“NANAJI” as Nana Deshmukh was known in political and social circles, which he dominated for almost six decades, is no more. Many, who were inspired by him in politics and outside, saw and knew him as a towering idealist; his admirers and friends experienced and rated him as a great political strategist. Joining the RSS at a young age and becoming its pracharak [whole-time volunteer], he was undoubtedly a great organiser. He had intimate friends in high places everywhere. He was accepted from a very young age beyond his organisational fraternity. He was equally at ease with both the noble Bhoodhan movement of Vinobha Bhave and the gutter politics of Delhi. He had friends even in the garrisons of his adversaries. When Jawaharlal Nehru had banned the RSS in 1948, Nanaji Deshmukh, like many RSS workers began organising the underground movement. From where? Believe it, from the house of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a minister in Pandit Nehru’s government. It was public knowledge that Nehru had regarded RSS as his archenemy and had even declared that he would not give an inch in India for the Bhagwa [the flag of the RSS] to fly. Still Kidwai, a great friend of Nehru and a minister in his cabinet, had no issues about keeping Nanaji in house and more – allowing him to organise under ground activities. This speaks of the man’s magnetic personality of the young Nanaji who must have been then in his twenties!
My association with Nanaji Deshmukh started with my friendship with Ramnath Goenka. Ramnathji and Nanaji were not only great friends, they both thought and felt about the country almost alike. The mutual trust and admiration that they had had was rooted wholly in their love of the motherland, totally devoid of any kind of personal interest. The Nanaji-Ramnathji combine that no goal other than what they thought was the good of the nation. Ramnath Goenka had shaped The Indian Express not as just a newspaper. It was an active partner with all nationalist forces in the cause of the country, setting the agenda for political and social discourse. Ramnathji never knew what fear meant in life. So was Nanaji. And these two courageous persons could effortlessly infect many others of high relevance, journalists or others, with fearlessness. It was the Ramnathji-Nanaji duo that persuaded Jayaprakash Narayan to agree to lead the Bihar movement in 1974, which changed the political picture of the country. The Bihar movement was one of the greatest movements in the history of free India.
An incredible incident made Jayaprakash Narayan to agree to the plea of Nanaji and Ramnathji to lead the movement against Indira Gandhi. I came to know of this in late 1980s when at a dinner in the Express Towers in Bombay I asked Nanaji and Ramnathji how they brought JP into the movement. Nanaji described the thrilling and unbelievable episode. A historic meeting of Ramnathji, Nanaji, Achyut Patwardhan, the hero of the 1942 underground movement and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, a great Hindi poet, took place sometime in 1973 in The Indian Express Guest House in Bangalore. Ramnathji, Nanaji, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Achyut Patwardhan, began insisting that JP should lead the movement as Indira Gandhi had become highly autocratic and had begun destroying all institutional framework of democracy including the judiciary and bureaucracy. Incidentally, Dinkar was one of the greatest friends of the Nehru family and particularly of Indira Gandhi herself. But that did not detract him from doing what he had thought was his duty to the nation. JP was hesitant mainly because of his health. He was a diabetic and had acute prostrate gland issues. He said that he would not be able to live for long and his health did not permit him to undertake such arduous task. Ramnathji assured him that he would have his prostrate operation done in Vellore, which he eventually got done later. But JP could still not make up his mind. At that point, Ramnathji, a great and traditional Hindu believer, suggested that all of them should go to Tirupati, have darshan and prayers and from there, go to Madras as it was known then, and continue the discussions. And they all left for Tirupati.
During the darshan at Tirupati, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar openly prayed to Lord Balaji, to the hearing of JP and the others, that whatever remaining years of life Dinkar had the Lord should give them to JP to help him serve the cause of the motherland. And they all returned to Madras and to Ramnathji’s house in the Express Estates in Mount Road where the office of the Indian Express was also situated. Within hours Ramdhari Singh Dinkar fell on the lap of Ramnath Goenka and died – yes he died when JP, Nanaji and Achuyt Patwardhan were around. It was clear that Lord Balaji had answered Dinkar’s prayers. JP’s decision to lead the movement came in no time. Despite my several requests Nanaji had refused to write about it in The Indian Express. When I asked him how will the people of India know about it, he said that he had written in his diary and he would like it to be known after his death. Now that he is no more I felt free to write about it.
The rest is known history. After his prostrate operation JP began to lead one of the biggest mass movements against corruption in free India and that led to the imposition of the infamous emergency on India, arrest of all national opposition leaders and ban on the RSS. That was the best period in the life of Nanaji. He was one of the initiators of the underground movement that finally exploded as the Janata Wave when in 1977 Indira Gandhi, with a view to securing mandate for her autocracy declared elections to Parliament, not knowing that, without her intelligence agencies having whiff of it, the underground movement had generated a political tornado against her. Nanaji was the architect of the Janata Party. He contested elections for the first time and won. He refused to join the ministry when Morarji Desai insisted he should be in the cabinet.
Later when the Janata Party split and the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed in 1980, Nanaji announced that he would like to retire from active politics as he was attaining the age of 65. A new role-that of a social worker-to lift moral and spiritual values and to promote economic and social wellbeing of the distanced people awaited him. He started his work first in the most backward districts of Gonda in UP and next in the equally drought-prone and poverty-ridden Beed district in Maharashtra and finally settled to do a more comprehensive work of socio-economic progress with moral values covering some 500 villages in Chitrakoot district. The President of India Dr Abdul Kalam visited Nanaji’s Chitrakoot project praised and blessed it as the most suitable to India noting that almost 80 villages in the district had become litigation free! That was his final karma bhoomi even though the whole country was his karma bhoomi.
He once told me that when he was a child many days he had nothing to eat. But that did not turn him into a naxalite. But his introduction to the RSS at the right age, and association with the right persons, had turned him into a great nationalist who lived for his motherland’s glory and nothing else.