Remembering Thoughts and Politics of Acharya Narendra Deva

Acharya Narendra Deva

Prem Singh

(Asian independent) Acharya Narendra Deva, known as the patriarch of Indian socialism, was born on 31 October 1889 in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. He did his higher education in Allahabad and Banaras. He obtained his law degree from Allahabad University and practiced law for some time. But his philosophical mind did not find satisfaction and he became a history teacher at Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1921 and then vice chancellor of Lucknow University and Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Having a good knowledge of Hindi, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, German, French and English languages,Acharya made a serious study of history, archeology, religion, philosophy and culture. Acharya was basically a teacher. A politician’s ambition and strategic skills were not an integral part of his personality. But his concerns for India’s freedomand an egalitarian democratic society kept him in midst of politics.

Acharya was politically active in Congress, Congress Socialist Party (CSP)during  the freedom struggle and Socialist Party and Praja Socialist Party (PSP) after the independence. He presided over the formation conference of the CSPheld in Patna on 17 May 1934 and was also elected its first president. Apart from his active role in freedom/socialist movement,Acharya propounded doctrine of socialism. Lohia’s ‘Pachmarhi Thesis’ is well knownin the socialist movement of India. In the same manner Acharya’s ‘Gaya Thesis’ is considered to be a masterpiece.

Acharya was inclined to follow Marxism as a contemplative line of thought and method. On one occasion he said that he can leave the party but not Marxism. But he was not a stereotypical or orthodox communist. This is to say that in the name of the proletariat, a dictatorial attitude of a person or a group within the communist party was unacceptable to his democratic mind. Acharya was a critic of the undemocratic character of the regime of Soviet Russia.But he was not a supporter of pro-American capitalist imperialism in any way. He did not see any contradiction between Marxism and National Independence Movement of India and the rest of the world under the yoke of colonial rule. In the same way, he saw mutual supplementation between the farmers and workers’ revolutionary power. He favored the connection between the agricultural revolution and the socialist revolution. That is why he gave more time to farmers’ politics. However, he used to understand the dangers of organizing farmers on the basis of caste and religion.

Acharya considered much that was of value in the ancient culture of India. He made a serious study of Buddhism and its philosophy. He composed the Sahitya Akademi award-winning book ‘Bauddh Dharma-Darshan’ in Hindi. He said in 1936: “Our work is not only to end the exploitation by the imperialism but to end the exploitation by all those classes of the society which are exploiting the people today. We want to create a new civilization which will be rooted in ancient civilization, which will have the colors of the country, which will keep the excellent elements of the ancient civilization safe, and, simultaneously, new progressive elements of the contemporary world will also be included, and, thus would like to present a new ideal before the world.”

Like all the important leaders of freedom movement, Acharya was sentenced to jail often. On one hand, prison greatly damaged his health due to his asthmatic condition, but on the other it gave him much time for reading and writing. For instance, he started translation of Vashubandhu’s ‘Abhi-Dhamm Kosh’ from French to Hindi in Banaras jail in 1932 and completed it in Ahmed Nagar jail in 1945 where he was held captive with many leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru. In the preface of his book ‘Discovery of India’, Nehru has expressed his debt to his colleagues including Acharya for their scholarly inputs.

Acharya, like Gandhi, considered ethics as the criterion for both life and politics. The greatest significance of Acharya’s thoughts is to enhance the moral values ​​of a person with the revolutionary process of social change. His emphasis on the ethical side of social change is related to Indian view, whereas the scientific analysis of the social forces is related to the Marxist view. He was naturally opposed to the ethics-neutral tendency developed in the Bolshevik stream of Marxism.

Acharya died in Madras on 19 February 1956 at the age of 67 years. He has made an outstanding contribution to the independence struggle and later to nation-building as a teacher, thinker and socialist leader. Nehru in his obituary in the Parliament said, “The death of Acharya Narendra Deva means something much bigger for many of us and, I think, for the country than just the passing away of an important person. He was a man of rare distinction – distinction in many fields – rare in spirit, rare in mind and intellect, rare in integrity of mind and otherwise too. Only his body failed him. I do not know if there is any person present here in this House who was associated with him for a longer period than I was. Over 40 years ago we came together and we shared innumerable experiences together in the dust and heat of the struggle for independence and in the long silence of prison life where we spent – I forget now – four or five years together at various places, and inevitably got to know each other intimately; and so, for many of us, it is a grievous loss and a grievous blow, even as it is a grievous loss for our country. There is the public sense of loss and there is the private sense of loss and a feeling that somebody of rare distinction has gone and it will be very difficult to find his like again.”

Remembering Acharya on his birth anniversary, one regrets the state of political-intellectual scenario of today’s India. Our leaders, who were engaged in the freedom struggle were incomparably inspirational, and so insightful.

(The author taught Hindi at Delhi University.)