Deendayal Upadhyaya’s political commentaries are as relevant today as they were in his days. His sharp observations on the Congress, the Left movement and the aspirations of a nation that boasts of a rich cultural civilisation, should be a guide to modern-day India

In the introduction to his The Jana Sangh: A Biography of an Indian Political Party (1969), one of the few sympathetic and scholarly work on the evolution and history of the Jana Sangh from its founding up to 1967, American scholar Craig Baxter made an interesting observation. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, observed Baxter, “enjoys a unique position among the national political parties of India. It is the only party that has increased its percentage of the popular vote and its share of parliamentary and Assembly seats in each successive election from 1952 through 1967”. Yet, pointed out Baxter, “Despite the party’s strong position, in the Western world it has been undoubtedly least studied and least well known of the major Indian political parties.”

For years now, it has been the tradition or the laid out norm, that if one aspired to earn accolades as an adept of Indian affairs and of Indian civilisation, one was enjoined to develop and demonstrate an expertise at demonising Hindu ethos and aspirations, or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh then and the Bharatiya Janata Party now. An additional mastery at demonising Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi is always considered a surest path to an assured tenureship, academic publicity and back thumping.

Any scholar who earned academic spurs by demonising or weaving an end of the world narrative around Mr Modi has always and invariably been welcomed to the club as a true proponent and torch bearer of a ‘liberating’ narrative. But essentially, this is a narrative that has thrived by generating the spectre of an unstable India under siege. Such a spectre, as I have argued, keeps these narrators and their supporting institutions well-oiled.

The centenary year of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya offers an occasion to delve in some depth in the times and political climate he lived in and largely shaped through the power of his intellect and his deep political acumen and reading. Some of these observations, apart from the political-philosophy dimension, give a great insight into the evolution of post-independent India’s polity and political traditions. As the legendary  Sampurnanand, a formidable Congress Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and a polymath in his own right, once noted, while writing the foreword to a collection of Upadhyaya’s political articles, “I shall be failing in my duty if I did not respond to the request to help secure the fullest publicity to the thoughts of the late Sri Deendayal Upadhyaya and it has to be remembered they are not just anybody’s thought. These words clothe the idea of one of the most notable political leaders of our time, a man devoted to the highest good of the country, of a person with unimpeachable character, a leader whose weighty words swayed thousands… If we do not agree with him, let us treat them with the respect they deserve and ponder over them.”

For a generation of Congressmen habituated to paying obeisance to a single family or dynasty and bent on looking at it as the sole guiding light, those days of political erudition and finesse, which is part of their own history, is of no importance. Political charlatanism and invective-hurling has become the norm for them.

While discussing in his treatise the political direction to be adopted, Upadhyaya, for example, made a very interesting point that is striking. “From time to time”, he said, “Congressmen or others declared Welfare Sate, Socialism, Liberalism, etc, as their aims. Slogans have been raised. Apart from slogans, they have attached little significance to ideologies or comprehensive and integrated though-systems, which alone determine the direction one has to follow. I am saying this on the basis of personal discussions.” Speaking on the formation of “joint fronts” in order to defeat a dominant party, Upadhyaya noted, “I asked, ‘what programme shall we adopt?’ for a joint front. Some idea of the programme is essential. What will be our economic policy, what will be our foreign policy, these questions should also be broadly tackled?” The reply was indeed stunning and if imprinted on the current scenario and reversed, assumes significance. “Do not worry about them, was the reply, ‘Whatever you like you can adopt. We are ready to support anything from extreme Marxist to downright capitalist programme.’ The reply came as if this was natural”, observed Upadhyaya.

Speaking of the Congress, against whom he would have succeeded in forging a pan-India coalition, Upadhyaya observed a similar situation, “The behaviour of various Congress leaders shows one thing clearly, that there are no definite principles, no single direction in Congress. There are staunch communists in Congress fold. There are those who have faith in capitalism and oppose communism to the teeth. All sorts of people are arrayed on the Congress platform. If there can be a magic box which contains a cobra and a mangoose living together, it is Congress.” Therefore, argued Upadhyaya, it was difficult for such parties to evolve sets of guiding principles or to even comprehensively chalk out the forward national direction.

Upadhyaya’s political diary and writings of the period offer interesting insights into the evolving political culture not only of post-independent India but also of the post-Nehruvian epoch. Wit, insight, an earthy connect and an understanding of aspirational India are deeply reflected in his columns. Talking of discipline in the party, for example, Upadhyaya argued that “discipline is to a party what Dharma is to society”, and on what was a good party, it was that which was not merely a collection of “individuals but is a body-corporate with a distinctive purposeful existence different from its desire to capture power”. The other quality of a good party was, argued Upadhyaya, that it should be wedded to certain ideals and all its policies should be framed with a view to realising these ideals. Its programmes had to be realistic and realisable.

Referring to factionalism in the Congress as early as 1961, when the original Congress party still existed and its symbol was two bullocks, Upadhyaya noted with characteristic humour, “It is needless to refer to groupism in the Congress. The two bullocks invariably symbolise the two groups at every level…” His words for the Communist Party  the undivided and dialectically undiluted were equally interesting, and note the prescient, “With its extra-territorial character, a party so well organised becomes all the more dangerous to the nation. It cannot be loved and supported. It has to be exposed and liquidated.”

Sampurnanand was right, Upadhyaya’s writings needed to be pondered over and contextualised. It proffers a multi-hued perspective of Indian politics and of the effort at creating an indigenous political narrative.

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