Patriots > Social and Religious Reformers > Narendra Deva,( Acharya )
Narendra Deva,( Acharya ) (1889-1956)
Acharya Narendra Deva, savant, socialist leader and educationist, was born on 31 October, 1889, at Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh. He was the second of the four sons of Baldeva Prasad and Jawahar Devi. His parents belonged to a middleclass Hindu Khatri family which originally came from sailboat in the Punjab but had long been settled at Faizabad. At the time of his birth his grandfather, Kunja Mull, was managing a prosperous utensils shop at Faizabad and his father was practicing law at Sitapur.

On the death of Kunja Mull in 1893, Baldeva Prasad, who had already gained experience and acquired some reputation as a lawyer, shifted to Faizaad where his presence was required to look after the family and manage ancestral property. Besides law, his main interests lay in religion and education. He was always happy to welcome and entertain saints and scholars at his house and among the persons who visited him and deeply impressed young Narendra Deva were Swami Rama Tirtha and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.

He compiled and published several texts on religious topics and also books for children and founded a public library for the use of students and the general public. He took a personal interest in the education and upbringing of his children. Narendra Deva, being his favourate child, often accompanied him on his tours and attended with him, for the first time, a session of the Indian National Congress at Lucknow in 1899.

Narendra Deva’s elder brother, Mahendra Deva, known as Lalji, became a lawyer and died soon after Narendra himself in 1956. The brother next to him, Surendra Deva, died before reaching manhood. His youngest brother, Yogendra Deva, lived to be a ocular doctor at Faizabad but also died young. Narendera Deva was married for the first time in his fifteenth year and had a son and a daughter by his first wife. The children, however, soon died and the wife also died after seven or eight years. He married his second wife, Prema Devi, in 1919 and had two sons and three daughters by her.

Narendra Deva had his early education in Sanskrit and realities scriptures from the private pundits his father engaged for all his children. He very early learnt to recite the Gayatri Mantra and the Gita with faultless enunciation. For his general education he joined the local High School where he distinguished himself as a bright and studious boy, passing his Entrance examination in the first division in 1906. For further education, his father sent him to the Muir Central College at Allahabad where he stayed in the Hindu Hostel.

He passed his Intermediate in the first division in 1909, losing a year because of an attack of smallpox. He passed his B.A., again in the first division, in 1911 with English, History and Sanskrit as his subjects. For his M.A. in Sanskrit, with Epigraphy and Paleography, he studied at the Queen’s College, Benares, under Dr. Venis and Professor Norman, both of whom left a deep impression on his mind. He also studied Pali, Prakrit, German and French. He took his M.A. degree in 1913 and, declining an offer of a Lectureship in Sanskrit, returned to Allahabad to study for his LL.B. which he passed in 1915.

It was during his stay at Allahabad that Narendra Deva came under the spell of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh and other leaders of the Extremist Party in the Congress. He was a regular and assiduous reader of papers like the Bande Mataram and the Arya, of which he maintained regular files. He was also a voracious reader of all sorts of book of Indian history and current politics.

It was about this time, too, that he came to know Sachindra Nath Sanyal and through him several other revolutionaries for whom he felt great sympathy and admiration. He was also keenly interested in the growth and development of Hindi. He contributed articles in Hindi to local papers and joined a society known as Nagari Pravarshini Sabha, which was started about this time by Babu Purushottam Das Tandon and some others and later developed into the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan.

After taking his law degree Narendra Deva started legal practice at Faizabad and soon built up a reputation for himself as a successful lawyer. But his heart was not in this work. The First World War had started on 1914 and he had been closely following the happenings in and outside the country. After Tilak had been released from prison and rejoined the Congress, Narendra Deva had met him and was eager to play an active role in the struggle for freedom.

He started a branch of the Home Rule League at Faizabad in 1916, with himself as Secretary, and this marked the beginning of his active participation in politics. It was about this time, too, that he met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, at whose persuasion he agreed to join the Kashi Vidyapith at Benares in 1921.

Kashi Vidyapith had been founded by Shiva Prasad Gupta as a National institution after Mahatma Gandhi had called for a boycott of Government educational institutions and law courts. Narendra Deva found that his new assignment could satisfy the two great passions of his life- study and teaching and active political work. He also had congenial company. Dr. Bhagvan Das was the Acharya or Principal and Sri Prakash and Sampurnanand were among his colleagues.

He drew no salary at first but after his father died in 1922, he agreed to accept a small allowance of Rs. 150/- per month. On the retirement of Dr. Bhagvan Das in 1926 Narendra Deva was appointed Principal, and it was from this time that “Acharya’ became a permanent prefix to his name. Both as a teacher and as a Principal he was a remarkable success and won the esteem and affection of both his colleagues and students.

Narendra Deva had followed the Russian Revolution and subsequent events with great interest, but it was only after he came to the Kashi Vidyapith that he took up the study of Scientific Socialism or Marxism, as it was called, in all seriousness. Another subject in which he was deeply interested was Buddhist Philosophy and he continued to study and teach it whenever he got an opportunity. But his academic work was no bar to his active participation in politics.

From 1921 onwards until he left the Congress, he was a member of the U.P. Provincial Congress Committee and also of the All India Congress Committee. In 1928 he joined the Independence of India League, which had been started by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose, and worked as its Secretary. In 1929 he led the boycott of the Simon Commission at Benares. In 1930 he was arrested in the Civil Disobedience Movement and spent three months in jail.

In 1932 he led a batch of some of his students and colleagues to participate in the no-rent campaign in Rae Bareli and was again arrested and sent to prison. After his release a meeting of the A.I.C.C. was held at Poona, and it was on this occasion that discussions were held about the need for organizing a separate Socialist Party within the Congress. A conference for the purpose was convened at Patna in 1934 and Narendra Deva presided over it. The new Party was named the Congress Socialist Party and Jaya Prakash Narayan became its first General Secretary. Narendra Deva, as long as he lived, remained the chief theoretician and among the top leaders of the party.

In 1936 Jawaharlal Nehru invited Narendra Deva and Achyut
Patwardhan , another socialist, to be members of the Congress Working Committee, and they both continued there up to 1938. In 1936 Narendra Deva was also elected to the U.P. Legislative Assembly but, in spite of great pressure, refused to join the Cabinet as the Party was not in favour of such participation. But he gave wholehearted support to the Congress Ministry, particularly in its policy of land reforms, and acted as Chairman of several important committees dealing with educational reforms both at the University and lower levels.

In 1939, on the outbreak of the Second World War and the resignation of the Congress Ministries, Narendra Deva, as leader of the Congress Socialist Party, was in favour of starting an immediate and nation-wide struggle if the British Government failed to concede the substance of independence; but unlike the Communists, the Royists or the Subhashites, he was for strengthening the Congress and accepting Gandhiji’s leadership.

He courted imprisonment during Individual Satyagraha in 1940 and when the ‘Quit India’ movement was started in 1942, he was arrested along with the members of the Working Committee and remained in detention at Ahmadnagar till 1945. In 1946 he was elected a member of the U.P. Legislative Assembly and again refused to join the Cabinet. In 1948 the Party having decided to secede from the Congress, Narendra Deva and twelve other members of the Party resigned their seats in the ‘Assembly’ to which they had been elected on the Congress ticket.

They were all defeated in the bye-elections which followed. A little earlier, in 1947, Narendra Deva had accepted the Vice- Chancellorship of the Lucknow University where he continued up to 1951 when he was offered and took over the Vice- Chancellorship of the Benares Hindu University which, because of ill-health, he resigned in 1953.

In 1950 Narendra Deva had attended as a delegate the Regional Conference of the World Federation of the United Nations in Thailand and also spent some time in Rangoon studying the social and political conditions in Burma. In 1952 he went to China as a member of a goodwill delegation under the leadership if Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

On his return Narendra Deva, though personally opposed to the proposed merger of his Party with the Kisan Mazdur Praja Party led by Acharya, J. B. Kripalani, agreed to represent his Party at the negotiations, as a result of which a new Party emerged under the name of the Praja Socialist Party. In 1952 and again in 1954, the second time for six years, the U. P. Vidhan Sabha elected Narendra Deva as a member of the Rajya Sabha.

In 1954 Narendra Deva’s asthmatic attacks, from which he had suffered off and on since 1926, suddenly took a turn for the worse and his friends persuaded him to undertake a trip to Europe for treatment. The treatment gave relief, and on his way back he was able to visit Germany, Switzerland, England, Belgium, France, Egypt, Israel and Yugoslavia and met many inportant political leaders in these countries.

When he returned of India he found the Party torn with internal dissensions and, anxious to avoid a split at any cost, he agreed to take up the Chairmanship at the Nagpur session in 1954. But even this did not help. Dr. Lohia and some others continued to flout the National Executive and Narendra Deva had to take disciplinary action against them.

As a result, Dr. Lohia and his friends left the Party and formed a separate Socialist Party of their own. The mental and physical strain caused by these unhappy events proved too much for Narendra Deva and he was too ill even to attend the important session of the Party at Gaya in 1955 though the policy Statement adopted there was prepared under his guidance. He died at Erode on 19 February 1956.

His magnum opus, on which he had been working even during the last hours of his life and which was published after his death, is his monumental work on Buddhist Religion and Philosphy in Hindi entitled ‘Bauddha Dharma-Darshan’, running into 616 pages. There is no other book in Hindi or any other language in which the most abstruse problems of Buddhist religion, philosophy, psychology and logic have been discussed so thoroughly and in such a lucid manner.

What was Narendra Deva’s specific contribution to the Socialist Movement in India? In the first place, he helped to make it an integral part of the national struggle for freedom. Secondly, he realised from the very beginning that no socialist movement could succed in India without the active participation of the peasantry, and in all the policy statements and programmes formulated by him land reforms were given their due importance. Lastly, he was never tired of emphasising that Socialism was not merely an economic issue but a great cultural movement.

His whole background and deep understanding of our cultural heritage gave him unusual authority to expound this aspect of the movement. He was a staunch Marxist, but his Marxism was not a set of rigid formulations. It was to him a method of analysing and studying social phenomena which,according to the social and economic environment in which they occur, can yield widely differing conclusions, both as to a theoretical basis and the consequent mode of action. To him Marx was a great democrat and a great humanist, and the way his teachings were being distorted and misapplied by his communist followers was a matter of great sorrow and disappointment to him.

Throughout his life Narendra Deva was deeply interested in education and regarded it as the principal means for a political, social and economic revolution in the country. He believed that in the earlier stages education should be integrated with useful activity and therefore welcomed the concept of Basic Education propounded by Mahatma Gandhi. The function of the Universities, according to him.

Was not merely to transmit traditional knowledge and learning but also and mainly to serve as centres of research and enlightenment and to prepare the youth of the country for participation and leadership in all spheres of life. He was for having regional languages as media of education upto the secondary stage and thereafter the national language which, he thought, could only be Hindi. He was for a common script for all Indian languages and recommended the study of South Indian languages in the North as well as Hindi in the South.

In his own person Narendra Deva represented a rare synthesis of certain qualilties which would ordinarily appear to be incompatible. He was an ardent believer in national identity and integration in spite of being a Marxist. He was an agnostic in the sense that he believed the ultimate reality to be unknown and unknowable, yet he had all the qualities-humility, sincerity, compassion and love for his fellowmen-which distinguish a man of God.

He liked good food and the ordinary comforts of living, but hated all waste and ostentation. He was never a rich man but liked to share whatever little he had with others. Both at the Kashi Vidyapith and at the Lucknow and Benares Universities he gave away almost half his salary for the benefit of needy students. During the last years of his life, he was constantly ill and often bedridden, but his cheerfulness and sense of humour did not desert him to the last.
Author : Raghukaul Tilak