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Remembering the other 'Panditji'

By Dr Anirban Ganguly
May 25, 2015 11:46 IST
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When Prime Minister Modi observes the first anniversary of his government at Nagla Chandrabhan, Deendayal Upadhyaya’s birthplace in Mathura, on Monday, he shall be essentially reiterating his commitment to achieving the ideal of Panditji's ‘Dharma Rajya’, a State free of inequality and of division, says Dr Anirban Ganguly.

It is a reflection on the overall direction that education has taken in this country in the last six decades, that our young learners grow up and graduate, often knowing and internalising what Karl Marx had to say of India, of the Indian peasantry and the War of 1857, but remain ignorant of what Indian thinkers -- those who created eras through the power of their mind and action -- had to say about their own roots, civilisation and soil.

While we have centres galore in the academia which dissect and disseminate theories of class and class conflict in India, we have very few centres or perhaps none which study integral humanism, dharma and cohesive living, political thoughts and social thoughts of Indian masters and examine them under the Indian civilisational rubric. The general ignorance and bewilderment, on hearing the name of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya is a direct manifestation of this selective approach to India’s indigenous repository of thought and ideas.

In the last one year, the process of correcting that historic neglect has begun with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself often speaking of Upadhyaya publicly and naming a number of his flagship social schemes after him as a tribute to the man’s contribution to and conviction of the need to work for an integral progress and growth of Indian society by reaching out to the last woman/man standing.

Indeed, integrality defined Upadhyaya’s life and work. A complex polymath, in a short life of 51 years, Upadhyaya straddled many worlds and dimensions. Rising from deep poverty, battling against odds of milieu and inequality of opportunities, yet displaying a razor-sharp intellect and a deft organising capability and a complete dedication to work for organising the Indian samaj, Upadhyaya rose on to become not only a leading political mind and leader of his era, but more importantly to make a lasting contribution to India’s political life and narrative by implanting deep in her body-politic, seeds which would one day emerge as the banyan-trunk of an alternate political vision and direction. A vision and direction which, challenging the dominant Nehruvian and Marxian political framework, sought to chart out a new path for India, a path that would be in consonance with and would facilitate her rise as a civilisational state.

The spark of uncommonness shone early in 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, young Deena is said to have told them that he had heard that 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 are said to have 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, 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 you 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 Upadhayay when he got 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 Upadhyaya lived, until his tragic and violent death, his 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 Upadhyaya’s life; it became, so to say, the prime mover of his actions, both political and philosophical. Upadhyaya’s lasting legacy remains as a  philosopher of Integral Humanism -- a hope radiating articulation he had come up with in the midst of a raging a raging Cold War internationally 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 on 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 elections 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 Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee to once observe that he would have changed the political map of the country if he “could get two Deendayals.”

It was this self-effacing character of his with a complete dedication to the ideals of national uplift and to India that led Sri Guruji – M SGolwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, to describe him as an “ideal swayamsevak” to whom alone the credit must go of “starting from scratch and building up such an imposing organization (Jana Sangh) from its very foundation up.” For Golwalkar, Upadhyaya was the ideal to be emulated, in a moving condolence speech, 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 critic of the Nehruvian consensus, allowing alternate political movements to crystallize around it and leaving behind a cogent and rich detail of the evolution of India’s post-independence political life.

Upadhyaya’s core formulation and vision of governance, of the type of State and system, displayed his ability to coalesce and harmonise India’s civilisational thought-experience with present-day realities and exigencies. For India, the IndianState, the Indian apparatus of governance and leadership, Upadhyaya argued that the ideal to be achieved was that of a “Dharma-Rajya.” And true to his style he contemporized that “Dharma-Rajya” into an achievable goal for the present. 

The late philosopher-administrator Chaturvedi Badrinath, perhaps best summed up the ideal of Upadhyaya’s ‘Dharma-Rajya’ when wrote, ‘The agenda of future India must lie, Deendayal Upadhyaya suggests, in overcoming social disorder, which can be achieved only when India has regained its self. That self lives in its abiding faith in the truth that no social order can survive on the basis of inequality and division. Inequality and division can only destroy human worth, not uphold it. What can uphold and sustain is dharma. Hence his vision of future India is Dharma-Rajya, which is not a theocratic State, nor is there in it inequality and division.’

When Prime Minister Modi observes the first anniversary of his government at Nagla Chandrabhan, Upadhyaya’s birthplace in Mathura, he shall be essentially reiterating his commitment to achieving the ideal of Upadhyaya’s ‘Dharma Rajya’, a State free of inequality and of division, he shall announce and set the agenda for a future India.

Image: Dr Deendayal Upadhyaya.

Dr Anirban Ganguly is director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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