The Political Philosophy of Deendayal Upadhyaya


DEENDAYAL Upadhyaya played a major role, probably more than any other figure, in shaping the organisation and ideology of the Jana Sangh, a party which last May 1 merged with four others to establish the Janata Party. It could be argued that Upadhyaya’s contribution to Indian politics lay primarily in the area of party building. As party secretary for almost fifteen years, he applied his considerable organisational skills to transforming the Jana Sangh into a significant political force. But he was of course also a person with a keen interest in political issues and he made an important contribution to Indian political thought.

Basic Concept

The idea of Integral Humanism is associated with him and he gave it systematic treatment in four lectures delivered at Poona in April 1965. The elements of his thinking on this matter had already been presented for discussion to the Jana Sangh and was adopted as the party’s fundamental ideological statement by the Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha meeting at Vijayawada in late January 1965. Upadhyaya began systematically to apply Integral Humanism to practical politics in his presidential address to the Jana Sangh’s fourteenth annual session at Calicut in December 1967. His untimely death two months later cut short his further efforts to elaborate on these basic principles. Those in the party who inherited his mantle carried on his efforts in this regard. Consequently, it is a useful exercise to review the concept.

It is the task of the political philosopher to make clear what man’s nature truly is and, on this basis, to define the conditions of a good political order. This was the task Upadhyaya set for himself in his Poona lectures on Integral Humanism.

Man, Role in Society

Contemporary politics in India, according to Upadhyaya, was based on a partial, if not incorrect, understanding of man and his role in society. The political leadership of post-independence India, he asserted, had attempted to apply western notions of the good society to Indian conditions, and the results were unsatisfactory. Economic growth was sluggish, unemployment and exploitation had increased, national integration was undermined, and cultural progress was slow. Moreover, he believed that the major schools of western political thought had failed in fundamentally improving the human condition in the West itself.

Nationalism, democracy and socialism, in his opinion, were uncritically accepted by many Indians. Each had a certain merit, but taken alone each provided only a partial solution to the human quest for the good life. Nationalism posed a threat to world peace. Democracy, when linked with capitalism, gave free reign to exploitation. Socialism, the reaction to the linked concept of democracy-capitalism, robbed the individual of dignity and freedom. Each of these political concepts, he asserted, exacerbated material acquisitiveness, and thus stimulated greed, class antagonism, exploitation and social anarchy. If this is the case, what are the guiding political principles suitable to India?

Central Political Question

Upadhyaya proposed that Indian thought provided in-sights into the solution. Indeed, he argued that every nation, including of course India, had a unique national ideal, shaped by its physical environment and its collec-tive experience, that should inform its political and social life. The philosopher’s task then is to enunciate this national ideal, and the politician’s duty, properly considered, is to work out ways to implement the ideal for his own time.

The central political question of Indian social thought (and this is true of most social thought) is What is justice And this leads necessarily to the question : What is natural Upadhyaya argues that man is naturally a social animal who seeks collectively to satisfy needs of body (hunger, shelter, desires, etc.), mind and soul. Dharma, properly understood, are those rules which enable man both to satisfy these needs and to live in harmony. Indeed, the satisfaction of human needs is impossible without social harmony. The good society thus is one that functions as an organism in which each person (or group) works to sustain the well-being of the nation. Justice consists in each person doing a socially useful task suited to his or her aptitude.


Secondly, he proposes that each national entity has its own identity (which he labels with the Sanskrit term chiti) —or national culture—that has evolved out of long asso-ciation together of a people within a specific geographic space. The natural urge of a people is to unite politically within the geographic area historically connected with the nation.

Each nation creates its own institutions to satisfy human needs. Property, guilds (or castes), religious sects, the means of production, even the state are merely instruments of the nation, and thus can be altered by the nation as it responds to changes in the environment. The point is important, for it means that a particular political system or institution is derivative—they are not natural. The state, in Upadhyaya’s view, comes into existence by a type of social contract which the nation uses to protect itself and to satisfy basic human needs. If a particular form of government fails to adequately fulfill those goals, the nation then has the right, if not the obligation, to adopt a new form of government. The same applios to any other institution.

Appeal to Base Instincts

Communism and capitalism are consequently illegitimate, for they both stimulate social conflict by appealing to man’s baser instincts. Similarly, the present caste system is a flawed institution because it exacerbates social tension, even though it may have been valid in a prior age when conditions were different. He argues that the present economic system, which permits a wide disparity in income and in control over the means of production, is unnatural, for it results in exploitation, physical suffering, and weakens the fraternal bonds that link the nation together. (In its with this view, the Jana Sangh proposed that the maximum income be no more than 10 times the minimum.)

Upadhyaya favoured decentralising political power and the economic system. The same motive led him to support workers control over the means of production, either through individual ownership of small-scale enterprises or cooperative ownership of larger, more complex industries. A similar populist motive can be identified in his call for education in one’s mother tongue. English education tended, in his view, to create class distinctions that undermined the sense of community.

(Based on paper read on the occasion of Deendayal Upadhyaya Birthday Celebrations in New York on 25th September, 1977)