The 2019 manifesto of BJP for the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections, when viewed in contrast with the manifesto of Congress gives one the opportunity to appreciate the extreme state of polarization in the current Indian polity. While the Congress’ manifesto gives one the impression that it was created by someone who has spent far too much in the Far-Left universities in the West, the BJP’s is a lot more grounded in Indian realities.
The great schism is most reflected in the cultural aspects of the respective manifestos. While the Congress’ shows that it has decided to continue its legacy of embracing a brand of secularism that is detrimental to the core Indian identity, the BJP’s is in stark contrast to that.
On the polarizing matter of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), while the Congress has decided to play it safe and promised to withdraw it should it return to power, the BJP is committed to its enactment even at the prospect of an adverse electoral impact. The manifesto says, “We (BJP) are committed to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution.” It adds, “Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India.”
At the same time, the BJP has also committed itself to “protect the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of Northeast.” The BJP has decided to take the hard way out on the matter. On the NRC, the manifesto says, “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment.” It adds, “We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future, we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”
The BJP’s stance on the closely related issues of CAB and the NRC, as illustrated in the manifesto, is consistent with what stalwarts like Himanta Biswa Sarma have been saying for quite a while. Arguably the most popular leader in the Northeast, Sarma had said if the choice was between his religion and language, he would choose his religion as it would ensure the protection of his language. Sarma has also said on numerous occasions that only the CAB could prevent Assam from becoming another Jammu and Kashmir, hinting towards the fanaticism and separatism that rules the latter.
The most significant aspect is the fact that the CAB and the NRC, which seeks to provide refuge to Indic peoples suffering in neighbouring Islamic regimes and protect the indigenous cultural identities of peoples in the Northeast, have been regarded as national security issues in the manifesto. The vision to treat the protection of culture and attempts to prevent a rapid demographic shift as a national security issue requires a certain level of maturity and intellect which the Congress has not displayed in its own manifesto.
The Congress, when it speaks of the matter, treats it as essentially a ‘Rights’ issue and not a national security issue as it deserves to be treated. Its priority is to “ensure that no citizen of India is denied inclusion in the final National Register of Citizens.” It doesn’t consider them as an essential national security matter as it ought to which reflect its lack of insight into the ground realities of India.
On the matter of Kashmir as well, the BJP has reiterated its promise to abrogate Article 370 and annul Article 35A. On the latter, the manifesto says that “the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir.” It also says that the party will strive to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits to their homeland. Again, these are matters of culture, that they are treated as national security issues reflects the difference in the ideology between the two national parties.
‘Cultural Heritage’ has a separate section to itself as well in the BJP Manifesto. Apart from Ram Mandir and the Uniform Civil Code, which have been a regular feature in all the party’s manifestos, conserving ‘Bharatiya Faith and Culture’ and ‘Bharatiya Linguistic Culture’ has been made a priority as well. The Namami Gange project has been prioritized and a promise has been made to promote Yoga globally, something Narendra Modi has worked on extensively even during his first term as Prime Minister. In addition, a ‘Bharatiya Culture Festival’ has been promised which “will be organised on a grand scale every year in 5 different states to showcase and promote the rich diversity of Indian culture” and “efforts will be made for greater participation of Pravasi Bharatiya population and the international community.”
The most significant, however, was the mention of Sabarimala Temple in the manifesto. The mention of Sabarimala is extremely important as at a time when every manner of effort is being made to sow the seeds of division between people from the Northern and Southern regions of the country, the Gods can serve as very powerful means to bring us together. The presence of Shri Ram and Swami Ayyappa in the same manifesto is indeed a reflection of the invisible threads of Dharma that keeps our country together.
The manifesto says, “We will undertake every effort to ensure that the subject of faith, tradition and worship rituals related to Sabarimala are presented in a comprehensive manner before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.” It adds, “We will endeavour to secure constitutional protection on issues related to faith and belief.”
The latter promise could be very significant as in recent times, increasing efforts have been made by Judicial Activists to sabotage Hindu cultural practices by bypassing the democratic process. As we are aware, Western morality incorporated into the Constitution does not have the capability to address core Hindu concerns and offer protection to Hindu practices. A Constitutional provision is thus required to protect the Hindu faith from assault by Western dogma. That the BJP has taken the initiative to promise such a constitutional provision will be welcomed by core factions of the party’s support.
Even the party’s vision of Foreign Policy features a Sanskrit phrase that has become representative of who we are as people in recent times. The manifesto says, “While pursuing our national developmental and security interests, the ancient Indian vision of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ will form the basis in our global co-operation for progress, prosperity, peace and security, especially with friendly countries and neighbours. It adds, “Besides working to secure and safeguard ‘global commons’, we will strengthen our role as ‘first responder’ for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance and develop partnerships for disaster resilient infrastructure.” That the party hints towards India’s Hindu heritage as the foundation on which its foreign policy will be based illustrate the core differences between the BJP and the Congress.
Thus, the BJP’s manifesto reflects the vision of a party that regards the protection of culture and demography as a national security issue. It also lays strong emphasis on India’s Hindu heritage through its commitment to ‘Bharatiya culture’ and adopting ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ as the foundation of its foreign policy. Moreover, the presence of Shri Rama and Swami Ayyappa in the same manifesto is symbolic of the inherent oneness of the diverse peoples of our country.
There are a couple of other issues which could have been made manifesto promises by the part. Repealing the discriminatory 93rd Amendment which actively discriminates against Hindu run schools and freeing Temples from the control of the secular state could have been given focus. However, such measures could have great adverse repercussions. Therefore, it’s understandable that the BJP, being a political party that it is, made no promises in that regard. But overall, the emphasis on protecting the cultural heritage of India and treating it as a national security issue is a positive development. Moreover, the promise to secure Constitutional protections for matters of faith such as the traditions of Sabarimala is very significant in light of the Judicial assault on Hindu practices.