BJP's Renaming Spree Revives Controversy over the Midnight Death of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya

Did Upadhyaya's mysterious death have something to do with the factional tussle within the Jana Sangh? Why did his body go unnoticed for hours at the Mughal Sarai station yard?

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya

Mughal Sarai station (left), Deen Dayal Upadhyaya (centre) with M.S. Golwalkar (left) and Atal Behari Vajpayee (right). Credit: PTI, YouTube

This article was first published on August 21, 2017, and is being republished on September 25, 2017, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s birth anniversary.

There are at least 16 educational institutions and hospitals named after Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) leader Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. We also have innumerable local roads and housing complexes in his honour. Last week, the Assam government decided it would open over a dozen educational institutions in his name. Three welfare programmes initiated by the Modi government have the prefix ‘DDU’. Thus the Union cabinet’s decision to rename Mughal Sarai ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya station’ is just another addition to the existing long list. The move however will have an unintended consequences. It will revive many old ghosts. What was Upadhyaya’s special connection t0 Mughal Sarai? How did he become a shaheed (martyr) to deserve the station’s renaming? The ruling party and its government maintain a deafening silence about the saffron icon’s unnatural death at the station premises on February 11, 1968.

The ruling party seems to seek to downplay all controversies over what was believed to be a gruesome murder. The party’s centenary pamphlets and publicity material shed no light on how he became a shaheed. On that fateful day, Upadhyaya had boarded a Patna-bound express train from Lucknow but he never reached the destination where his admirers waited for their party president with garlands. Instead, his body was found in the Mughal Sarai yard neatly laid a couple of feet away from the track. He was found holding a Rs 5 note – quite a tidy sum before the petroleum hikes of the 1970s.

Who had murdered the proponent of ‘integral humanism’ at the relatively young age of 51? Did it have something to do with the factional tussle within Jana Sangh? Why did his body go unnoticed for hours along the tracks of one of India’s busiest junctions in the ’60s? There is palpable reluctance to expose saffron’s GenX to such unpleasant facts. In 1968, there was much public outcry about the slow pace of police investigations into the death. Then the task was handed over to CBI. The CBI, and the local police before it, went along with the theory that the BJS president was killed by luggage-lifters or train robbers. Two accused were arrested by the CBI but the trial court acquitted them for want of evidence. Apparently, there was an absence of political interest in pursuing the case. For, neither the Congress, which held unchallenged supremacy, nor the Jana Sangh leaders, pressed for any further probe.

A decade later, during the Janata rule, Subramanian Swamy persuaded the then home minister Charan Singh to initiate a fresh inquiry to ‘break the cover-up’. Accordingly a commission was set up under Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. But that too faced a similar fate. Estranged BJS leader Balraj Madhok attributed this to ‘manipulations’ by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was authorised to submit evidence on behalf of the saffron side. (It was the interim period when BJS had merged with the Janata Party and BJP was waiting to be formed in 1980).

There was another gruesome spin to the Upadhyaya murder story. Lucknow’s crime reporters of yore still talk about the shoddy investigation. As BJS president, he had refused to give any important positions to his powerful party rivals like Vajpayee. The scribes talk of the presence of shakha men in the train on the fateful day. But the ethic-conscious editors of the era had discouraged anything beyond the official version. Swamy however, puts on record, that all Upadhyaya’s co-passengers in his coupe, had fake addresses and identity cards. He calls it a ‘political assassination’ and a ‘murder with political motive’. He says that Nanaji Deshmukh and Dattopant Thengdi had never accepted the court’s verdict or commission’s findings.

Another version of the midnight murder was that Upadhyaya was pushed out of the train while he was standing at the compartment’s door. But Deshmukh, among the top three of the BJS, disagreed: “Why should Upadhyaya stand at the door at that unlikely hour? To be pushed out?”

Years later Deshmukh had explained that Upadhyaya followed a strict daily sleep regime and was an early bird. Deshmukh, who had in 1980s felt fed up with too much politicking in the parivar, had later shifted to Chitrakoot were he did social work through his own NGO.

Vajpayee, seen as a factional rival to Upadhyaya along with Deshmukh, neither believed the ‘pushing out’ theory nor the political angle theory. If you believe Balraj Madhok, a rising star of the Sangh in the 1960s, Vajpayee had blamed Upadhyaya’s own temperament for his sad end. In his autobiography, Madhok quotes Vajpayee as telling him: “Deen Dayal was a hot-headed (jhagralu) man and might have picked a fight with someone in the train.”

Madhok, who died last year, was a bitter rival of the Atal-Nanaji faction which had isolated and ousted him from the Jana Sangh in 1973.  His political explanation for the separation was that his rivals were taking the BJS Left-wards and the RSS was exerting too much control on its political wing. An angry Madhok wrote relentlessly against the ‘manipulations’ of the ‘Atal-Nanaji clique’. This animosity reflected in all his post-1973 writings and addresses at academic gatherings. Therefore, his version of the Upadhyaya murder cannot be taken seriously. But as a contemporary leading light of the parivar, his side of the story deserves mention. His memoir frequently mentions how the Atal-Najani duo had persistently thwarted the investigations into Upadhyaya’s death.

“One thing is clear. Behind the murder of Deen Dayal were neither the Communists nor any thief… He was killed by a hired assassin. But the conspirators who sponsored this killing were those self-seekers and leaders with the criminal bend of mind of the Sangh (RSS)-Jana Sangh.” Who are this ‘leaders with criminal bend of mind’?  His autobiography explains:  “Deen Dayalji was constantly striving to ensure that ill-reputed people do not get promotions in the BJS… For this reason, some characterless, self-seeking people were finding him a stumbling block in their path of self-seeking fulfillment (sic).” It further says, “Information gathered from different sources points the finger of suspicion in the murder of Deen Dayalji towards them.”

The BJP, which has launched a big Upadhyaya build-up with massive official programmes, including 200 rallies, has rejected all demands for further inquiries to bring out the truth. In May, 2015, Swamy had reiterated his demand for another special investigation. In September 2014, Upadhyaya’s neice, Madhu Sharma, who heads an outfit in her uncle’s name, had also sought a ‘thorough’ inquiry.  Yet the stoic silence continues.

P. Raman is a senior journalist.