Through his profound thinking and writings, Deendayal Upadhyaya succeeded in evolving as perhaps one of the most detailed and comprehensive critics of the Nehruvian consensus, allowing alternate political movements to crystallise as a credible option
The spark of uncommonness shone early in Deendayal Upadhyaya’s life; it is said that when dacoits struck one night at their house, and flung ‘Deena’ on the floor and trampled his chest, threatening to kill him if all valuables in the house were not surrendered, the young man told them he had heard dacoits looted the rich and protected the poor. “But you are killing me, a poor boy.” Struck by such direct and disarming indictment, the bandit leader and his gang reportedly abandoned their looting plans.
Empathy for the marginalised and a strong sense of rectitude formed the other defining aspect of his character. The late Nana Deshmukh, the other stalwart of the Jana Sangh movement who later gave up politics to focus on national rural reconstruction, once recalled how Upadhyaya, disturbed at having inadvertently given a bad coin to a poor vegetable seller, returned to find it and change it for her. “A sense of guilt could be seen on his face”, remembered Deshmukh. “We returned to the vegetable seller and told her what had happened. She said, “Who will find your bad coin? Go along, whatever you have given is all right.” But Deendayalji would not listen. He searched in the old woman’s heap of coins and found out the bad paisa. Only after he had given her a good one did a look of relief and satisfaction light up his face.”
“Greatness”, observed Deshmukh, was a part of Upadhyaya’s nature.
The resolve to dedicate himself for national regeneration was made early by Upadhyaya when he was attracted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “For a swayamsevak of the Sangh”, wrote Upadhyaya, in a moving and prescient letter to his maternal uncle in 1942, “work for the samaj and the country has the first priority; his personal affairs must stand aside.” In the next quarter century that he lived, until his tragic and violent death, Upadhyaya’s life always and unfailingly adhered to and revolved around that self-oath.
In the same historic letter, Upadhyaya articulated another of his fundamental aspiration — that of working for evolving a balanced society where each one and every limb grew equally. “What good it is to the samaj”, he wrote, “if a certain individual happens to achieve greatness for himself? It is rather a harmful development. It is good for the body as a whole to register all-round growth, but if the legs alone were to grow fat while the rest of the body remains thin and lean it would lead to the disease called elephantiasis.”
This conviction of the need for an integral growth eventually grew into the pole star of Pandit Upadhyaya’s life; it became, so to say, the prime mover of his actions, both political and philosophical. His lasting legacy thus remains as the philosopher of Integral Humanism — a hope radiating articulation he had come up with in the midst of the raging Cold War, and a political atmosphere at home that was undergoing deep churnings, phases of confusion and boulversement.
The standing aside of personal affairs combined with a total self-effacement turned Upadhyaya into a formidable organiser and a deeply admired leader and guide among the workers of the then fledgling Jana Sangh. Stories abound of how ‘Panditji’, as Upadhyaya was fondly addressed, bonded with the ordinary karyakartas and inspired their confidence. After day-long electioneering in Kashi in the first general election in 1952, an associate recalled how Upadhyaya, on seeing a worker finding it difficult to roll chapattis, went to him and, “taking the rolling pin from him, demonstrated the right method of making and baking a chapatti. Like a loving mother teaching her daughter, he started gently instructing him in the art of chapatti-making”.
In fact, it was this organic connect with the workers that enabled Upadhyaya to lay the foundations of a political party that would eventually turn into a formidable force in the political firmament of the country. It is this boundless capacity of his to organise that led Syama Prasad Mookerjee to once observe that he would have changed the political map of the country if he “could get two Deendayals”.
Throughout the period when he worked at setting up the framework of the new party and strategised its political outreach, Upadhyaya’s guiding mantra was to make it a vehicle for people’s welfare. “No party can grow”, he once told the late Yadav Rao Deshmukh, “to any stature without the support of the common people, nor can it become an instrument of the people’s welfare.” A political party’s commitment thus, to the welfare of the common people and to turn itself into an effective instrument to implement that welfare-oriented objective was of cardinal importance in Pandit Upadhyaya’s political scheme of things.
It was again this self-effacing character of his, with complete dedication to the ideals of national uplift and to India that led MS Golwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, to describe Upadhyaya as an “ideal swayamsevak” to whom alone the credit must go of “starting from scratch and building up such an imposing organisation (Jana Sangh) from its very foundation up”. For Golwalkar, Upadhyaya was the ideal to be emulated; in a moving condolence, a rare occasion when he allowed his emotions expression, Golwalkar exhorted everyone to “make him [Upadhyaya] an ideal for the kind of all-round perfection he had attained”.
Hectic political action did not prevent Upadhyaya from being a prolific writer and evolve into a profound thinker. Be it economics, or political thought, education or the Constitution, be it language, culture or deep Indian philosophy, Upadhyaya, in a short and action-packed life, had articulated positions on all of these, gradually weaving a comprehensive philosophy for national action. In doing this, he succeeded in evolving perhaps one of the most detailed and comprehensive critiques of the Nehruvian consensus, allowing alternate political movements to crystallise around it and leaving behind a cogent and rich detail of the evolution of India’s post-independence political life.
It is thus profoundly symbolic that in his centenary year, a party, inspired and nurtured by his political vision and action, is in power, installed by a resounding mandate from the vast multitude for whose welfare and well-being Upadhyaya had weaved his political philosophy.
The centenary of his birth offers immense scope to re-evaluate and re-state his vision and work; he was one of those few who could, in the words of Dattopant Thengdi, “like a Time Machine, roll himself back and forth in the centuries and stand face to face with the ancient seers as well as unborn generations” and [work] “out for us the solutions of modern problems in the light of ancient wisdom”.
The re-emergence of drasthas — creative thinkers or visionaries — in the Bharatiya tradition is an imperative for a civilisational renewal. For our times, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya has clearly emerged as one such drashta — a visionary who anticipated and articulated an entire epoch.