The “unlikely” partnership of Union minister Bhupender Yadav and economist Ila Patnaik has resulted in a book that not only tracks the BJP’s history as a faction of its founding party, the Jana Sangh, but also gives an “inside-outside” perspective of the growth of the right wing party into one of the most powerful. Its origins as a startup, the party’s triumph over the Congress, its policies, ideology and leaders — Yadav and Patnaik talk to CNN-News18 about their new book The Rise of the BJP. Excerpts from an interview:
One would say this is an unlikely partnership: a left-leaning thinker with a JNU background and someone who has not only witnessed but has been a participant in the BJP’s growth, a right-wing party. How did the two of you come together for this book?
Bhupender Yadav (BY): What is wrong in the partnership if we both work together?
Ila Patnaik (IP): First, you have characterised me as a left-leaning product from JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). I am from JNU and did my masters from there in 1985-87; yes, there was a leftist movement there. But if you have read any of my writings in the last 20 years, I don’t think anybody will call my economics left-leaning. So, I don’t like state intervention, I like markets to work. In that sense, let’s just clarify to begin with, I think the characterisation of what you think as left just because someone studied in JNU decades ago is incorrect.
BY: If Ila ji is from the academic side and I am from the political side, we come together and write this book, I think it’s a contribution because we both have different perspectives but are coming together to research on a particular subject, and we have delivered. So, it is an overall thinking about the perspective of the party (BJP), both inside and outside. I think this makes it a rich contribution.
Let’s go back to the first election fought by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in which they won three Lok Sabha seats — two from Bengal for Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Durga Charan Banerjee. Mukherjee, in fact, was the founder of the Jana Sangh. Why did it take the BJP such a long time to make inroads into Bengal?
BY: After the death of Syama Prasad Mukherjee, the Jana Sangh faced a setback as in the 1950s he was a big name. He was an academic, had his own aura and the government at that time did not clarify anything on his unfortunate death. In this book, we have quoted the note by his mother to Nehru (then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru). The other leaders were all new, we had party workers but not someone strong at leadership. After 1952, Jana Sangh became a part of government after a merger with the Janata Party.
So the journey of the party was long. Nothing happens easily, if a political party becomes successful it involves the hard work of generations, a motive to stand together, an ideological aspect and most importantly there should be an effort to win the hearts of people. So the BJP’s journey from Jana Sangh to this came after 70 years.
In the book you have written after the Jana Sangh’s performance in 1951 Lok Sabha elections, conventional parties started treating it as communal. Do you think that, even today, the approach of political parties towards the BJP is the same, or has it changed?
BY: This is a question that should be discussed extensively. Since the 1950s, Congress and Nehru tried painting the BJP as communal, which I mentioned in the book. The BJP, in its journey, spoke about development, for the poor, cultural nationalism, etc. And Deendayal ji (Deendayal Upadhyaya) was trying to remove the stigma of untouchability, whereas in politics, the term “political untouchability” is being used. It was not because of the Jana Sangh that the Janata Party came to a stop. The Jana Sangh had to sacrifice due to which the BJP was formed. Many a times, there was an effort to paint our party as communal but people of India understood and accepted us.
Why have you called the BJP a startup? On April 6, 1980, certain leaders of the Jana Sangh left the Janata Party but have called the BJP a startup. Why was it called the BJP when it could have gone ahead as the Jana Sangh?
BY: When the Jana Sangh merged, members in the Janata Party believed that the country should run on the lines of nationalism and culture. And Atal ji (former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee), who was a tall leader of the Jana Sangh, felt that if we are questioned on the basis of ideology, it will be better to form another party on political, cultural and nationalist ideology. The Jana Sangh had already merged, so it was decided to name it the Bharatiya Janata Party. But it will always remain a faction of the Jana Sangh.
In the first national executive of the new party, in December 1980, five commitments were made. Today, where does the BJP stand on those commitments, particularly on ‘sarva dharma sama bhava’, when a BJP CM talks about ‘80 versus 20’?
BY: I don’t know in what situation, the CM (Yogi Adityanath) said that. But we have worked for all classes and communities since we came to power. That’s why Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas is our ideology.
You have highlighted pseudo-secularism in the book. What does it mean?
BY: In this country, vote banks are made in the name of secularism. By doing this, the blame is put on the majority community and, through emotional blackmail, nothing good has been done for the minority community as well. Both groups have been cheated. This is called pseudo-secularism.
The book also talks about the incident, a very tragic one, in the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and the elections thereafter. Those were a major setback for the party founded just a few years ago. Do you think the rise of the BJP and the fall of the Congress as it is now would have changed or perhaps been faster if two former PMs, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, had not been assassinated?
BY: There are many reasons for the decline of the Congress. Gandhi ji (Mahatma Gandhi) had said the Congress should come to an end and a new political system should come in the country. We have written in the book that after the death of Gandhi ji and Sardar Patel (Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel), Purushottam Das Tandon became the president of the Congress against the wishes of Nehru. After the death of Sardar ji, the first job should have been to remove Purushottam ji and Nehru was to become the PM and president of the Congress. From then on, differences in the Congress began. Parivarwaad is the main reason behind the end of the Congress. The second reason was breaking the democratic status of India.
When you say that the rise of the BJP was an alternative to the Congress, do you think in that journey, you have also gone off track in terms of your own approach to democracy? Why has the BJP today become hardliner in its approach?
BY: How have we become hardliner? Check the budget, resolution of our party, the speeches by our leaders. Hardliner approach of any party will be in the policy document, resolution and in the speech of the party president.
Apart from the party president, there are other leaders too.
BY: Any individual statement cannot be considered as BJP’s ideology.
In the book, you have quoted instances that say the BJP believes in socialist and secular credentials and it has ensured that it stays on that course. Don’t you think, in the last few years, there has been some kind of shift in that course?
BY: I don’t think so at all. We are still focusing on the pointers we laid down in the 1950s. We have worked to end political untouchability and become a pan-India party. We became successful in doing so. The PM (Narendra Modi) has always said we are entitled to serve the poor and our cultural nationalism is in good spirit of the country.
What about the entire approach towards the economy? The BJP believed that it was founded on secularism and socialism. Does the economy, at present, have that approach?
IP: If you see the welfare activities of the government, do you think that only one community is being benefitted and the other won’t get the money? It’s not the case. We have thoroughly looked at the data, there was no distinction based on caste or various communities. When we checked the schemes across districts, there was no difference shown whether it was a BJP seat or any other party’s seat. You can accuse if you find something but I have looked at the data to see if I can find anything uncomfortable.
What will you tell those who have tried to build a narrative that this government favours capitalism?
IP: This is not a government that believes in state ownership, but even the other parties don’t believe in going back to the Soviet Union days of planning. Most of India after 1991 moved away from socialism, which was ownership of means of production by the state. Making markets work has been the agenda of every party apart from the communist party maybe. It’s not that the BJP is trying to make capitalism work.
Then, in that case, how is this BJP government’s approach to economy different from that of the Vajpayee-led government’s approach?
IP: I think every party needs to balance between growth and redistribution. In Vajpayee’s era, there wasn’t much to redistribute. If you look at the period from 1999-2004 under Vajpayee, you see NHAI (National Highways Authority of India), you see roads being built, you see telecom reforms. What is all this? These are infrastructure for growth. Only when you grow, it can be redistributed. You can’t redistribute poverty that the Congress was creating and that’s why they started floundering. I mean the foundations of what is being done now, redistribute through mobile, Aadhaar, direct benefit transfers, making schemes better, you can do all that when you grow. Suppose you hadn’t done telecom reforms and nobody had access to the internet, then could you have done direct benefit transfers critically needed to get rid of leakages happening in the previous system.
When you speak about this continuity in governance, then why is it that the BJP government does not believe in giving credit to the predecessors?
BY: I don’t think so. If you listen to the PM’s speech on August 15, he thanked all previous PMs for their contributions. No PM has done that. The mistakes that happened during the time of the Congress need to be corrected and we have spoken about it. The mandate people gave us is against the direction chosen by the Congress. There is a difference between Congress and BJP. They misused all constitutional positions while we gave respect to them.
In reference to the 2013 national executive, you have said there were some leaders who were against the elevation of PM Modi as the campaign committee chair. It was widely discussed. Why haven’t you named those leaders?
BY: There was an issue in 2013 because we had lost 2009 elections, but there was a wave against the Congress, the fact that there was another group running the country above the PM, and people thought how will the change that is required going to take shape. The work that the PM did as Gujarat CM was an example but there was discussion about the face for the 2014 elections, which is natural. But then, everybody accepted the Gujarat CM as the PM face and he started his campaign at the sainik rally in Rewari. This is not a book of gossip but a book of historical narration.
You have made the BJP look like a big, happy family but divisions exist. There are conflicting aspirations in any space. What will be your assessment that you have steered clear of the conflicts and divisions in your party?
BY: People have looked at the BJP as a gossip spot but tell me something, have you seen in India any other two leaders who didn’t come to power despite working from 1950s to 1998… Atali ji and Advani ji … I have given many such names who just worked for the party without expectations. When people said Jana Sangh is over and should be merged after the death of Mukherjee, these leaders said we will create leaders from workers. The fact that people worked for decades without asking for anything in return, is it not a sign of a happy family? I am sitting here as a BJP leader and minister, which is a result of the hard work of many over the past 70 years. We haven’t got this book out for gossip.
You have talked about 2004 when Pramod Mahajan went to Vajpayee with a map and said the party will win more seats than 99. To this, Vajpayee had replied pack your bags as the party will be sitting in the opposition. How did he know that?
BY: In our party, there was this tradition that along with the older generation, the new generation should also grow. The conversation shows two people from two political times, one with experience and one who is excited about technology, this shows how much open conversations take place in the BJP. This is the sign of a happy family.
Would you say the 2019 victory was bigger than 2014’s, as in 2014, there was anti-incumbency against the previous government but in 2019, the PM was up against his own performance.
BY: Yes, in 2014, we came to power because of the poor performance of the Congress. But in 2019, we got a full acceptance. After the 2019 win, the PM said we needed to see India as NARA – national ambition, regional aspiration. We got the NDA to work together and did not just stick to the BJP. We focused on distributing funds, policy paralysis, finishing of projects on time as people showed trust in the leadership.
What major difference do you notice in the BJP that was founded in 1980 and the one in 2022?
IP: One is based on the large mass party it has become from the cadre-based party in 1980, it’s so much bigger and it has to take aspirations of people from different class, groups, regions as well as to remain active as a party that is not in the opposition. When you are in the opposition, it is easy to agitate, I am against this and that. But when you are in power, whether in Centre or in state, it’s important to keep your party workers motivated, engaged and the whole mood has changed. The nature of the party is different in terms of activities, in terms of how it infuses its workers, how it pulls in various interests and the fact that it has to be done on a broader aspect. That is why we call it the making of the world’s largest party.
BY: The BJP in 1980 was a small seed that has become a massive tree now. It travels by accepting people from all groups, by giving a helping hand to everybody, by taking into account aspirations of everybody. The 1980 BJP might not have been sure of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ but the 2022 BJP is accepting that request. I guess to nurture this leadership and bring everyone together is going to be the task ahead for the BJP.