Acharya Narendra Dev: Life

Acharya Narendra Dev

Born on 31st October 1889 at Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Dev was son of Babu Baldev Prasad, a well-known lawyer of his time. His interest in Indian politics was aroused at an early age when, at the age of ten, he attended the Lucknow session of the Congress. He also attended the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1906 when Dadabhai Naoroji described the goal of India as "Swaraj". When Gandhiji in began the non-cooperation movement, Narendra Dev left his lucrative legal practice to join it. Later, he also participated in the civil disobedience movement in 1930. During the freedom struggle he was imprisoned several times.

It was in 1932, during a long-term imprisonment at Nasik, that Acharya Narendra Dev conceived the idea of forming a socialist group inside the Congress. He recognized the importance of the role that farmers played in a predominantly agricultural country like India. He presided over the All India Kisan Sabha at Gaya in 1939 and later in Muzaffarpur in 1942. After independence and Gandhiji's death, Acharya Narendra Dev left the Congress and in 1948 he formed the Socialist Party. Later, the Socialist Party merged with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party in 1952 to become the Praja Socialist Party and Acharya Narendra Dev become its first Chairman. Elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1952, Acharya Narendra Dev spoke on issues largely concerned with land reforms, labour welfare, civil liberties and education.

Besides his considerable contribution in the political field, Acharya Narendra Dev was a well-reputed scholar. He passed his Matriculation examination from Faridabad. He secured a Ist class at the B.A. level with History, English and Sanskrit as his subjects. After completing his post-gradudation in Sanskrit he went on to take a degree in law at Orient College, Banaras. He was a linguist and had a good command of Bengali, Pali, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, English, French and German. An authority on Indian history and far eastern politics, he translated books on Buddhism written in French and German into Hindi and English. He also wrote a book on Buddhist philosophy titled Boudha Dharma Darshan. His most significant work in English is titled Socialism and National Revolution. He founded a socialist Hindi weekly "Sangharsh" and wrote a book in Hindi titled Rashtriyata aur Samajwad.

Acharya Narendra Dev's political interests did not stand in the way of his academic pursuits. After the non co-operation movement, Acharya Narendra Dev worked at the Kashi Vidyapeeth. It was here that the sobriquet "Acharya" became attached to his name. In 1926 Acharya Narendra Dev was made Chairman of the Vidyapeeth. Post-Independence, he was the Vice-Chancelor of Lucknow and Banaras Universities and made significant contribution in the field of education. He espoused the cause of universalisation of education and knowledge with a balanced integration of technical education along with studies in humanities. He provided financial assistance to several deserving but impoverished students by paying their college fees.

Though a chronic asthma patient, Acharya Narendra Dev's ill health did not deter him from putting in long hours of work everyday. He passed away on 19th Feb., 1956 after several asthma attacks. However, his rich legacy, in the form of his writings and speeches, lives to serve as inspiration to the coming generations.

Excerpts from the First Acharya Narendra Dev Memorial Lecture delivered by Shri Chandra Shekhar Former Prime Minister of India

Talking on Acharya Narendra Dev ji is a task very difficult for me as he holds a very high stature and regard in my thoughts. I am neither exaggerating nor indulging in any formality alone in saying that, whatever I am today in position and capacity, I owe to one man, and that is Acharya Narendra Dev ji. People who know Acharyaji only as a statesman actually know very little of him. Acharyaji was one of that lineage of saints who gave direction to many a great souls of our country. Inspite of being a politician, Acharyaji was the wise hermit, who from his holy abode, gave message to all in every field - be it art, culture, education et al. Good reason then, for every men to find himself humble at the doorsteps of Acharyaji. His was a soul that could encompass many. Politically, he was Marxist, though his call was Buddhist. In 1954, a little before his death, when Acharyaji inaugurated a newspaper, we requested him for his message to the paper. He sent a saying, "Good and evil are woven strains of life, nature has given this to us; may good triumph and evil vanquish, this is humanity's most devoted goal." 'Universal brother-hood' was a slogan laid down by the socialists; and Acharyaji was a successor to them. He wanted the world to be 'one family' but today India lies fragmented. Acharyaji was the Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University. He believed that without protest, without voicing one's opinion in defiance, society cannot progress. He believed "Protest is the essence of progress". Every era had seen a radical. a sole voice which at times become the voice of an era ."

Acharya Narendra Deva (1889-1956) was a pioneer of modern socialistic ideology and was one of the leading theorists of the Congress Socialist Party in India. Deva was first drawn to nationalism around 1915 under the influence of B G Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh. He was a key leader of Congress Socialist Party from its founding in 1934, and was imprisoned several times during the freedom struggle. His democratic socialism renounced violence means as a matter of principle, and embraced the Satyagraha as a revolutionary tactic. Narendra Deva advocated the abolition of poverty and exploitation not just through his belief in the Marxist materialist dialectic, but especially on moral and humanistic grounds. Furthermore, he insisted that "without political democracy social democracy was a sham". Deva was active in the peasant movement and served as president of the All-India Kisan Congress. He was also an atheist, rejecting the glorification of God which, he argued, by implication denigrated humankind. 

Acharya Narendra was not only a politician but also a great educationist, scholar, thinker and great exponent and supporter of Indian culture and heritage. As a teacher he became interested in Marxism and Buddhism. He was also active in the Hindi language movement. He was a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly several times and after 1948 served as Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University. He remained associated with the Socialist Party and its successor, the Praja Socialist Party, until his death in 1956. 

In an address to the All-India Congress after Acharyaji's death, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said: 

The death of Acharya Narendra Deva is 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. 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.