Deendayal Upadhyaya and Ram Manohar Lohia, the two icons hyphenated with Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in his speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had in a joint statement issued on 12 April 1964, sought the reversal of the Partition of India and creation of a confederation comprising united India as it stood before 14 August 1947. Modi had eulogised Gandhi-Lohia-Deendayal in his first speech in the Lok Sabha after his triumphant poll victory, on 12 June 2014. He echoed the thought at the Kozhikode rally of BJP on 25 September. (Ambedkar, whom he invoked in Parliament during the centennial of the author of the Constitution, was not invoked at Kozhikode.)

Seeds of unity of non-Congress parties aimed at ousting the Congress juggernaut (or Congress-mukt Bharat in Modi’s parlance) were sown by Lohia in conjunction with Deendayal. Nanaji Deshmukh invited Lohia to an RSS shivir in Kanpur in 1963. Asked by the media why he went to an RSS camp, Lohia replied, “main in sanyasion ko grihasth banane gaya tha”. A month before Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in May 1964, the framework for an anti-Congress campaign was envisioned in the Lohia-Deendayal joint statement, which included the reference to Pakistan. 

In a recent article in the Indian Express, published in conjunction with the Kozhikode session of the BJP’s National Council, which was held to commemorate Deendayal’s elevation as Bharatiya Jana Sangh president in 1967 and set in motion his centennial, a former editor of Organiser commented, “Upadhyaya is to BJP what Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was to Congress.” Deendayal, though at the helm only for a brief three-month period (he became party chief in December 1967; died under mysterious circumstances in February 1968) was the main organiser of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the party sans an umbilical link to the Congress movement, pre and post Independence by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1952. His contribution to the formation and growth of the party which is the precursor of present day BJP is best summed up by a statement by Shyama Prasad in 1953: “If I had two Deendayals, I could transform the face of India.”

(The Socialists and Communists, who were the bulwark of the anti-Congress forces post Independence, had been part of the Congress movement. Stalwarts of the right-wing Swatantra Party had also been in the Congress. Jana Sangh was the first truly non-Congress party, floated by Mookerjee after he quit the Nehru Cabinet. Mookerjee was a Hindu Mahasabha nominee in the first Cabinet of free India, which also had Sardar Baldev Singh of Akali Dal.)

The Lohia-Deendayal entente did not develop into a poll alliance, but after Congress suffered major reverses in 1967, it paved the way for the formation of non-Congress governments in states of northern India. The fulcrum for the Congress defeat was provided by breakaway Congress groups—led by Charan Singh in UP, Mahamaya Prasad Sinha in Bihar, Ajoy Mukherjee in West Bengal (Pranab Mukherjee was part of this party), Biju Patnaik in Odisha, Kumbharam Arya in Rajasthan, Govind Narayan Singh in Madhya Pradesh. These former Congressmen formed governments with non-Congress parties in the states. Jana Sangh, then under the presidentship of Balraj Madhok, won on its own steam the Metropolitan Council in Delhi and Vijay Kumar Malhotra thus became the first member of the Sangh to assume power as head of an administration. The 1967 elections saw Indira Gandhi in power at the Centre with a slender majority. It was said that you could travel on the Grand Trunk Road from Amritsar to Calcutta without having to pass the jurisdiction of a Congress-led state government.

The death of Lohia in October 1967 and Upadhyaya in February 1968 were setbacks for the nascent “Congress-mukt” effort. The Emergency in 1975 again brought non-Congress forces together when Indira Gandhi jailed her opponents. Disgruntled Congressmen, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Nandini Satpathy joined hands with these forces and Janata Party emerged in 1977. The Lohia-Deendayal entente did not extend to this period. The fall of Janata Party and its short-lived government was caused by Lohiaites, Raj Narain and Madhu Limaye, who raised the RSS “dual membership” issue and split the party.

Jana Sangh elements in Janata Party formed the present day BJP, along with some Janata breakaway groups in 1980. The party, led by Atal Behari Vajpayee (who succeeded Deendayal Upadhyay as Jana Sangh president), Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi came to power in a coalition in 1997 and 1999. Narendra Modi perhaps emerged as Shyama Prasad’s “second Deendayal” and led the party to a clear victory in 2014. 

By invoking Lohia along with Deendayal, Narendra Modi is perhaps trying to broaden the base of the present day BJP. The ruling party at the Centre is undergoing a transformation, with a section of hardliners perhaps still sticking to the Deendayal approach to issues such as Pakistan, while Modi, while ordering surgical strikes to nip terrorism is cautioning against “chest thumping”. 

Shubhabrata Bhattacharya is a former Editor of Sunday and of National Herald