You are on page 1of 2

Narendra Deva: More than 50 Years After By Anil Nauriya Had the fiftieth death anniversary year of Narendra

Deva been observed, it might have come to a close in the middle of February 2007. It is now more than 50 years since Narendra Deva died in Erode, Tamil Nadu on February 19, 1956. The anniversary was left virtually unobserved. In a way that was just as well, for anniversaries come, are observed and often forgotten. When we remember Narendra Deva now we do so perhaps in a more significant way, for it is not the calendar that beckons us to him but his thought and attributes. Narendra Deva, a Marxist socialist, is a mirror to much that is now missing from the national discourse across the political spectrum. He was never associated with the Indian communist movement. He remained within the socialist movement but represented its Marxist component. E M S Namboodiripad had remarked at a function to commemorate Narendra Devas birth centenary in 1989 that it is through Narendra Devas presidential speech at the inaugural Convention of the Congress Socialists at Patna in 1934 that he was first exposed to Marxism. The Indian Socialist movement, of which Narendra Deva was the doyen, has reduced itself largely to the non-Marxist ideological stream led by Dr Lohia which emerged with prominence within the movement in the mid-fifties. The Marxist element of the socialist movement has been largely omitted from political discourse. This has impoverished both the socialist as well as the communist movements. Narendra Deva was among the early Indian Marxists to appreciate the importance of the peasant from the point of view of revolutionary change in India. Simultaneously with this, he pointed to the contradiction that would emerge between the Kisan movement and the landless agricultural labourer. A scholar of ancient India, of Buddhism and a lawyer, Narendra Deva wrote extensively. Imprisoned in the Quit India movement, he spent his time translating the Buddhist text Vasubandhus Abhidharma Kosha from the French version based on Chinese manuscripts, the original Sanskrit and other versions not then being extant. Narendra Deva has an instructive text in which he recommends a scientific approach for the study of ancient India. After independence, the question of the socialists leaving the Congress arose. Narendra Deva was against the idea but went along with the decision of the majority among the socialists. It is instructive to recall that in spite of being in the opposition he functioned as Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University and was often, while in Delhi, a house guest of Nehru. Although a critic of some aspects of Soviet development, he was emphatic that socialist criticism of the Soviet Union must be friendly and must not lower her image in the eyes of the world. As Narendra Deva died a few days before Khruschevs disclosures in February 1956, the question of how he would have reacted to them has always been a matter for speculation among socialists. Some of them hold that his possible response may have led him down the path of anti-communism and pro-Americanism which some Indian socialists took. As against this, we have Narendra Devas sharp critique of American imperialism and also his letter to Asoka Mehta about a year before he died that he would rather leave the party than give up Marxism. Narendra Deva furnishes a useful vantage point for examining Left scholarship in India. Over the years, there has been a tendency for scholarship to equate the Communist movement with the Left. Within the Communist movement the policies of the preindependence CPI have been implicitly projected as the touchstone for determining progressivism in politics. Recently Sajjad Zaheer was the subject of an all round celebration without his positions on Muslim nationality and the obvious implications for a Hindu definition of nationality being critically scrutinised. Nor were any questions raised about how he managed to align the Indian communist movement, at a critical juncture, with the Muslim League. Interestingly and significantly, the latter party did not carry out in Pakistan any counterpart of the Zamindari Abolition that took place for example in Uttar Pradesh on the very morrow of Indian independence.

Thus the absence of a Narendra Deva tradition has deprived the Communist Left of the benefit of sympathetic but critical scrutiny. The socialists too have been deprived of an important pole star with the help of which they could have retained a sense of direction. In recent years sections of socialists have gravitated towards a caste-based criminal mafiosi. Narendra Deva had described caste as essentially undemocratic. Lohia himself, who is largely responsible for the socialist shift away from Marxism in 1952-54, had in his writings conceived of caste-based change as one of seven revolutions and not the sole determinant of change. But his epigones have embraced his politics rather than his far superior writings. This politics has led a section of them into the Hindu communal embrace and helped pave the way for the rise of Hindutva. A party built on Narendra Devas ideological understanding could perhaps have avoided this. Narendra Deva is also a reminder to the Congress of the consequences of flirting with communalism. The Babri Masjid story in post-independence India begins with the attempt to prevent Narendra Devas re-election after his resignation from the UP Assembly following the socialist withdrawal from the Congress. Such flirtations can end with bringing not only the flirting party, but also the entire secular edifice down. 1984 and 1992 have something in common. The first was the culmination of the unchecked entry into the Congress over a period of time of a goonda-cum-communal element. During and immediately after the Emergency in particular there had been a rapprochement between the RSS and the younger son of Indira Gandhi who recruited a number of persons with unverified antecedents into the Youth Congress. 1992, and the destruction of the Babri Masjid, was the result of connivance at the highest level in the Congress government with the agenda of the BJP leadership. Both these trends have continued. The open door which the Congress offers to disgruntled elements from communal parties, as seen recently in Maharashtra and earlier in Gujarat, requires to be closed. Narendra Deva had warned against precisely this. Speaking of Sardar Patel, he said : He wants the Leaguers to disband the League and join the Congress. He welcomes Hindu Mahasabhaites into the Congress. He pats the RSS and welcomes them too. By one door the Congress expels the socialists. Through another, it admits in capitalists and communalists. [Hari Dev Sharma (ed.) Selected Works of Acharya Narendra Deva, Volume II, p. 225]. The gains that accrue from such a policy are transient. while the damage it causes is more difficult to heal. An analysis after the previous state assembly elections in Gujarat showed that the majority of the seats that the Congress managed to retain were those where it put up its traditional members; the ones it lost had a higher proportion of candidates who had entered the party recently at the behest of its new ex-BJP leadership.