Which is a good party? Evidently the one that is not simply a collection of individuals but is a body corporate with a distinctive purposeful existence different from its desire to capture power. Political power should be a means rather than an end to the members of such a party. There should be devotion to a cause in the rank and file of the party. Devotion leads to dedication and discipline. Discipline does not mean simply outward conformity to certain do's and don’ts. The more you impose discipline from above the less is the internal strength of the party. Discipline is to a party what Dharma is to a society.
—Politics in India, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya a Profile edited by Sudhakar Raje
In modern times, politics is essentially seen as a struggle for power, struggle between individual and society, individual and state, different classes and castes, human beings and nature, etc. Therefore, the essence of politics is to harp on differences and carve out power positions. From the pre-Independence period itself, Bharat started walking on the same path, thanks to the colonial transplant of polity. In the post independence period one person who challenged this ‘modern’ framework and provided an alternative, based on the conventional wisdom of Bharat, is Deendayal Upadhyaya through his profound philosophy of Integral Humanism. He tried to transcend the contours of power politics in three major ways.
The major conviction of modernity, rooted in European religio-cultural context, divorces the spiritual and material realms of life. According to it, material aspiration has nothing to do with spiritual pursuit. While Deendayalji accepts the importance of material development for individual being, by connecting it with the concept of Dharma (not religion but principles of ethics or laws of life) and right to dignity, he considers fulfilment of essential needs as an instrument for larger transition towards spiritual goals. State has to be instrumental in both and therefore, should adopt a decentralised model of development according to local needs and resources. Limiting the role of polity to mere ‘secular’ affairs would mar the very purpose of institutions like State. Now we are talking about the role of ‘civil society’ but for Upadhyaya, society composed of virtuous people, who formed the basis of politics and state.
When Deendayalji propounded his philosophy of Integral Humanism, the Cold War was at its peak and socialism and capitalist democracy were considered as the only options for organising a political system. Especially in Bharat, socialism was the holy cow. Integral Humanism did not only provide a critique of both socialism and capitalism as centralised and exploitative models of development but also provided with an integral scheme of development starting with the individual and progressing up to the universe. When the pendulum has shifted in favour of capitalism and we are facing issues of environmental degradation and increasing economic disparities, insights provided by Deendayalji on planning, prioritising, swadeshi, self-sufficiency, labour intensive capital formation, economic discipline, etc. are all the more relevant.
Since Independence, party system in Bharat has been increasingly fragmented, revolving around electoral politics. Congress Party, which had the onus of reconstructing a Nation, had also fallen into the trap of caste, regional and religious identities, as the basis of party formations and electoral mobilisation. In such a situation, Deendayalji, essentially a thinker and organiser, unwillingly got into politics, as the helm of an ideological fountainhead Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). He not only provided an ideological basis of ‘cultural nationalism’ to the party but also developed a cadre based party structure and made BJS, a prominent force in Bharatiya politics.
Incidentally, when we are celebrating the birth centenary of such an original thinker, prolific organiser and integrationist politician, the party inheriting his ideological legacy is in power. One can hope that the rules of power politics would be transformed and integral policies of nation building would form the core. That would be a true tribute to the legend.