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Deendayal Upadhyaya: Forging an Original Civilizational Narrative

ON THE AUSPICIOUS occasion of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s 105th (25th September, 2021) birth anniversary, it is only appropriate to recall this beautiful sloka in the Mahanarayana Upanishad that applies to him one hundred per cent:

Yatha vrukshasya sampushpitasya dooraadgandho vaatyevam punyasya karmano dooraadgandho vaati||

This sloka is simple but has a profound meaning: just as the fragrance emanating from the flowers of a tree reaches far and wide even to people who haven’t seen the tree, so do the virtues and good deeds done for the welfare of the world by wise people and sages spread everywhere.

The 105th birth anniversary is also a reminder, a wake-up call, and an occasion for rejuvenation as we shall see. When we quickly survey this history, it becomes clear that for the longest time, Pandit Deendayal was deliberately marginalized in both political circles and public discourse. A systematic fiction was built around him painting him as kind of a fringe leader who should not be taken seriously. We will explore this point in a short while.

But first, we can examine what Pandit Deendayal stood for and what his exact legacy represents.

At this distance in our recent history, it is eminently clear that Pandit Deendayal was in every sense an epochal personality who seeded quite an extraordinary phenomenon of which the entire nation has been the beneficiary. These words should not be taken as an exaggeration for reasons that will soon become clear. There is a fundamental reason I have titled my essay as Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Forging an Original Civilizational Narrative.

First, the important thing to remember is the era in which Pandit Deendayal spent his formative years, and which left a lasting impact on his work and legacy. It was an era of sweeping changes in all aspects of our national life primarily owing to the chaotic currents that the colonial British had undammed, and the consequent national atmosphere during our freedom movement. In summary, one of the major underpinnings of the freedom struggle was a spirit of both deep and high idealism of which service, sacrifice, cultural renewal, and national good were the paramount features.

Even a cursory reading of Pandit Deendayal’s life and achievements reveals how deeply he had imbibed this spirit of sacrifice — sacrifice in service of Bharatavarsha, her culture and her people. He stands tallest among the rare class of luminaries who were willing to leave this mortal world without witnessing the success of their hard efforts.

In every sense, this is a fine embodiment of the fundamental values of Sanatana Dharma. Thus, in failure he was undaunted, in success, he was equanimous, in his aim, his was akin to Arjuna whose concentrated vision saw only the eye of the fish. There is a reason Bhagavan Sri Krishna selected Arjuna for the Bhagavad Gita.

Needless, Pandit Deendayal is justly synonymous with his farsighted conception of integral humanism. Without elaborating much on this familiar contribution, it can be said in retrospect that it was quite a unique formulation that forged economics, political, social and cultural ideology with a definite aim at long-term decolonization of India.

In many ways, through integral humanism, he gave to the public discourse of that time a grammar for civilizational recovery. This must be understood in the context of the overall political climate of the time. The India of the freedom struggle era almost disappeared with astonishing swiftness and it is in this light that Sri Deendayal’s contribution and legacy must be understood to gain fuller clarity. We can draw some broad contours of how this phenomenon unfolded.

All patriotic and nationalist Indians saw what the Congress had done to the country almost immediately after independence. To roughly paraphrase this national mood, the Congress after independence, said to the people of India, “Thank you for your help during the freedom struggle. Now that we’ve got independence, stay at home. We know how to run the country.” For a rather blunt account of this situation, we can refer to the journalist and editor, D.F. Karaka’s book, Betrayal in India, in which he shows evidence of how former Gandhians had become “traders in patriotism,” to use his memorable phraseology. Those who had sworn by the aforementioned ideals of selfless service and sacrifice just a few years ago had now acquired bungalows in various cities and had become middlemen dealing with second hand imported cars, an illegal activity in those days.

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya was foremost among those who saw this attitude and these shocking events as a total betrayal of the freedom struggle. More fundamentally, as an idealist, Pandit Upadhyaya also realized that the Congress and the Left lacked precisely this same sense of deep idealism and commitment. In his own words, “If there can be a magic box which contains a cobra and a mongoose living together, it is Congress.”

This is why he began to forge an original civilizational narrative based on idealism, cultural rejuvenation, humanitarian compassion and social harmony among other values. For this, he drew from the profound annals of Sanatana Dharma, and from the best of our homegrown traditions in diverse fields.

He correctly identified the first step as a comprehensive decolonization of the Indian psyche. In his own words, the currents of political thought in India was “a Western political picture in the Indian background.”

He correctly rejected the Western political binaries of Right and Left, capitalism and socialism as imported theories that had no factual or objective basis in Bharatavarsha’s civilizational inheritance, cultural heritage, social structure and history.

In his farsighted vision for decolonization, we see a profound complement in Sri Dharampal’s body of work

Pandit Deendayal’s ideological framework was and remains inclusive in the same sense that Sanatana Dharma is inclusive because it is consonant with the Purushartha ideals (Dharma, Artha Kama and Moksha) and the Four Ashramas (Brahmacharya, Gruhasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa) as the profound guides to the life of an individual.

Dharma is the constant in all three Ashramas. Artha (wealth and its honest pursuit) and Kama (desire), bound by the discipline of Dharma makes the life of a householder (Gruhasta) meaningful, purpose-driven, moral, ethical, and therefore, prosperous and enjoyable. Vanaprastha is the gradual cessation of the desire for wealth and Kama. The same ideals, the same fourfold framework was juxtaposed and disseminated in the Bharatiya society for several millennia which is precisely what gave it stability, peace, contentment and the prosperity that emerges from all of this. It was through the medium of individuals bound together as communities and society that shared these values which sustained our civilization and enabled it to withstand the most brutal shocks over prolonged centuries. However, more than the oppressive Islamic rule, it was British colonization that fundamentally destroyed this timeless and unbroken system of Bharatiya life.

Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya reformulated these Sanatana or eternal ideals under vastly changed circumstances. Thus, when he said that humankind had four hierarchically organized attributes of body, mind, intellect and soul, he was essentially referring to the same Purusharthas.

This culturally-rooted realization is what led him to spot the glaring problem of western models of both socialism and capitalism in that they don’t even have the notion of Dharma, let alone Moksha. He pointed out that Abhyudaya (elevation of human life in accordance with Dharma, etc.,) and Nisshreyasa (spiritual liberation) is absent in the Western psyche, and unfortunately, we have allowed the West to lecture us on everything under the sun.

Indeed, it is a profound tragedy that the Indian constitution does not even mention Dharma as the binding force of this civilizational nation. At any rate, it is quite interesting and less-known to the public that Pandit Deendayal authored a biography of Adi Sankaracharya. In fact, the fact that he wrote on Adi Sankara is a brilliant reflection of the sublime impulses that drove his inner life and informed his outer life and public service.

The other point also worth mentioning is the acuity of Sri Upadhyaya’s personal character and conduct, both of which were inseparable from his idealism and in fact, were informed by it. It is this force of personal magnetism that earned him admiration and respect from all political parties and opposing ideologies. From all except the Nehru dynasty and the Communists. Sri Sampoornanand, the former Congress chief minister of Uttar Pradesh wrote a glowing preface to Sri Deendayal’s Political Diary as follows: “one of the most notable political leaders of our time, a man devoted to the good of his country, a person of unimpeachable character, a leader whose weighty words swayed thousands of educated men. Political Diary is essential reading for future political workers.” These were prophetic words indeed.

As we mentioned earlier, Pandit Deendayal gave a fresh grammar to our cultural and political narrative and public discourse whose imprint remains firmly etched even today in many policies and programmes and formulations of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Indeed, had the Congress and the communists played fair, Pandit Upadhyaya’s political philosophy and idealism would have triumphed at least fifty years ago and Bharatavarsha would have had a system that was rooted in her civilizational ethos in almost all spheres.

In fact, Sri Deendayal’s founding inspirations, ideals, and practical grassroots work represent a clear line of separation. On the one side we had the Congress party, which continued the same colonial policies and public discourse moulded in the British milieu. On the exact opposite, we have Sri Deendayal who formulated a clear, workable plan of action for the real freedom struggle: the freedom of Bharatavarsha’s cultural ownership.

Thus, unable to compete with Pandit Deendayal on the ideological or idealistic plane, the Congress-Left combine chose to stifle the narrative that he had inspired. As we all know, the Emergency was imposed precisely because, in Indira Gandhi’s own words, and I quote, “the reactionary forces led by the RSS and Jana Sangh were threatening democracy.” That is, democracy as defined by her. In other words, it was an expression of Indira Gandhi’s nervousness and her fear of a unified opposition, a unity to which DDU’s contribution was hugely significant in the earlier decades.

To rewind a bit, when Guruji Golwalkar supported the founding of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, he told Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee: “I will give you five gold pieces.” The five gold pieces included Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, Sri Sunder Singh Bhandari, Sri Nanaji Deshmukh, Sri Bapusaheb Sohni and Sri Balraj Madhok. I think this statement in itself is eminently self-explanatory. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya was only 35 years old when Guruji made this remark. Characteristically, he never sought fame despite the stellar role he played, despite all the tireless work he did in providing a truly alternate civilizational narrative in an extremely hostile era. The culmination and triumph of his foundational vision can be noticed in the victory speech of Sri Narendra Modi in 2019, which is paraphrased as follows: “if this election proves anything, it is this: between 2014-19, the full secularist jamaat had completely stopped using the word secularism.”

This practical reality and the ultimate realization of ideological and civilizational triumph has been achieved in large part due to the foundational vision, effort, and sacrifice of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.

As I mentioned earlier, Pandit Deendayal was willing to pass into the blanket of Eternity without being physically alive to witness the success of his labours.

(The writer is a well-known author, columnist and thinker who writes extensively on cultural, political and civilizational issues. The views expressed are his own.)