselves in a relentless struggle to protect the weak, the poor, the Harijan, the Dalit and the Tribal from all kinds of oppression – economic or social, administrative or political’ and to also ‘engage themselves in some constructive programmes for improving the quality of life of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.’ When the BJP came to power with a full majority government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured that the party comprehensively reinstated Babasaheb’s legacy, not only by erecting some of the finest memorials and museums in his name but also by successfully carrying the most comprehensive and deeply penetrative empowerment of the marginalised and the hitherto disempowered.
On its foundation, and even on other days, perhaps every day, every proud BJP worker, while reflecting on this uninterrupted seven-decade journey, ought to also recall and internalise Prime Minister Modi’s words while calling out the truth in the Parliament, when he said, had the Congress been disbanded following the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi, India would have been free from, among other evils, dynastism, institutionalisation of corruption, casteism and regionalism; there would have been no genocide against Sikhs, no terrorism in Punjab, no exodus of Kashmiri Pandits; and the ordinary people of India would not have had to wait for decades for the basics of life.
To permanently eradicate the effects of these wounding wrongs is the BJP’s goal in ‘Amrit Kaal’. The centenary of India’s Swaraj must see an India liberated from these ill-effects. That is the present and the future goal.