The legacy and the enduring mystery of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s death
It seems the only people genuinely interested in finding out the truth about Upadhyaya’s death are his family.
Last week, the government began a year-long birth centenary celebration of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
Born on September 25, 1916, Upadhyaya began his career in 1942 as a full-time worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he founded many journals for the RSS – a monthly magazine called Rashtra Dharma; a weekly newspaper, Panchajanya; and a daily paper called Swadesh – most of which are still in print. In 1951, he was also, along with Syama Prasad Mukherjee, one of the founding members of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the forerunner of Bhartiya Janata Party. After Mukherjee’s death in custody in Kashmir in 1953, Upadhyaya nurtured the fledgling party and mentored young leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, till his mysterious death in 1968.
The September 25, 2015, event started with Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan inaugurating the birth anniversary function at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi; also present at this function were senior BJP leaders and cabinet members Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley. All three of them extolled the many virtues of Upadhyaya, and claimed that the government was being run in accordance with Upadhyaya’s philosophy of integral humanism. (Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was travelling, wrote a blog from the US, as well as paid homage to Upadhyaya on his birthday on Twitter. The Press Information Bureau also put up on its website a two-page biography of Upadhyaya.)
Integral humanism is a complex, multi-layered philosophy (encompassing economics, governance, and much else), and like all philosophies a bit abstract. One can’t deny Modi government’s attempt at preserving the memory of Upadhyaya though. In the first six months of coming to power, the government named two ambitious development schemes after him: Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (to train 10 lakh rural youth in three years) and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (to ensure power in villages); the list has grown bigger since then.
Also, because iconography matters, the government recently decided to issue postage stamps of Upadhyaya and Mookerjee, among other anti-Congress icons.
But while Upadhyaya’s life is finally being celebrated, his death at a relatively young age of 51 still remains a mystery. Upadhyaya was travelling in a Lucknow-Patna train on February 11, 1968, when his dead body was found at a railway track near Mughalsarai station in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Initially, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team constituted by the government probed the matter and said it was a case of theft resulting in an accident. Two men were arrested; they confessed to have pushed Upadhyaya out of the train apparently because he had caught them stealing his bag and had threatened to report them to the police. But they were both later acquitted of the murder charge due to lack of evidence. Soon after, the government also appointed a one-man Commission of Justice YV Chandrachud to inquire into the matter; the Commission also more or less agreed with the findings of the CBI.
There are many conspiracy theories about Upadhyaya’s death: Balraj Madhok, another of Jan Sangh’s founding members, has said categorically on many occasions that Upadhyaya’s was a murder, not an accident. After an early retirement from politics in the 1970s — owing to differences with the dominant Vajpayee faction within Jan Sangh — Madhok spent most of his time writing books and columns.
He also wrote a memoir called Jindagi Ka Safar, in three volumes: the third volume, which he published in 2002, begins around the same time as Upadhyaya’s death. Here he writes that he heard, from multiple sources, about the involvement of certain senior Jan Sangh leaders in the murder. Madhok hints at the power tussle within the RSS responsible for the murder. He also blames, particularly Nanaji Deshmukh and Vajpayee, for sabotaging the government inquiry and trying hard to pass it off as an unfortunate accident rather than a cold-blooded murder. When the Janata government came to power in 1977, Madhok writes, Subramanian Swamy requested the then Home Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh to start a fresh inquiry, but alleges that the Jan Sangh ministers, Vajpayee and Advani, thwarted the effort.
The veracity of Madhok’s allegations is an issue. The general tone of Madhok’s writings is righteous and self-congratulatory, and it’s hard to tell facts from fiction in his diatribe on Vajpayee and other colleagues (which ultimately resulted in his expulsion from Jan Sangh in 1973). On some recentoccasions, BJP members have tried to blame Congress – with no proof. The BJP would perhaps be aware of a possible controversy the party might find itself under if it chooses to carry out a new inquiry, and would like to avoid it.
For now, it seems the only people genuinely interested in finding out the truth are Upadhyaya’s family. His niece Madhu Sharma, who heads the BJP’s Mahila Morcha Manch in Rajasthan, believes an investigation is still possible. “My family, my father especially, is keen that the truth should at last come out,” Sharma told Newslaundry. “I think this is a good time to begin a fresh inquiry.”