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Rohit Dhankar


William James in the very beginning of his lectures on Pragmatism quotes Chesterton: “There are some people—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. … We think that for a general about to fight an enemy it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run anything else affects them.” [All emphases added, unless indicated otherwise.]

I was reminded of this quote while glancing through BJP Election Manifesto 2014, and decided to read some portions will greater care. I also had to make another assumption: that what the party is writing in the manifesto is an honest representation of their ideas, views, opinions and intentions. I know this second assumption is false for all political parties in India; their manifestos are instruments of deception and cheating the gullible Indian voter. But I am not socio-political analyst; only an ordinary citizen with a reasonably useful mind. So will use that to understand BJP’s philosophy; and will depend on others for a better deeper socio-political and historical analysis.

From this point of view I paid reasonable attention (cannot spend too much time on political matters ) to the preface of their manifesto and to some selected parts like education, terrorism, cultural heritage, etc. And am sharing my tentative results with friends here.

The vision and philosophy in Preface

The manifesto declare that: “BJP recognizes that no nation could chart out its domestic or foreign policies unless it has a clear understanding about itself, its history, its roots, its strengths and failings.” And yet makes many supposed to be patriotic but false claims: India being the oldest civilisation, unmatched progress in science and technology, universal prosperity, equality and care in ancient Indian society. Paints a glorious golden picture, blames all ills first to the Europeans and then to the Congress. Now, most political analysts will find this a trivial matter, as all parties praise the nation in elections, especially BJP to retain their ‘nationalist’ tag. But then it is again failing to understand the historical roots properly, and is failing to take into consideration the “failings” of Indian culture and society. This is important to understand what is the vision on which they want to build the modern India, and chart out their “domestic or foreign policies”, as per their own claims.

The second point that one sees clearly in the preface and throughout the manifesto is that the modern day Indian culture is a direct progeny of Ancient Indian Hindu, Budhhist and Jain culture. There is mention of preserving cultural heritage of all groups but in painting the heritage culture there is no direct mention of contribution of the Islamic culture. One wonders how it is possible to acquire “a clear understanding about itself, its history, its roots” if one completely leaves out contribution to present day Indian culture made by Islamic culture and even European interaction? BJP worthies cannot even explain as common a food item as halwa and the kurtas they all don without reference to Islamic culture.

They think that “Indian freedom struggle” was inspired by “a clear vision of the civilizational consciousness of India”, the leaders (Nehru not included) “had a vision to reconstruct the political and economic institutions of India as a continuum of civilizational consciousness”. BJP fails even to look properly at the preamble of Indian constitution and recognise that the values there in are learnt and imbibed in interaction with rest of the world; and that here is a clear disjunction between those values and values of caste infected Indian feudal society; the part of our cultural heritage.

There is nothing wrong in national pride; but that pride has to be of a critical nature, recognising what strengths the heritage bestowed on us and also recognising the problems it bequeathed simultaneously. BJP leaves out the second.

The manifesto recognises the need “to arrive at a consensus about the ‘Idea’ of India and also to think and redesign our approach in consonance with the seekings and preferences of the Indian people.” And simultaneously to “[P]ick up the thread from the point where the continuum of our civilizational consciousness was lost and reorient the polity in consonance with those strong points of Indian psyche which will be the engine for our future glory.” As a citizen how do I do that? What strong points of the civilizational consciousness do they want to propose to citizens to consider? The only one that figures is “vasudhaiva kutumbakam”. Good one, but when did the Indian society and powers that controlled it actually used this principle in practice?

If they were open enough not to put all their eggs in the basket of ancient India and Hindu/Buddhist/Jain cultural heritage, if they were open enough to include contributions of Islamic and European thought, if they were open enough to see the civilisation still progressing in global interaction, if they were open enough to see that the civilizational consciousness constantly rebuilds itself; then the possibility of consensus on the ‘idea of India’ would have been much greater in modern times.

But then the manifesto forgets this penchant for civilizational consciousness right after Murali Manor Joshi’s signature at the end of the preface and only uses it where convenient. The economic policy and statecraft has almost nothing to do with the ancient Indian civilisation.

I am not here to analyse the manifesto in full, am just commenting on some of the issues that bother me and may be many other people.

Some principles

The manifesto repeats at several places ideas of inclusiveness, equality of all citizens and ‘unity in diversity’. “India constitutes of all its’ people, irrespective of caste, creed, religion or sex. It constitutes of all the communities – ethnic, social and cultural groups and also our culture, which is defined by tolerance and co-existence. The hallmark of India is “Unity in Diversity”. It constitutes of each and every inch of our land, its natural resources and mental and physical energy we possess. It constitutes of all the institutions made in the past and present.”

And then declares that “For BJP:
• the only philosophy and religion of a Government should be India First.
• the only epic of a Government should be India’s Constitution.
• the only power of a Government should be the power of the people.
• the only prayer of a Government should be the welfare of its people.
• the only way of a Government should be ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.”

Sounds beautiful and very just. But the relationship of a democratic national with its citizens, to many people, and definitely to me, is rather complex. Well, to name it: it is humans first. The nation (India First) is fine as long as it upholds the principles of freedom, equality of opportunity, justice and fraternity; but what makes “India First” is not some ancient loyalty: it is possibility of upholding and fighting for these principles. Therefore, the constitution first. The constitution is the only thing that builds a modern democratic nation. The manifesto gives indications at many places that the idea of India is something independent of that, rooted in ancient cultural consciousness and that the constitution is only a tool to uphold that idea of India.

Two traditional issues: Kashmir and Uniform Civil Code

On Jammu and Kashmir “BJP reiterates its stand on the Article 370, and will discuss this with all stakeholders and remains committed to the abrogation of this article.” Many people find this line objectionable. Actually, personally I find nothing objectionable in it for two reasons. One, special articles of this nature create a fracture line in a nation; and two, they are simply reiterating their commitment to abrogation in discussion “with all stakeholders”. Well, our constitution does give us a right to hold ideas and also to try to convince others to accept them. A peaceful democratic dialogue is within the limits of that.

I also find their stand on uniform civil code unobjectionable. “Article 44 of the constitution of India lists Uniform Civil Code as one of the Directive Principles of state policy. … BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonizing them with the modern times.” The reasons for finding it unobjectionable are exactly the same as in case of Article 370, mentioned above.

Cultural Heritage issue

But their understanding of what they call “Cultural Heritage” as deeply divisive and disturbing. If one really believes that “the only epic of a Government should be India’s Constitution” then what business do they have “to explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya”?

Well, the promised “exploration” might be within the “framework of the constitution” but why facilitate “construction of the Ram Temple”? There is no credible evidence that the Ram as seen in Ramayana and Ramacharit Manas is a historical figure, at the best he is a mythological hero. Mythological heroes are not born in actual brick and mortar palaces. There is no evidence that there was a Ram Temple at the place where Babri Masjid stood till 1992. So why this commitment to a mythology of one religion? How does it square with the principle of “the only epic of a Government should be India’s Constitution”?

Then they have a commitment to Ram Setu, cleaning of Ganga and cow protection as well. One can understand the commitment to protect Ram Setu if there are acceptable ecological reasons; but not because it happens to be seen by some as cultural heritage. One can understand commitment to clean rivers; but not by declaring Ganga as ‘spiritual’ life line. One can understand cow protection on economic and agricultural reasons if there is evidence to that effect; but not cow as a holy animal.

If one reads this section with the preface, then the real import of the preface come through: this is the civilizational consciousness they are talking of, this is the cultural heritage they want to preserve; and that is divisive.

The Hindus

Another divisive statement is “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.” Why Hindus alone? Why not all persecuted people? Does it amount to giving special status to Hindus, which is denied to Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews who definitely happen to be part of Indian population and proud Indian citizens?

On education

There should be a separate article on their educational vision. Here all I will say is that the school education will be dominated by shoddy ideas that played major role in NCFSE 2000 and higher education will be dominated by ‘utilitarian’ values if they come to power and try to fulfil their manifesto promises. Not encouraging at all. But as I said, am not going into details here.

In spite of so many nice promises they make one has to be prepared for resistance and keeps ones fingers crossed if they unfortunately really come to power.