Move over Jawaharlal, Deendayal is here. Teen Murti Bhawan, former residence of India’s first prime minister and home to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, recently hosted an exhibition on Deendayal Upadhyaya, right-wing philosopher and “guiding light” of the NDA. The RSS may have deliberately chosen Teen Murti as a venue to celebrate its most important ideologue, at a function attended by the two seniormost Cabinet ministers, in order to provoke the Left. If so, it succeeded admirably.
If you have no clue who Upadhyaya is, don’t worry. He was never written up in the history books. His philosophy of Integral Humanism, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently declared as the soul of his government, was never mentioned in school texts. Ditto his economics. The stranglehold of the Left over academia ensured that not the slightest breath of right-wing opinion sullied young minds.
For the BJP, Integral Humanism remains the only home-grown philosophy of governance other than Gandhian thought; the rest having been borrowed from the west. For the Left, until recently it was “Deendayal who”? They are no longer asking that question. The centenary of Deendayal Upadhyaya, allegedly murdered in 1968, is being celebrated officially by the NDA. There’s no getting away from Upadhyaya, now. He is venerated in virtually every prime ministerial speech, in a documentary and a biopic, in books and seminars on Integral Humanism and of course, in the mind-boggling number of institutions and projects named after him.
The Congress, by contrast, has been lackadaisical in observing Nehru’s 125th anniversary; hopefully, it will do a better job with Indira Gandhi’s centenary. It had better. The centrist-left, having owned the country’s intellectual real estate for decades, is deeply miffed at the encroachment by right-wing think tanks like the India Foundation, the Ram Bhau Mhalge Prabodhini and the Deendayal Research Institute (which organised the function at Teen Murti).
India International Centre, bastion of the centrist-left, now hosts seminars on Integral Humanism. As does the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The ouster of its hardworking, enterprising UPA-appointed director Mahesh Rangarajan (whose appointment apparently did not follow the rule book) evoked strong protest from his votaries in the left liberal space. He will, in all likelihood, be replaced by an intellectual of equal distinction – a journalist of Bengali extraction.
The doyens of (left) liberal thought have been forced to take note of Upadhayaya, if only to attempt a comprehensive debunk. Initial attempts have been hampered by a lack of knowledge. Doubtless, a close reading of Upadhyaya’s works – including the series of four lectures on Integral Humanism, later adopted by the Bharaitya Jan Sangh as its official doctrine – will enable them to contextualise his theories and enliven the Nehru vs Upadhyaya debate with studied counterarguments.
The inevitable diversification of discourse should not be linked with the excesses being perpetrated in the non-intellectual space. If Sudheendra Kulkarni, the communist-turned-L K Advani acolyte, has his face blackened by Shiv Sena toughs, it probably has less to do with ideological differences and more with realpolitik, that is, the struggle for space between the Maharashtra BJP and the Sena. The incident may have afforded left-wingers – and the increasingly marginalised Advani – an opportunity to join the chorus of protest against the current political dispensation, but that is no substitute for meaningful debate.
Also, it is doubtful whether Upadhyaya or Ram Manohar Lohia would have countenanced such nutty policy initiatives as a ban on beef sale or possession (cow slaughter is an entirely different issue). They would probably have favoured a more sensible approach like cracking down on unlicensed slaughter and enforcing animal rights. The saner, liberal elements within the NDA would agree. After all, vegetarianism is not a fetish even within the sangh parivar. Meat has been served at the BJP HQ in Delhi and meat-eating is neither uncommon nor surreptitious. BJP heavyweights make no bones – pardon the pun – about sharing non-vegetarian meals with journalists.
Fanatics on either side of the divide cannot be allowed to hijack the discourse. Let’s face it; in the words of the Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a’changin’”. Outrage and indignation and wholesale return of literary awards will not make Upadhyaya and his adherents disappear. Academia and media will have to engage, analyse, disprove/improve – but not ignore. The Left may not want to live with Deendayal, or the Right with Jawaharlal. But there’s room enough and more for both.