The Contrasting Narratives on Upadhyaya and Ambedkar in Publications of the I&B Ministry

15 September 2017
Throughout the Upadhyaya essay, the writer Mahesh Chandra Sharma eulogises the ideologue as a man who made revolutionary changes to the socio-political discourse of India.
Throughout the Upadhyaya essay, the writer Mahesh Chandra Sharma eulogises the ideologue as a man who made revolutionary changes to the socio-political discourse of India.

Since its ascendancy to power in the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party has made significant efforts to popularise Deendayal Upadhyaya, the ideologue behind the Bharatiya Jana Sangh—the parent organisation of the BJP. Among others, these have included proposals to rename the Mughalsarai railway station in Varanasi, the Kandla Port in Gujarat, 12 colleges in Assam, and 45 libraries in Rajasthan after Upadhyaya. In September 2016, the party announced a year-long celebration of the centenary of the ideologue’s birth. The government constituted two committees to plan the celebrations, and announced a budget of Rs 100 crore for them. On 11 September this year, Narendra Modi delivered an address that was broadcasted live to 40,000 higher-educational institutes, in which he focused on the teachings of Upadhyaya and the Hindu reformer Swami Vivekananda.

Upadhyaya’s association with the BJP is doubtless deep. In 1952, at the Jana Sangh’s first annual session, Upadhyaya was appointed as the party’s general secretary. He played a pivotal role in shaping its political ideology, which later formed the ideological foundation for the BJP. Before joining the Jana Sangh, Upadhyaya was a full-time member and pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He started the organisation’s monthly and weekly journals Rashtriya Dharma, and Panchjanya, both of which continue to be mouthpieces for the RSS today. His writings, in these journals and in general, reflect a fervent Hindu nationalism and troubling positions on caste and religion—including an opposition to Hindu-Muslim unity, an abhorrence for secularism, and the justification of casteism as swadharma, or the worship of one’s god.

Upadhyaya’s ties to the RSS have been central to the concerns surrounding the BJP’s efforts to promote his legacy. The decision to rename colleges in Assam after Upadhyaya drew criticism from intellectuals, student groups, and other political parties in the state. The noted scholar Hiren Gohain wrote in an Assamese daily that the RSS, which has been unable to establish a strong presence in the state, “is trying to utilise its government’s powers and force its influence upon the people.” This charge is not new—the Congress and Left parties accused the BJP of using state resources to propagate the RSS’s ideology as early as 2014, when the state broadcaster Doordarshan telecasted live a speech by the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.

The Publication Division, a publishing unit under the information and broadcasting ministry, appears to have been roped into the government’s efforts as well. Headquartered in the national capital, the division has 12 outlets across the country, and publishes 18 monthly journals, a weekly newspaper, and several hundred books. In several issues, two of its publications—Bal Bharati, a monthly Hindi children’s journal that has been running since 1948, and Builders of Modern India, a series of biographical essays on notable Indian personalities—have contained brief biographies or short stories on the lives and philosophy of RSS icons.

At the Patna outlet of the division, I bought the April, May and July issues of Bal Bharati. Each issue contained the biography of at least one RSS icon, which described their ideas on issues such as nationhood, secularism, democracy and religion. The biographies are excerpts from the books that form the Builders of Modern India (BMI) series. The series includes titles on the lives of RSS icons such as Upadhyaya, and Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the Sangh’s founder.

Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: caste RSS BR Ambedkar Deendayal Upadhyaya I&B ministry Publications Division