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Bharatiya Janata Party: From Temple Politics to Ram Rajya

As the 2017 Assembly Polls approach, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to have realised that it would be prudent not to make promises about the building of a temple at Ayodhya, except to say vaguely that a way will be found. Operating outside the law is easier when you are not in power. When you are in power , you have to be politically correct. For instance when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, he said on the eight anniversary of the demolition, ‘ On the fateful day of 6 December 1992, L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti were in Ayodhya to protect the Babri Masjid not demolish it’. But he also said, ‘Ram temple construction is an expression of national sentiment that is yet to be fulfilled. The entire country wants the temple. The Muslims do not oppose it.’
Since its formation in 1980, the BJP has had a poor track record in the Vidhan Sabha. It won 57 seats in 1989. In 1991 polls after a spell of President’s Rule it won 221 seats. After that, it has been a downhill all the way. In 1993, the tally was down to 177. In 2002 Assembly elections, the number came down to 80 and in 2007 , fell further to 51. The party currently has only 41 MLA’s and needs 2012 to form the government in the 403-member Assembly.
What is new in the BJP strategy for 2017 is the wooing of the Dalits. To this end, Keshav Prasad Maurya ( born in 1969) was nominated the UP party chief. A Lok Sabha MP from Phulpur, he was associated with the RSS and the VHP- Bajrang Dal in his younger days. Over the years, he faced charges in as many 10 criminal cases, which the party describes as politically motivated. He lost the 2002 and 2007 Assembly polls but is expected to attract OBC and MBC votes.

The record of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh may not reflect this, But UP has always been a fertile ground for Hindu nationalism. In 1905, the Ganga Mahasabha was formed in Haridwar ( now in Uttarakhand) by Allahabad born Madan Mohan Malviya ( 1861- 1956). To prevent the British building a dam on the Ganga at Bhimgauda, Mahasabha organised massive public protests. The British gave in to the pressure and in 1916 signed an agreement with the general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha ( formed 1914) that in the future impediments would be placed in the free flow of the Ganga. Also, that no decision on Ganga would be taken without the consent of the Hindu community. In 2005 , the Ganga Mahasabha was restructured and has continued the work of protecting the Ganga.
The Hindu Mahasabha campaigned for the education, economic development and reconversion. Later it came under Veer Savarkar, who agreed with Jinnah’s nation theory.

One of the parties that merged into the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later metamorphosed into the BJP was the Ram Rajya party ( RRP) formed by Swami Karpatri ( or Har Narayan Ojha) of Pratapgarh in 1948. It successfully campaigned to get the cow slaughter banned in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Mysore.

Before the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 , there was not odium attached to the belonging to either with the Arya Samaj, the RSS or the Hindu Mahasabha in the Hindi belt and Delhi. It was Naturam Godse’s hate crime that put members of the Sangh Parivar on the back foot, so much so that word ‘Hindutva’ and the ‘saffronisation’ started denoting a sinister design.

Most leaders of the Sangh Parivar were strongly influenced by Hindu institutions. Atal Bihari Vajpayee ( born 1942) studied at Arya Samaj schools before joining the RSS and choosing the BJP as his political platform. Similarly, Nanaji Deshmukh, made Gorakhpur his karma bhoomi, working assiduously as RSS pracharak to establish Sangh networks in UP in the late 1940s. He was appointed the political party’s first general secretary for the state.

The Author : Manjula Lal
The Author : Manjula Lal

The most apt appellation for Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the slogan ‘ The man India awaits’ , coined during a nationwide election campaign that made him Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004. As the moderate face of a right wing party, he was acceptable to clutch of regional parties – the Shiromani Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Telegu Desam Party – making him a truly national leader. This was because he was by nature amiable and accommodative, not dogmatic. Having started his career at the dawn of independence, he was fired by the desire to play a constructive role in nation- building rather work for personal gain. Being a bachelor also freed him the usual domestic responsibilities.

Uttar Pradesh should have no hesitation in claiming him as a son of its soil, although he was born and spent his early years in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. His father’s native village was Bateshwar, 70 kilometres from Agra, a religious centre for the Hindu and Jain communities. It is known for 101 Shiv temples built in a row by Raja Badan Singh Bhadauria on a dam on the banks of the Yamuna. Shouripur, near Bateshwar is the birthplace of the twenty- second Jain Tirthankar Neminath. Every winter the region hosts a huge cattle fair. As per the Mahabharata, Shiva took rest for some time under a banyan ( bat) treewhich still stands.

Vajpayee’s first exposure to politics was in August 1942, when he and his elder brother Prem were arrested at Bateshwar for 23 days during the Quit India movement. Balrampur’s rulers were staunch Hindus. . In fact, the All India Ram Rajya Parishad, which had won a few seats in the Lok Sabha in the first three general elections before merging with the Jan Sangh, was founded in Balrampur by a sadhu with the help of the Raja in 1948.
The young Atal started going to RSS shakhas when still in high school in 1939. Till 1947, he worked for the RSS independently running a shakha ( branch) at Shandila near Lucknow.

Jan Sangh was founded in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee with the support of the RSS. Deen Dayal Upadhyay was among the pracharaks deputed to lead party. He was impressed with Atal, who was the editor of their publications Rashtradharma and Panchajanya. When they were both banned , he went to Lucknow and worked with Swadharma. He joined the staff of Daily Milap and moved to Delhi in 1950. In 1967, when Upadhyay mysteriously feel from a train and died , it was Vajpayee who took over the reins of the party.

The party asked Vajpayee to contest the 1953 Lok Sabha election from Lucknow. In 1957, Deen Dayal Upadhyay made him contest from three seats : Lucknow , Mathura and Balrampur. He got 1.20 lakh votes from Balrampur and won. Lucknow failed to repose confidence in him, and he received a drubbing in Mathura. The party won four seats and he appointed leader of the parliamentary party, though still in his early thirties for his oratorical skills. In those days, the time allotted for each party was proportional to its strength , and he learnt to make his point in less than five minutes.

That he was statesman and not just a politician was proved way back in 1962, when he introduced a private member’s bill that sought to amend the Companies Act of 1956, to bar companies from making donations to political parties. The young MP argued on the floor of the house that those in charge of companies had no moral right tom spend shareholders’ money funding political parties:

‘ Why do parties want to donate money to parties? Do the owners of the companies give money to political parties to show they are patriotic? Companies are set up for financial aims and there is no need for them to give money as donations. Political parties know they give money donations to malign politics. Money is needed to run parties but parties represent the people and they should go to the people to collect money’.

Three heated discussions took place before the bill was rejected on 27 November 1964 – as was to happen with all sensible private bills down the years.

Balrampur again sent him to the Lok Sabha in 1967, the watershed year when disenchantment with the Congress had started. Vajpayee took over the Jan Sangh after Deen Dayal Upadhyay was pushed out of train in 1967 under mysterious circumstances. . He wanted the Jan Sangh to be inclusive saying:

‘ The Jan Sangh holds that the state by its very nature is a secular body and therefore it should not align itself with any particular religion or sect. The party is opposed to politics linked with religion and also feels that religious institutions should confine their activities to their particular fields’.

This seems to have been a deeply ingrained belief , for later it would be Lal Krishna Advani and not Atal Bihari Vajpayee who undertook the rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. He was not among the party stalwarts present at the demolition of the mosque, and a bit ambiguous about whether he approved of the act. However, he was prime beneficiary of the wave of the Hindutva that swept across the nation, and ended up becoming the Prime Minister thanks to the mass mobilisation by the Sangh Parivar on the issue.

Vajpayee was loved across the party lines. Nehru encouraged young Atal’s interest in foreign affairs , once introducing him to the British PM as ‘a young leader of Opposition who is always criticising me, but I see in him a great future’. Foreign affairs was his passion and he wanted to make a lasting impression on India- Pakistan relations with his bus diplomacy. He finally became foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government in 1977. Nehru included him in the National Integration Council when it was instituted in 1961. This is where he much have understood the divisive influence of communalism, casteism and regionalism.

Vajpayee’s long tenure in Parliament – from 1957 to 2009, a total of 10 terms- was UP’s loss and New Delhi’s gain. How much would the state have gained had he started out as an MLA and maybe chief minister of UP? But he had a greater future becoming the first prime minister from a non- Congress party to serve full five- year term. Of course this was after a flash in-the pan 13 day stint in 1996.

Vajpayee’s popularity never waned. When elections were held in 1991 elections after the 11 month old Chandra Shekhar government collapsed, he contested from Lucknow and got two lakh votes, about half the votes cast. In the Assembly elections shortly after, BJP won 221 seats in the house of 425. The VHP put pressure on the Kalyan Singh government to remove all legal and administrative hurdles to the building of the Ram temple. The CM seemed reluctant but announced that kar seva would begin on November 18 . Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi toured the state but Vajpayee maintained a discreet silence.

The 1996 elections were the first elections where effects of expenditure limits set by the Election Commission and its ban on loudspeakers began to be felt. He was canvassing across the country, but since he was projected as PM- in-waiting, his bust was paraded where he could not be present. He won with four lakh votes against Raj Babbar of the SP, who got three lakh votes. The BJP won 161 seats, Congress 140.

Vajpayee quit politics after his 80th birthday in 2005. His poor health has kept him out of the public gaze since then.

( This Extract is from the Chapter 7 of the book , In search of Ram Rajya –  A Journey Through UP Politics By Manjula Lal. Published after permission by the author and publisher)

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