In 1968, the year Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gunned down in full public view, it was hardly surprising that the murder of an Indian political leader in the dark of night should have escaped the world’s notice. But it shook the Sangh Parivar (then headed by “Guruji” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalker, with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh as its political wing. It also included the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parsihad or student wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which worked among tribal communities, the Rashtriya Sewika Samiti or women’s wing and Vidya Bharati which ran the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools) to its foundations and profoundly impacted Indian politics in subsequent decades.
Who was he? Students can get all the way through school and graduate college without once having heard of him and not drop a single mark. Yet today, he is the “guiding force” of the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely makes a speech without a reference to him or his vision, the Central Board of Secondary Education holds an all-India essay competition on him, big ticket Central government schemes are named after him and the PM’s signature Make In India program is dedicated to him (or rather, “laid at his feet”). His birth centenary (2015-16), the PM has decreed, will be marked by year-long celebrations.
Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, regarded by the political right as one of the 20th century’s most original thinkers, philosophers and economists, has thus far rated no more than a cursory mention in post-graduate lectures on political thought. But now, the long-dead stalwart of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, precursor of the BJP, has begun to enter the national consciousness and gradually permeate political discourse.
Subramanian Swamy, who wrote a paper on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy of Integral Humanism way back in 1977, finds a receptive audience at Delhi’s highbrow, left-centrist dominated India International Centre when he speaks of Upadhyaya’s economic thought. Minister for Culture Shripad Yesso Naik creates consternation among his bureaucrats when he wants a blueprint for Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s centenary celebrations, because they’ve never heard of the Sangh icon. Similarly, the Publications Division is thrown into a flap when Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar wants a book on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, published during the previous NDA regime and subsequently forgotten. The minister now wants a compilation of Upadhyaya’s work published.
As for the Prime Minister, he rarely loses an opportunity to place “Deen Dayal-ji” front and center.
May 20, Central Hall of Parliament, after being elected PM: “Antyodaya, the service of the downtrodden, was Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s mission. That is why I say our government is for the poor and deprived. The coming year is important for us all. It will be his centenary year...we have to strive to fulfil his dreams. The party and government must decide how to celebrate the event.”
June 11, maiden speech in the Lok Sabha: “We are people who have grown up with the ideals of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya...who taught us the principle of Antyodaya. This government's priority is the benefit of the most underprivileged, going by the ideals of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Lohia and Gandhi.”
Sept 25, launch of Make in India: “In my personal life, in my political journey, today is very significant. It is the anniversary of Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, whose ideas inspired us to begin this political journey. (He) gave the philosophy of Integral Humanism to the world. On the anniversary of such a great man, who lived and strived for the country, I lay the Make in India program at his feet. We are determined to fulfil his dream.” (The speech was preceded by a flurry of tweets by the PM on Integral Humanism as the “guiding force”.)
A year ago, addressing BJP workers in Bhopal, he prophesized: “When the country celebrates Deen Dayal Upadhayaya's birth centenary in 2015-16, the BJP will rule most states.” In his meeting with BJP leaders on May 31, his first after the landslide Lok Sabha victory, a prominent item on the agenda was turning the centenary into a major event and promoting Integral Humanism.
Modi’s enchantment with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya is of long standing. He has unfailingly observed the late ideologue’s birth and death anniversaries and brings him up frequently in various contexts. Sample the speech kicking off his 2007 election campaign in Gujarat: “When Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was alive, we celebrated even if our candidates could save their deposits in local elections. In those times, the municipality of Botad voted the Jan Sangh to power and Pt Deen Dayal came to felicitate the citizens. So it was you, the citizens of Botad, who laid the foundation of the BJP, who recognized our worth all those years ago.”
In a 2011 speech he said, “In the body of BJP as a party, in the ideology of BJP, rests the soul of Pt Deen Dayal-ji.” His blog offers a link to the site “Deendayal Sansar” – currently “under maintenance”.
Not to be outdone, BJP president Amit Shah, who was once treasurer of the Deen Dayal Research Institute (DRI) – a frontline Sangh organization dedicated to putting Integral Humanism into action – inaugurated his term on August 9 by saying: “In the year ahead, we will be celebrating the silver jubilee of Integral Humanism. Year 2015 marks the centenary year of our ideologue Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. This provides us with an opportunity to enlighten the masses....dedicate ourselves to Integral Humanism...propagate Deen Dayal-ji’s philosophy. I believe the ideals of Integral Humanism are not restricted by time. This is an invaluable treasure of ideas [and] can enable us to find solutions to [all] our contemporary problems. The government will function in the light of these principles.
The government has certainly lost no time in launching a raft of pro-poor programs named after the ideologue:
Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana – a livelihood and skill development program
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana – a rural electrification scheme
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana – a skill development scheme dovetailed with Make in India.
Sources in the Ministry of Human Resource Development have it that a commission may be set up to revisit NCERT school textbooks, hitherto dominated by Congress heroes, so that “nationalist” leaders like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee can be included. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the Sangh Parivar’s ‘policy guy’, who heads an important Sangh affiliate – the Rambhau Mhalge Prabhodhini – says, “I believe some plans are already afoot in this direction. The level of literacy regarding Integral Humanism and Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya is low, because he was consistently disregarded by the powers that be.”
The HRD ministry has already set the ball rolling with an essay competition on the life and times of “renowned thinker Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya” by the CBSE. Gujarat, naturally, went the extra mile. In Ahmedabad, 450 schools celebrated his anniversary last fortnight.
Even as the I&B ministry scrambles for material on Upadhyaya with the objective of bringing out a series on him, the RSS publication wing, Suruchi Prakashan, is preparing a blitz of books by, among others, the former HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and RSS veteran Bajranglal Gupta.
Are these early signs of the iconization of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, to proceed apace with the de-iconization of Jawaharlal Nehru? A Surya Prakash, veteran journalist and leading light of right-wing think tanks, likens the hold of Nehruvian thought on the intellectual ecosystem of the country to the proliferation of Congress grass (parthenium), which strangles all other plants. De-weeding, he says, is imminent.
Which brings us to the question: who was Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and what is Integral Humanism all about? For a man who has schools, colleges, roads, hospitals and a slew of government schemes named after him at both central and state levels, very little is known about him outside Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) circles. “Google Guru” offers limited assistance. Gathering information involves a trek to Delhi’s crowded Jhandewalan, a locality distinguished only by the fact that it houses the unpretentious RSS HQ, Keshav Kunj. In the neighbourhood stands a far more impressive multi-storeyed structure, the Deen Dayal Research Institute – repository of all things Deen Dayal.
ABVP activist Rashmi Das probably speaks for lakhs of swayamsevaks when she says it’s high time the political right developed its own iconography, to challenge the domination of the left. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya has been added to the pantheon of Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Manohar Lohia (both already appropriated by Modi). Certainly, Upadhyaya appears to represent a counter-to-Nehruvian thought and its hallmarks, like state control over the economy, an idealistic foreign policy as represented by Panchsheel and pro-minorityism.
From the many dusty volumes, pamphlets and CDs emerges a saintly, almost Gandhi-like figure, with a predilection for austerity made palatable by a sense of humour and a willingness to get his hands dirty. By all accounts, the orphaned son of a humble railway employee, born in 1916 in a village near Mathura, showed early signs of intellectual precocity. He won awards and scholarships from the Maharaja of Sikar and later, industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla. Turning down all offers of government and private sector employment, he joined the RSS. He kept company with Nana Deshmukh and Sundar Singh Bhandari, RSS pracharaks who went on to play a critical role in anti-Congress politics in the 1960s and 70s.
Rising rapidly through the RSS ranks, he started a series of publications including its current mouthpiece, Panchjanya. When this was banned, he started another. That, too, was suppressed. Undeterred, he launched a third. He served as compositor, machine man and despatcher and never missed an issue.
In 1951, he joined the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, under Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and soon became its general secretary. Mukherjee famously said, “If I could get two more Deen Dayals, I would change the political map of India.” Mukherjee was murdered shortly thereafter – a fate his protégé would meet some 15 years later. In the meantime, he was the party’s “mind, heart and soul”, taking it from four seats in 1957 to 35 in 1967.
Anecdotes on Deen Dayal abound, creating a mythology to which every Sangh worker subscribes. In a recent lecture, KN Govindacharya, who parted ways with the BJP under controversial circumstances, recalls how Upadhyaya expelled seven of the nine Jan Sangh MLAs in Rajasthan for opposing the Zamindari Abolition Act, political considerations be damned. He was capable of bold, principled decisions.
At the same time, he was self-effacing, reluctant to hold office and ran the party by dint of moral authority over his workers. For all his dedication and commitment, he had a light touch and could laugh when shouldered aside by the self-important or rowdy. He washed his own clothes, wore his banians until they were tattered, had his hair cut by street barbers and could whip up a mean khichdi for a sick associate.
While Deen Dayal was credited with a genius for organization, he proved to be the Sangh’s foremost thinker. He outlined his philosophy for governance to some 500 party workers in 1964 and presented an expanded version at its plenary session in 1965. The final version was delivered in the form of four lectures in Bombay, titled “Integral Humanism”. According to BJP veteran LK Advani, the title was chosen to contrast it with the thesis of ‘Radical Humanism’ put forward by MN Roy, the former Communist leader.
Integral Humanism was adopted by the BJS as its official doctrine and subsequently passed on to the BJP. The Sangh saw it as a home-grown, entirely indigenous economic and political philosophy that reconciled socialism and capitalism.
Subramanian Swamy, in his book Hindus Under Siege, explains: “IHT [Integral Humanism Theory] recognized that in a democratic market economy an individual has technical freedom of choice but the system without safeguards fails to accommodate the varying capabilities and endowments of a human being. Since the concept of survival of the fittest prevails in such a system, therefore some individuals achieve great personal advancement while others get trampled on or disabled in the ensuing rat race. We need to build a safety net into our policy for the underprivileged or disabled while simultaneously rewarding the meritorious or gifted. Otherwise, the politically empowered poor in a democracy who are in a majority will clash with the economically empowered rich who are the minority, thereby causing instability and upheaval in a market system.”
In a subsequent book, India and China, A Comparative Perspective, Swamy says IHT was the only alternative to Marxism and capitalism presented after 1947, but did not gain currency for political reasons. While capitalism suffers from the “one dimensional concept of the human pursuit of material progress”, IHT envisages a system that permits competitiveness while seeking adjusting complementaries, harmonizing material progress with spiritual advancement.
Advani devoted a chapter in his book My Country, My Life to his “political guru”, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in which he says, “Deen Dayal-ji felt that both Capitalism and Communism were flawed philosophies...one considers man a mere selfish being hankering after money, having only one law, the law of fierce competition...whereas the other views him as a feeble lifeless cog in the whole scheme of things. The centralization of power, economic and political, is implied in both. They pit one section of society against the other, the individual against the collective, man against nature.”
Integral Humanism, he adds, did not receive the attention that western political theories did. But it is “worthy of being placed alongside the works of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, with both of whom Deendayal-ji had so much in common.”
In the 1950s and 60s, Upadhyaya was lambasted for being right-wing and pro-capitalist, but insisted the BJS stood for a socialist economy, with a 1:20 ratio between the lowest and highest incomes and nationalization of infrastructure industries. Nehru, he said, was a socialist when it came to levying taxes but a capitalist when it came to amassing profits.
He certainly favoured economic freedom and opportunities for entrepreneurship, and criticized the government of the day for stifling avenues of investment. He had a horror of statist monopolies. On the other hand, he emphasized decentralization of the economy, so as to empower local communities to make economic and developmental choices. He did not favour big business; he preferred the Gandhian ideal of large production from small units, “manufacture by the masses for the masses”.
He spoke of a “national sector”, a sort of public-private partnership that would facilitate self-employment and individual entrepreneurship. In brief, says Mahesh Chandra Sharma, who heads the Research and Development Foundation for Integral Humanism, Upadhyaya wanted economic freedom, along with the Right to Work. He wanted private ownership of the means of production but not centralization of ownership.
In agriculture, he favoured land ownership and strongly opposed Soviet-style cooperatives, then a hot topic of discussion. Dr Mahesh Chandra Sharma’s book Economic Philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya quotes him as saying, “We should finish the unaccomplished task of land reforms and agricultural marketing.” Upadhyaya wanted self-reliance in foodgrains but warned against building up excessive buffer stocks that would distort the market – a tune many economists are singing in the wake of heavy procurement by the Food Corporation of India. Nor did he believe that government administered prices could combat inflation.
He was no admirer of the planning process and strongly critiqued all the Five-Year Plans for failing to focus on employment, infrastructure, agricultural production, education and public health. Upadhyaya spoke of appropriate technology as opposed to arbitrary mechanization, advocated sustainable consumption and set out principles of corporate ethics and social responsibility.
Two of Upadhyaya’s acolytes sought to put his theories into practice. Dattopant Thengadi founded the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which went on to become the biggest trade union in the country. He also launched the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and famously turned down a Padma Bhushan from the Vajpayee government because he disapproved of its policies. Nanaji Deshmukh set up the Deen Dayal Research Institute, which created a model of rural development based on self-reliance. The fact that it boosted economic prosperity in the several hundred villages in Chitrakoot where it was applied attracts a great deal of attention from development agencies worldwide and drew fulsome praise from former President APJ Abdul Kalam.
How much of Upadhyaya and Integral Humanism has Modi put into practice? If Nehru was the Fabian socialist and Manmohan Singh the Keynesian, is Modi the Integral Humanist? Analyst Alam Srinivas says: “Modi has absorbed and assimilated the RSS economic thought, including Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and interpreted it to suit the current context. He has modernized and contemporized old ideas to give them a new look, which appeals to all generations.”
He finds Modi’s approach practical and commonsensical, based on the freedom of stakeholders to take their own decisions and choose their own modes of development. The role of government is that of facilitator. Upadhyaya would doubtless also have approved the egalitarian approach to development and welfare; in Modi’s Gujarat, government schemes and projects are not intended to benefit one section or the other.
Swadeshi (Made in India) translates into Make in India: invite foreign capital to boost Indian manufacturing, domestic consumption and exports, in pretty much the same way as China. Decentralization, Modi-style, involves setting up hubs where small- and medium-scale enterprises proliferate around one big central industry – as he has done in Gujarat. It also means democratization of opportunity, offering the same incentives to every entrepreneur. His “7M” formula – Man, Material, Machine, Motive, Management, Money and Market – is borrowed from Upadhyaya.
In agriculture, he treads the parallel tracks of land ownership – as a means of production – and farmers’ cooperatives – as a means of agricultural marketing. He breaks problems down to find practical solutions. If the fundamental problem of the agricultural sector is boosting farm incomes, that is what he seeks to redress. Like Upadhyaya, he had no use for the Planning Commission and its top-down approach. He also subscribes to the public-private partnership (PPP) model, redefined as P4 or people-public-private partnership – a bottoms-up approach Upadhyaya would have appreciated.
Sahasrabuddhe sees the impact of Upadhyaya in the Clean Ganga, Swachch Bharat and skill development programs as well, all of which gel with the holistic approach to human development. Even the government’s foreign policy, he says, carries the stamp of Integral Humanism. Given that it is the BJP’s ideological cornerstone, naturally it has an important place in the PM’s scheme of things.
What about Upadhyaya’s political thought? Integral Humanism believes Dhamma is the guiding principle of the state. Dhamma is distinct from religion; it is the moral compass of government. He rejects statism and espouses liberal notions of individual liberty, within the parameters of social responsibility. His state was secular and unitary, albeit one in which power was decentralized. Upadhyaya accepted that western concepts of ‘nationalism, democracy, socialism, world peace and world unity’ were good ideals even though they did not appear to have worked well in practice.
Modi, then, has brought Deen Dayal Upadhyaya to life. But is he reconciled to his icon’s death? Will his government pick up the threads of a 56-year-old murder investigation that came to nothing?
On February 11, 1968, Upadhyaya boarded the first-class coupe of the Sealdah-Pathankot Express from Lucknow, bound for Patna. His body was found lying parallel to the railway tracks outside Mughalserai station in the early hours of the morning. A commission was appointed to probe the murder and concluded that he had been pushed out of the compartment by unidentified thieves, struck his head against a traction pole and died. It was murder, but was it assassination?
Recently, Madhya Pradesh BJP general secretary Arvind Menon kicked up a political storm by alleging that the Congress was indirectly responsible for Upadhyaya’s death. Congress leader Ajay Singh responded by challenging Menon to name the murderer. Singh pointed out that BJS leader Balraj Madhok, in his autobiography Zindagi Ka Safar had alleged that Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhorted him to float the accident theory about Upadhyaya's death and he was shunted out when he refused to do so. It was common knowledge, said Singh, that Vajpayee became the Bharatiya Jana Sangh president after Upadhyaya’s death.
Advani writes: “Till date, his murder has remained an unsolved mystery, although outwardly it appeared to have been a case of ordinary crime. The government accepted the demand of a group of MPs belonging to different political parties for a judicial enquiry, which was headed by Justice YV Chandrachud. The report he submitted, in which he said that he found no political angle to the murder and that it was a case of ordinary crime, satisfied no one.”
Nanaji Deshmukh punched holes in the Chandrachud commission’s findings. “Even the Sessions Judge of Varanasi disbelieved the CBI story that two petty thieves had murdered Punditji,” he wrote. The commission’s report did not explain why Upadhyaya was standing near the door of the bogie, or why he was clutching a Rs 5 note in his hand. Nor did it deal with the presence of a stranger in the bogie, which railway staff had testified to. The theft motive, too, was dubious because his suitcase and watch – the only items of value he was carrying – were untouched.
The timing of the death, too, remains a mystery, with the state CID and CBI giving separate versions. The commission itself acknowledges that the symmetrical, neat manner in which the body was found did not argue death from a single impact with the traction pole. Govindacharya points out that the extent of injuries – his head had sustained a huge gash and his arms and legs were broken – also did not gel with the accident theory. Private investigations conducted at the time, he says, traced the killer to Nepal and identified him as a “Pathan”.
Had Upadhyaya survived, there’s little doubt he would have impacted the politics of India. He, rather than Vajpayee and Advani, would have steered the fortunes of the political right. Deshmukh played a critical role in the struggle against Emergency but retired from politics and left the field to the younger duo. Thengadi, who evinced no interest in politics, nonetheless made it clear that the NDA regime had strayed from the party’s principles. His BMS staged a rally against its economic policies and the SJM’s mouthpiece described them as “anti-national”. For all its lip service to Upadhyaya, the Vajpayee government made no attempt to propagate or apply his teachings. He remained unknown to the nation at large.
An omission that the Modi government appears set to rectify. It’s early days yet, but Sahasrabuddhe says the government is doing its homework and will roll out plans for a grand centenary next year. There’s “no doubting its passion and commitment”. The Deen Dayal Research Institute is already a hub of frenetic activity as it deals with a flood of queries from government departments trying to familiarize themselves with Upadhyaya and his works, in between preparations to welcome Narendra Modi on October 11. He will address invitees on the life and times of Nanaji Deshmukh, the man who attempted to actualize Integral Humanism in a cluster of villages. Deen Dayal’s votaries would love to see Modi do so across the nation.
Bhavdeep Kang has been a journalist for 27 years. She has worked with The Times of India, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Telegraph, India Today and Outlook. Today, she writes on politics, agriculture and food policy. Follow her at https://twitter.com/bhavkang.