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In 1968, the year Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gunned down in full public view, it was hardly surprising that the murder of an Indian political leader in the dark of night should have escaped the world’s notice. But it shook the Sangh Parivar (then headed by “Guruji” Madhav Sadashiv Golwalker, with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh as its political wing. It also included the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parsihad or student wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, which worked among tribal communities, the Rashtriya Sewika Samiti or women’s wing and Vidya Bharati which ran the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools) to its foundations and profoundly impacted Indian politics in subsequent decades.

Who was he? Students can get all the way through school and graduate college without once having heard of him and not drop a single mark. Yet today, he is the “guiding force” of the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely makes a speech without a reference to him or his vision, the Central Board of Secondary Education holds an all-India essay competition on him, big ticket Central government schemes are named after him and the PM’s signature Make In India program is dedicated to him (or rather, “laid at his feet”). His birth centenary (2015-16), the PM has decreed, will be marked by year-long celebrations.

Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, regarded by the political right as one of the 20th century’s most original thinkers, philosophers and economists, has thus far rated no more than a cursory mention in post-graduate lectures on political thought. But now, the long-dead stalwart of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, precursor of the BJP, has begun to enter the national consciousness and gradually permeate political discourse.

Subramanian Swamy, who wrote a paper on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy of Integral Humanism way back in 1977, finds a receptive audience at Delhi’s highbrow, left-centrist dominated India International Centre when he speaks of Upadhyaya’s economic thought. Minister for Culture Shripad Yesso Naik creates consternation among his bureaucrats when he wants a blueprint for Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s centenary celebrations, because they’ve never heard of the Sangh icon. Similarly, the Publications Division is thrown into a flap when Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar wants a book on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, published during the previous NDA regime and subsequently forgotten. The minister now wants a compilation of Upadhyaya’s work published.

As for the Prime Minister, he rarely loses an opportunity to place “Deen Dayal-ji” front and center.

May 20, Central Hall of Parliament, after being elected PM: “Antyodaya, the service of the downtrodden, was Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s mission. That is why I say our government is for the poor and deprived. The coming year is important for us all. It will be his centenary year...we have to strive to fulfil his dreams. The party and government must decide how to celebrate the event.”

June 11, maiden speech in the Lok Sabha: “We are people who have grown up with the ideals of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya...who taught us the principle of Antyodaya. This government's priority is the benefit of the most underprivileged, going by the ideals of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Lohia and Gandhi.”

Sept 25, launch of Make in India: “In my personal life, in my political journey, today is very significant. It is the anniversary of Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, whose ideas inspired us to begin this political journey. (He) gave the philosophy of Integral Humanism to the world. On the anniversary of such a great man, who lived and strived for the country, I lay the Make in India program at his feet. We are determined to fulfil his dream.” (The speech was preceded by a flurry of tweets by the PM on Integral Humanism as the “guiding force”.)

A year ago, addressing BJP workers in Bhopal, he prophesized: “When the country celebrates Deen Dayal Upadhayaya's birth centenary in 2015-16, the BJP will rule most states.” In his meeting with BJP leaders on May 31, his first after the landslide Lok Sabha victory, a prominent item on the agenda was turning the centenary into a major event and promoting Integral Humanism.

Modi’s enchantment with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya is of long standing. He has unfailingly observed the late ideologue’s birth and death anniversaries and brings him up frequently in various contexts. Sample the speech kicking off his 2007 election campaign in Gujarat: “When Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was alive, we celebrated even if our candidates could save their deposits in local elections. In those times, the municipality of Botad voted the Jan Sangh to power and Pt Deen Dayal came to felicitate the citizens. So it was you, the citizens of Botad, who laid the foundation of the BJP, who recognized our worth all those years ago.”

In a 2011 speech he said, “In the body of BJP as a party, in the ideology of BJP, rests the soul of Pt Deen Dayal-ji.” His blog offers a link to the site “Deendayal Sansar” – currently “under maintenance”.

Not to be outdone, BJP president Amit Shah, who was once treasurer of the Deen Dayal Research Institute (DRI) – a frontline Sangh organization dedicated to putting Integral Humanism into action – inaugurated his term on August 9 by saying: “In the year ahead, we will be celebrating the silver jubilee of Integral Humanism. Year 2015 marks the centenary year of our ideologue Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. This provides us with an opportunity to enlighten the masses....dedicate ourselves to Integral Humanism...propagate Deen Dayal-ji’s philosophy. I believe the ideals of Integral Humanism are not restricted by time. This is an invaluable treasure of ideas [and] can enable us to find solutions to [all] our contemporary problems. The government will function in the light of these principles.

The government has certainly lost no time in launching a raft of pro-poor programs named after the ideologue:

Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana – a livelihood and skill development program

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana – a rural electrification scheme

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana – a skill development scheme dovetailed with Make in India.

Sources in the Ministry of Human Resource Development have it that a commission may be set up to revisit NCERT school textbooks, hitherto dominated by Congress heroes, so that “nationalist” leaders like Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee can be included. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, the Sangh Parivar’s ‘policy guy’, who heads an important Sangh affiliate – the Rambhau Mhalge Prabhodhini – says, “I believe some plans are already afoot in this direction. The level of literacy regarding Integral Humanism and Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya is low, because he was consistently disregarded by the powers that be.”

The HRD ministry has already set the ball rolling with an essay competition on the life and times of “renowned thinker Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya” by the CBSE. Gujarat, naturally, went the extra mile. In Ahmedabad, 450 schools celebrated his anniversary last fortnight.

Even as the I&B ministry scrambles for material on Upadhyaya with the objective of bringing out a series on him, the RSS publication wing, Suruchi Prakashan, is preparing a blitz of books by, among others, the former HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and RSS veteran Bajranglal Gupta.

Are these early signs of the iconization of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, to proceed apace with the de-iconization of Jawaharlal Nehru? A Surya Prakash, veteran journalist and leading light of right-wing think tanks, likens the hold of Nehruvian thought on the intellectual ecosystem of the country to the proliferation of Congress grass (parthenium), which strangles all other plants. De-weeding, he says, is imminent.

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