Is BJP seeing its own ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ in Deendayal Upadhyay?

Written by Subhash Gatade | Published on: September 25, 2017

The sudden iconisation of Deendayal Upadhyaya is an indirect admission that despite its long political journey it has not been possible for sangh parivar to raise a leader whose appeal cuts across broad cross sections of society?

BJP, In Search Of An Icon: Is Deendayal Upadhyay Party's Mahatma Gandhi?
BJP in search of an icon. Photo credit: Outlook
'Nirastapadapeshe Erandopi Drumayate !' - Sanskrit Proverb 
(In a treeless country even castor counts for a big tree)
( Quoted in 'An Occasion for the RSS',  GPD,

Come September 25 and the capital would see the culmination of the year-long birth centenary celebrations of Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader Pandit Deendayal Upadhayay . The year gone by had witnessed flurry of activities around Deendayal Upadhyay supposedly to project him as one of the 'makers of modern India'. Exactly a year ago Prime Minister Modi had shared a piece of his mind at a public meeting in Kozhikode wherein he had specifically put Deendayal Upadhyaya in the same category as Mahatma Gandhi and Lohia who had "[i]nfluenced and shaped Indian political thought in the last century”.

The newly elected President of India Ramnath Kovind - who had started his political journey with BJP - in his first speech as President also seemed to corroborate the overall thinking of the ruling dispensation by ending his maiden speech with a call to build an egalitarian society as “envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi and Deendayal Upadhyayaji”....

No doubt followers normally tend to elevate their leaders above seven heavens but the question arises whether such eulogy helps others suddenly develop a very positive understanding about the leader. Can the leader save oneself from scrutiny about her/his worldview, how s/he viewed and dealt with major challenges in her/his times?

Remember, Deendayal Upadhyaya (25 September 1916 – 11 February 1968) who started his social-political life as an RSS worker in 1937, was made joint provincial organiser for the whole of United Province in 1945. It is important to note that he --  like fellow swayamsevaks(1)  -- kept himself aloof from the raging anti-colonial struggle which was at its peak in those times and concentrated on organisation building. Interestingly one notices that even his biographers maintain a studied silence on his role and activities during this period and suddenly jump to 1947 to tell us that he was made Sahpracharak of UP in 1947 and how with the setting up of  ‘Rasthradharma Publications’ by RSS in the same year he was made editor of weekly ‘Panchajanya' and daily 'Swadesh’.

What is more worrisome is that while revisiting the tumultuous period in India's history, one does not find any self-criticism on his part rather a subtle justification for non-participation in the anti-colonial struggle.
“[W]e were obsessed by the misleading notion that freedom consisted merely in overthrowing foreign rule. Opposition to a foreign government does not necessarily imply genuine love of Motherland… During the struggle for independence great emphasis was laid on the opposition to British rule… It came to be believed that whoever opposed the British was a patriot. A regular campaign was launched in those days to create utter dissatisfaction against the British by holding them responsible for every problem and misery which the people in our country had to face.”
(CP Bhishikar, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology and Perception: Concept of the Rashtra,vol. v, Suruchi, Delhi, 169)  

Apart from the struggle for liberation from colonial yoke, another dominant trend which reverberated in those times focussed itself on social emancipation. The struggles against caste hierarchy, gender discrimination. obscurantist social practices and customs etc - initiated or led by the great Jyothee Thass, Ayyankali, Narayan Guru, Periyar, Mangu Ram, Ambedkar and many others had impacted the stagnant Indian society as never  before.

RSS as well as other Hindu Supremacist organisations always viewed these struggles with suspicion, opposed them and felt that they are 'divisive' struggles which are detrimental to the project of pan-Hindu unity. It is now history how the cumulative impact of these struggles led to the formation of Constitution -- when Dr Ambedkar led the drafting committee for the Constitution, thanks to the efforts of Gandhi as well as Nehru -- which was premised on the inviolability of individual rights with special provisions of positive discrimination for millions of Indians who had been denied any human rights quoting religious scriptures.

Looking back, it is evident how proponents of Hindu Rashtra opposed making of such a Constitution and had rather espoused Manusmriti as independent India's constitution (2). Deendayal Upadhyay who was a leading participant in the organisation’s work then seemed to make a more refined sounding argument justifying casteism and even equating it with Swadharma ( one’s own religion) later:
“Even though slogans of equality are raised in the modern world, the concept of equality has to be accepted with discretion. Our actual experience is that from the practical and material point of view, no two men are alike… Considerable bitterness could be avoided if the idea of equality as conceived by Hindu thinkers is studied more carefully. The first and basic premise is that even if men have different qualities and different kinds of duties allotted to them according to their qualities or aptitudes, all duties are equally dignified. This is called swadharma, and there is an unequivocal assurance that to follow swadharma is itself equivalent to the worship of God. So, in any duties performed to fulfill swadharma, the question of high and low, dignified and undignified does not arise at all. If the duty is done without selfishness, no blame attaches itself to the doer.”
(C. P. Bhishikar, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology and Perception: Concept of the Rashtra,vol. v, Suruchi, Delhi, 169).    

Christophe Jafferlot discusses Upadhyay’s continued fascination towards varna vyavastha while unpacking Deendayal's ideas of 'Integral Humanism - for whom it was ‘a model of social cohesion to which each caste could adhere, including the ‘untouchables’ . Jafferlot further adds:
“Upadhyaya shared similar beliefs. The organic unity of the varna vyavastha is one of the key ideas of his philosophy of ‘integral humanism’, referred to as the cornerstone of their ideology by Sangh Parivar leaders. In 1965, he wrote: ‘In our concept of four castes, they are analogous to the different limbs of Virat-Purusha, the primeval man whose sacrifice, according to the Rig Veda, gave birth to society in the form of the varna vyavastha.’ For him, the varna vyavastha was endowed with the organic unity that could sustain the nation-making process.

Deendayal abhorred the idea of secularism (3) and he felt that the ‘Constitution had to be changed radically as “it runs counter to the unity and indivisibility of Bharat. There is no recognition of the idea of Bharat Mata, our sacred mother land, as enshrined in the hearts of our people. ‘and how “[The] Jana Sangh believes that Bharatiya culture like Bharatvarsh is one and indivisible. Any talk of composite culture, therefore, is not only untrue but also dangerous, for it tends to weaken national unity and encourages fissiparous tendencies”
(Jana Sangh’s Principles and Policies, January 25, 1965, page 16).

Anyone can see that this understanding logically flows from the way Deendayal looks at Muslims as a ‘complex problem’:
“[A]fter independence many important problems had to be faced by the government, the political parties and the people… But the Muslim problem is the oldest, the most complicated and it assumes ever-new forms. This problem has been facing us for the last twelve hundred years.”
[BN Jog, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: Ideology & Perception-Politics for Nation’s Sake, vol. vi, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi, 73.]

To conclude, the sudden iconisation of Deendayal Upadhyay - around fifty years after his death - raises an important question about the Hindutva project also. It is rather an indirect admission that despite its long political journey - which has helped it to reach centrestage of India's polity - it has not been possible for it to raise a leader of such a stature whose appeal cuts across broad cross sections of society?

Proponents of Hindu Rashtra must have realised how Deendayal could be such an icon for 'New India' as he stuck to ‘Golwalkar’s organicist thought’ but also ‘supplemented it with Gandhian discourse and articulated these in a version of Hindu nationalism that aimed at erasing the communal image of the Jana Sangh in favour of a softer, spiritual, non-aggressive image stressing social equality, ‘Indianisation’ and social harmony.'
(Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India, Oxford University Press, pages 84-85)  

1. For example, contemporary reports of the British intelligence agencies on the Quit India Movement are explicit in describing the fact that it was not an individual abstention, the RSS had kept itself aloof from the movement. According to one such report, “...the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942”.[Andersen, WalterK. & Damle, Shridhar D., The Brotherhood in Saffron: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism, Westview Press, 1987, 44.]
2. The RSS organ Organiser (November 30, 1949, p.3) complained: "But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing".
3. In an RSS meeting in Aligarh, Upadhyaya said: “By declaring Bharat as a secular nation, the soul of Bharat has been attacked. A secular state is full of woes [sic]. Although Ravana’s dharmaless state of Lanka had plenty of gold, it had no Rama Rajya (state) in it.”

(Subhash Gatade is a writer, translator and activist).

(This article was also published on Outlook).