Most of the events of the short life span of Deendayalji are well documented. However, a short but very significant tour of America, UK and Kenya in 1963, is relatively less known. It was after this tour that the western political pundits had remarked that ‘he is a man to be watched’.
Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya was elected General Secretary of the new-born Bharatiya Jana Sangh in its very first session at Kanpur in the year 1952. He nurtured the party in that capacity for more than a decade bringing it to a respectable status at the national horizon. Although he travelled all nooks and corners of the country to build the party at the grass-roots level, he hardly stepped out of the shores of Bharat during that long period. However, it was under the invitation of the then Friends of India Committee of America he undertook about a month-long tour of America in October 1963, and while returning he also visited UK and East Africa.
Friends of India Committee was a semi socio-political organisation in America and it was customary on its part to invite important dignitaries from other countries to America (i.e. US) on social and goodwill visits. Panditji took this opportunity to familiarise US-leaders with the philosophy and objectives of the young Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
From Delhi, Shri Chamanlalji wrote an introductory letter to our karyakartas in America about Panditji's tour. He informed me and the University of Texas at Austin where I was working as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow about Panditji's visit. I was naturally overjoyed to have Panditji in Austin. I wrote to the Friends of India Committee at its Philadelphia office and offered to organise Panditji's programmes locally, in the capacity of the Secretary of the India Association at the University of Texas, Austin. The Committee willingly agreed and fixed the dates of Panditji’s visits as October 15 and 16, a few days prior to Deepavali that year.
I approached the Head of the Department of Government (like Political Science), one Prof. Roach who not only agreed to have Panditji’s lecture in the Department but also wrote an introductory note about Panditji. It is very interesting to read his comments on Panditji and more so about the then Jana Sangh. He wrote, “There is little likelihood that the Jana Sangh will ever become a majority party throughout India but… it may well emerge as a significant political factor in several of the larger states…).”
The announcement of Panditji's visit was made in the local media as well as in the university newsletter The Texan. A lecture by Panditji was fixed on Tuesday, October 15 at 7.30 pm in the Department of Government.
On the day of the lecture, Panditji’s flight somehow got delayed and he reached Austin at about 7 pm. With only a cup of tea after arrival and not much time to prepare, Panditji went to the hall and spoke for about an hour on the then political situation in Bharat. He eloquently answered all the questions of the audience numbering about 70 students and staff members. He had expected questions about Kashmir although not many were put forward.
Panditji’s next programme in Austin was his speech in the local City Council. The Council was debating on the colour-discrimination issue. (Texas was among the 13 southern states, which was still practising discrimination between Black and White). There was debate on the issue and public was allowed to express its opinion although the voting was restricted only to the council members.
A local lady (probably Eunice Parker) who was close to the Indian community took Panditji in the Council and introduced him to the chairman. She herself was very liberal and was against any sort of discrimination. While introducing Panditji to the assembly she referred to two lines of the Kulgeet of the University of Texas i.e. “The eyes of Texas are upon you… you cannot get away”, and told the audience that not only the eyes of Texas but the eyes of the ‘world’ are upon us and that somebody prominent from Bharat is watching us.
The Mayor requested Panditji to give his opinion and Panditji mentioned that he was very happy to note that people have assembled there to discuss a very humanitarian problem. Instead of getting impressed by the high-rise beautiful buildings and skyscrapers, Panditji got highly impressed by the debate which was on a humanitarian issue. He stressed that there should be no place for any kind of discrimination.
The Council hall was packed to capacity and the audience was highly impressed with Panditji’s short but forceful eloquence and gave him a standing ovation. The TV carried the issue in the evening news bulletin as well.
Panditji also gave a lecture in the local “Huston and Tillotson” College—a Black College—and spoke before a capacity student audience most of whom were in their teens. Here he traced the voyage of Columbus and pointed out that Columbus discovered America while actually he was in search of Bharat and therefore there is a great deal of relationship between these two countries. Bharat is the biggest democracy and America is a great one. Both have to work hand in hand.
Panditji also called on the Governor of Texas during his stay in Austin. The Governor not only personally received him, but made him an honorary citizen of Texas by handing over the ceremonial “Key of the town”.
Panditji was a guest of honour over a tea with the local Bharatiya community. All were impressed with the simple loving nature of Panditji and found in him somebody elderly from their own family.
I took Panditji to an American family for a cup of tea. As in the American habit the host enquired “What about his family?” Just as it came to me I said that he had no family Panditji laughed heartily and said, “No, No, he is not telling correctly – I have got a very big family”. Perhaps it was simply the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Panditji left a deep mark on those whosoever came in his contact.
Barely five weeks after this trip i.e. on November 22, 1963, the then President of America John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, a town not very far from Austin. Panditji that time was in East Africa after his visit to UK and had sent a Press Release expressing his deep shock and condolence over the unfortunate event.
September 25, 2015 marks the birth centenary year of Panditji. Let us pay tribute to him on this day and resolve to tread on the path shown by the great soul.
Dr Shankarrao Tatwawadi (The writer is former convener of RSS Vishwa Vibhag)