Nanaji Deshmukh

Bharat Ratna for a FUNDRAISER

Print edition : March 01, 2019

June 5, 2004: Nana Deshmukh (right) with A.B. Vajpayee on the occasion of Sampurna Kranti Diwas in New Delhi. Photo: The Hindu archives

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying a floral tribute to commemorate the birth centenary of Nana Deshmukh, in New Delhi on October 11, 2017. Photo: V. Sudershan

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Nana Deshmukh has been conferred the Bharat Ratna for 2019. He neither enriched Parliament nor the public platform nor the press with his contributions. He enriched the Jana Sangh, with money. He was a born fund collector and a born political operator.

A GOVERNMENT in a democratic country, governed by the rule of law, wields executive power solely, exclusively for a public purpose. It cannot use state property or state power for personal or party ends. Award of Bharat Ratna, the highest honour the Republic of India can confer, to Vijay Mallya or Nirav Modi or Mehul Choksi would provoke outrage. Nana Deshmukh does not fall into this category, which is cited only to illustrate the principle that the power to confer state awards is not an unlimited one. That principle applies very much to Nana Deshmukh.

He did not deserve to be in the same company as the others who received that highest honour. He was not a politician in the same class as A.B. Vajpayee or, for that matter, any others of stature such as E.M.S. Namboodripad, A.K. Gopalan and Acharya Narendra Dev. Prem Bhasin gave his life to the socialist movement. After retirement, he repaired to a public library to read newspapers and became one of the country’s finest political analysts.

Nana Deshmukh neither enriched Parliament nor the public platform nor the press with his contributions. He enriched the Jana Sangh, with money. He was a born fund collector as he was a born political operator. He was prepared to stoop to any depth to secure a partisan objective. He lied on oath before a High Court judge and inflicted on him a document that the judge found to be fabricated. He took sanyas from politics because he fell out with Vajpayee and L.K. Advani after 1979. He remained close to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and at least on one crucial occasion flung a potshot at them when they went on one of their frequent trips to the RSS’ headquarters in Nagpur, in penitence to seek guidance and forgiveness.

As one of the general secretaries of the Janata Party, he made a Faustian pact with Charan Singh to divide the spoils of office after the Assembly elections in 1977—the Jana Sangh to rule in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi, and Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal to rule in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Orissa (now Odisha). Have you ever heard of such a cynical deal before? Prime Minister Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram wanted each legislature party to elect its leader. They were overruled (Nana Deshmukh, RSS: Victim of Slander; A Multidimensional Study of RSS, Jana Sangh, Janata Party and The Present Political Crisis, Vision Books, 1979, pages 52-53).

The pomposity in the subtitle is reflected all over the book. Read this: “The moral degradation and loss of direction of India’s politics affected the younger generation, as it had to. The youth power of the country came to the fore through the movement launched for ‘total revolution’, it gave proof of its courage and sacrifice in the fight for freedom from dictatorship during the dark days of the Emergency and helped the frustrated opposition to attain power, but it has again lost its way. In the absence of able leadership with a constructive outlook, it is again getting involved with purposeless agitations, frivolous campaigns and subversion. If we want to utilise the power of the youth for constructive purposes we will have to set an example, the youth of the country would have to be convinced that power is not the only goal of politics, that the leadership does not hanker after it for its own sake.”

Pray, what example did he set? He came into his own neither as a mass leader nor an Member of Parliament but as an “organisation man”, an operator and fund collector. By the 1970s, he had won the confidence of a powerful but gullible newspaper tycoon, a Mumbai industrialist and a wealthy colleague. Madhu Limaye, his socialist colleague in the Janata Party, found that Deshmukh went back on an understanding. “He kept quiet. This was nothing but perfidy” (Madhu Limaye, Janata Party Experiment: An Insider’s Account of Opposition Politics, 1975-77, B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1994, Vol. 1, page 561). 

Deshmukh’s big success came when he inveigled Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) into accepting the RSS’ support in his movement against corruption and for the ouster of Indira Gandhi from power. He became general secretary of JP’s Lok Sangharsh Samiti and did the running of the samiti. JP was the leader, the mascot. JP was a poor judge of people; his confidence was abused by many. We do disservice to history by withholding censure of JP for his sorry lapse in accepting RSS support. We are still paying the price for a sorry betrayal by a noble soul. From being an outcast the Jana Sangh became “respectable” as did the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1989 under V.P. Singh.

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s death

Before all this lay a sordid event revealing Nana Deshmukh in his true colours—his disgraceful conduct before a judicial inquiry. “Report regarding the facts and circumstances relating to the death of Shri Deen Dayal Upadhyaya by Honourable Mr Justice Y.V. Chandrachud (Commission of Inquiry)” is still relevant in all its 160 pages.

Upadhyaya, president of the Jana Singh, died on a train journey on the night between February 10 and 11, 1968. On February 10, 1968, he left Lucknow in the evening for Patna by the Sealdah Express. The train left Varanasi at about 1:40 a.m., and after stopping at Kashi for about five minutes, it steamed into Mughalsarai at about 2:10 a.m. But Upadhyaya was not on the train. Ten minutes later, his body was found lying near a traction pole 748 feet from the end of the platform of Mughalsarai station where the train had halted. He was found clutching a five-rupee note in his hand. The last time anyone saw him alive was at Jaunpur, shortly after midnight.

One M.P. Singh, who travelled in the adjoining cabin of the same coach, saw someone enter Upadhyaya’s cabin at Mughalsarai and walk off with his file and bedding. This man, he identified in the court, as Bharat Lal. Together with Ram Awadh, Bharat Lal was charged with murder and theft. Both were acquitted of the capital charge, while Bharat Lal alone was convicted of the theft of the belongings of the deceased. He appealed to the Allahabad High Court. The Sessions judge remarked in his judgment that “the offence of murder not having been proved against the accused, the problem of truth about the murder still remains”.

Over 70 MPs demanded a commission of inquiry to ascertain the truth. The Government of India promptly agreed and appointed Justice Y.V. Chandrachud of the Bombay High Court as the sole member of the commission. Although, strictly speaking, parties are not arrayed before a commission of inquiry as prosecutor and accused, in reality the Jana Sangh was very much the prosecutor before the commission. Upadhyaya’s murder was politically motivated, it said. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to whom ironically the case had been specially entrusted to ensure independent investigation, was attacked for deliberately suppressing the political origin of the crime by giving a commonplace slant to it and making scapegoats of two notorious railway thieves.

Vajpayee appointed a committee to collect the facts relating to the death of Upadhyaya. Nana Deshmukh was appointed as Chairman of that committee. He co-opted one Ramacharya Pandey to assist him. The report of the committee was placed by Deshmukh before the Central Working Committee of the Jana Sangh, which was held in Bhopal on the March 22 and 23, 1968. The report was simultaneously released to the press. It was published in an official publication of the Jana Sangh called Apni Gatividhi, dated April 15, 1968. Deshmukh, Sherlock Holmes and Joseph McCarthy rolled into one, saw the chance of a lifetime to emerge as a national hero. He began by putting forth his charge. He gave evidence on oath before the commission and also put forth before it a crucial document. He accused two of the “internal threats” identified by RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar, Muslims and communists, of complicity in the murder.

The Deshmukh committee report

Deshmukh reckoned that if he could get the commission to indict Muslims and communists for the murder he would emerge as a national hero eclipsing Vajpayee, whom he disliked. Let the report speak for itself. 

“The case of the Jana Sangh was that Upadhyaya was murdered for political reasons. He used to collect information regarding anti-national activities and he used to keep that information in a file and some diaries. The fact that the file and the diaries have not been traced is said to support the case that certain Muslim organisations had held Shri Upadhyaya responsible for the communal riots at Meerut. Some communists were willing to lend a helping hand to the communalists. Upadhyaya was being shadowed by suspicious characters. Ultimately, the communists and communalists joined hands and took the help of Major Surendra Mohan Sharma for perpetrating the murder of Major Sharma who is the son-in-law of V.N. Sharma, who in turn is said to be closely connected with Dr Faridi, the president of ‘Majlis Mushawarat’.

“Major Sharma travelled by the I Class compartment of the FCT bogie from Lucknow so that he could wait for an opportune moment to execute the conspiracy. At the other end, namely, at Mughalsarai, the communists had taken the necessary steps to further the object of the conspiracy. It was as a part of this scheme that Prabhu Singh Bhati of the GRP Mughalsarai had gone on leave on the 10th afternoon, feigning sickness.

“Known communists, like Prabhu Singh Bhati, Ramdas the ticket collector, Pranav Kumar alias Dada Ghosh, Satyanarayan Tiwari, Munne Lal Gupta and Dr Shivtahal Mehta were moving about in a suspicious manner round about the time of the murder. Upadhyaya was murdered in the running train after the train left Zafarabad at 12:41 a.m. Strange sounds coming from the I Class compartment were heard by persons travelling in the Third Class compartment of the FCT bogie after the train had left Zafarabad.

“The deceased must have been struck on the right side of his head, while entering the ‘B’ Cabin with the right side towards the corridor. Thereafter, he must have been thrown on the berth, with someone sitting on his chest and someone on his legs. Upadhyaya must have been then carried to the lavatory near the ‘A’ Cabin and held in a position in which the blood from injury No.1 would fall directly on his right shoulder.

“As the murder was pre-planned, the news of Shri Upadhyaya’s death had spread in Varanasi even before the dead body was identified by Vishwanath Prasad Agarwal. The conspirators gloated over their success and spread the news immediately on coming to know that the purpose of the conspiracy was fulfilled.” When the suspicion fell on communists, some of them like Dr Shivtahal Mehta, Munnelal Gupta and Satyanarayan Tiwari absconded.

The CBI was not spared. The murder was committed in the running train and the dead body was subsequently placed near the traction pole in order to simulate an accident.

The CBI manipulated the discovery of articles belonging to Shri Upadhyaya and concocted evidence to show that the recoveries were made from the house other than that of Lalta Kalwar. By resorting to this expedient, the CBI could make scapegoats of two notorious railway thieves, Bharat and Ram Awadh. (Nana Deshmukh, Jana Sangh Witness No.51). According to them, Upadhyaya used to collect information against anti-nationals and kept that information in a file or a diary. 

The Commission of Inquiry found: “(1) That Shri Upadhyaya was pushed out of the running train when he was standing near the door of the I Class compartment of the F.C.T. bogie. (2) That he dashed against Traction Pole No.1276 and died an instantaneous death. (3) That the injuries found on his person were caused in a single transaction. (4) That the injuries could not have been caused inside the compartment.... That the murder of Shri Upadhyaya was accompanied by an immediate theft, which shows that the two are part and parcel of the same transaction.... That there is no reliable evidence to show that the missing file contained any matter of political significance. That the murder was not committed for political motives. That neither the left communists nor Dr Faridi nor any communalists are connected, directly or indirectly, with the murder, and that there is no substance in the accusation that the CBI acted mala fide.”

The judge explained: “I have dealt exhaustively with the charge that Shri Upadhyaya’s murder was committed for political motives, as that was one of the important points involved in my inquiry. On the 12th February 1968, some Members of Parliament had expressed a fear on the floor of the House whether in India politics had become so unsafe for politicians that one had to pay for one’s political beliefs by one’s life. I can say with a certain amount of confidence that nothing that has come before me can support the accusation that there was any politics in Shri Upadhyaya’s murder. Undoubtedly, he had political rivals but his death is the rash and extempore handiwork of mere thieves.”

The Jana Sangh’s witnesses were disbelieved. That included the star witness, Deshmukh himself. There were no bloodstains on the floor of the compartment. Justice Chandrachud, who became Chief Justice of India 20 years later, said: “Shri Ramacharya Pandey has stated in his diary Ex.40, in the weekly memo ending with the 3rd of March that Dr Faridi and Prabhu Singh Bhati were the brains behind the conspiracy. I have already rejected the charge that Bhati was connected with Shri Upadhyaya’s murder. I must now consider the validity of the charge against Dr Faridi.

“Dr Faridi, a Muslim, is a heart specialist practising at Lucknow. He owns a house in Lucknow, a part of which is let out to a company called ‘Cipla’, of which Shri V.N. Sharma is the Branch Manager. On the 17th January, 1966, V.N. Sharma’s daughter was married to Major Surendra Mohan Sharma, who commanded a Field Battery Regiment at Namkom, near Ranchi. Major Sharma had taken one month’s leave from the 14th of January and he returned to his headquarters on the evening of the 11th February. He went for regimental exercises on the 12th. [Note, the judge’s reference to Faridi as “a Muslim”.]

“I have rejected as unsubstantial the allegation that Major S.N. Sharma was in any manner connected with the death of Shri Upadhyaya. I have held that he travelled by the train service coach and that no one masquerading as Major Sharma travelled by the FCT bogie, at any stage of the journey between Lucknow and Mughalsarai. This conclusion necessarily implies that Major S.N. Sharma was not used as a tool by Dr Faridi. Nonetheless, it is necessary to examine the charges against Dr Faridi a little closely.

“The Jana Sangh has examined three witnesses in support of its case that not only communists but Muslims like Dr Faridi had conspired to commit Shri Upadhyaya’s murder. These witnesses are Maheshya Datta, Shivraj Bahadur and Sardar Jagjit Singh, all three were disbelieved.

“In my opinion, the charge against Dr Faridi that he is connected with the murder of Shri Upadhyaya is baseless. It is significant that in the report of committee appointed by Shri Vajpayee, of which Shri Nanaji Deshmukh was the Chairman, there is no reference to Dr Faridi whatsoever. Surely Nana knows that [emphasis added, throughout].

“The case of the Jana Sangh is that Shri Upadhyaya used to collect information regarding anti-national activities and keep it in a file and some diaries. As the file which Shri Upadhyaya was carrying with him has not been traced, it is urged that the file was taken away for a political purpose. It could not have been taken away by a mere thief. Nanaji Deshmukh and Ashwini Kumar, the organising secretary of the Bihar Jana Sangh, have stated in their evidence that Shri Upadhyaya used to collect information about the activities of the anti-nationals....

“I am however unable to hold that the particular file, which was stolen at Mughalsarai from Shri Upadhyaya’s cabin, could have contained any secret or important information regarding anti-nationals. It is remarkable that in the report of the committee presided over by Nanaji Deshmukh, there is no reference at all to the file or the diaries. In paragraph 8, the report says that ‘Almost the entire luggage of Panditji has been recovered except a bag containing books, a pillow and a slate-coloured chaddar.’ If the file contained important matter, the report would have undoubtedly referred to it, especially when reference is made to the other articles, which were not traced.

“Kailash Pati claims to have been supplying secret information to Shri Upadhyaya for about six years. It is surprising that he has not produced a single letter written by Shri Upadhyaya acknowledging receipt of the information. In fact, there is no evidence that there was any correspondence between the two. Kailash Pati has taken the easy course by saying that Shri Upadhyaya did not reply back to him. That is impossible to believe. A person as methodical and meticulous as Shri Upadhyaya would not have failed to send a simple acknowledgement, though without discussing the nature of the merits of the information supplied to him.

“The CBI recorded Kailash Pati’s statement on the 3rd of April 1968, which is Ex.14. He did not even suggest in that statement that he used to supply any information to Shri Upadhyaya. He only stated that he had gone to receive Shri Upadhyaya at the Patna Station first on the 10th night and then on the 11th morning, but Shri Upadhyaya did not come by either train. Lastly, Kailash Pati did not file any affidavit before the commission, which normally he would have done if he was in possession of such an important clue.

“In my opinion, therefore, though the file which Shri Upadhyaya had taken with him on the journey has not been traced, there is no satisfactory evidence to show that the file was in the nature of a precious political document. As the file has not been traced, so have the books not been traced. Experience shows that thieves promptly part with stolen articles, which have a market value. Files and books are valueless in the eye of the receiver, though they may be otherwise worth their weight in gold.”

Ramacharya Pandey, a graduate of the Calcutta University, edited a weekly called Jan Deep published from Lucknow. He had written a dozen books of poetry. He became a member of the Jana Sangh in 1960. He was a confidant of Nana Deshmukh, who co-opted him on his committee of investigation.

“He says that he received the news of Shri Upadhyaya’s death at about 9:45 a.m. on the 11th of February, 1968, while he was sitting in the Jana Sangh Karyalaya at Lucknow. He immediately passed on the information to the Jana Sangh leaders, including Nana Deshmukh. Nana told him on phone to proceed to Mughalsarai immediately and collect the relevant information regarding the death of Shri Upadhyaya. Ramacharya says, he accordingly contacted several persons from day to day and noted their names in his personal diary, Ex.40. He says that he maintains the diary regularly. The diary contains other personal jottings also....

“Frankly, I am unable to appreciate how just a day or two after the death of Shri Upadhyaya, Ramcharya would go about conducting a sort of parallel investigation. At that stage, the anxiety of all concerned was to cooperate with the police who were investigating into the murder. Nothing had happened, till then at any rate, to cast any doubt on the fairness of the official investigation.”

Now comes this damning part. “I cannot accept Shri Nanaji Deshmukh’s statement that he told Ramacharya on the 11th morning on phone that he should collect the relevant information. Nanaji was then in Bombay and knew nothing about the murder. In fact, there is a good basis for doubting that Ramacharya at all telephoned Nanaji from Lucknow on the 11th morning. Om Prakash Chatwal of the Lucknow Telephone Exchange, who was examined before me by the CBI, has stated that no trunk call was made from telephone number 23509 (Lucknow) to Bombay on the 11th of February 1968. 23509 is the telephone number of the Jana Sangh Karyalaya, Lucknow, where Ramacharya says he received the information about Shri Upadhyaya’s death.”

In short, Nana lied. There was no phone call. “The entries of the 12th of February would put the smartest and the most experienced investigator to shame. So efficient indeed was Ramacharya. In one day he claims to have been able to contact almost all the principal actors in this mysterious drama. If the diary is authentic, to Ramacharya must go the credit of having solved the riddle of Shri Upadhyaya’s death within a short span of two days. The CBI took a little over two months and a half to file the charge sheet against the two accused. The learned Sessions judge took a year to decide the case. I have been grappling with this mystery since February 1970. But, Ramacharya concluded on the 12th of February 1968 that communists (whose names are mentioned in the entry) were concerned with the murder and that the five-rupee note was planted to simulate an accident. The entry of the 12th leaves me but with one feeling, that it was made months after....

“I will now turn to another variety of entries showing that the diary has been written subsequently. In these entries Ramacharya, like a seer, has made advance reference to coming events. For example, under the date 17th of February, it is mentioned that the itinerary of Shri Upadhyaya (which is Ex.58) was handed over to DIG Lobo by Nanaji on that date. Nanaji has admitted that Ex.58 was given by him to DIG Lobo on the 2nd of March 1968. There is an endorsement to that effect on Ex.58 itself.

“This in my opinion proves beyond any doubt that the diary was written out subsequently in support of a certain theory that was to be made out. Could Deshmukh have been ignorant of this?

“Ramacharya claims that Ex.40 is his personal diary and not a mere record of the investigation done by him. I am sorry to say that the diary is pre-eminently a record of the investigation made by Ramacharya. Pages after pages of the diary are blank. 13 days in March, 27 days in April... and all the 31 days of July are completely blank. I do not think that any life could run such a blank course for so long a period. And, Ramacharya is a poet and a politician. If there was no political event worth noting in the diary during those days, his muse at least could not have so cruelly deserted him. In any event, a personal diary can always have enough food for thought in the shape of the endless problems of personal life.

“I will refer to one more improbability in the investigation conducted by Ramacharya and leave the matter there. On the day that Shri Upadhyaya died, the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal Ministry was in power in U.P. The Jana Sangh was a constituent of the Dal and in fact Shri Ram Prakash, who belongs to the Jana Sangh, was the Deputy Chief Minister. It is impossible to believe that Nanaji would ask Ramacharya to conduct a parallel investigation on the 12th when one of the leaders of the Jana Sangh was occupying a high place in the U.P. Cabinet. The Ministry fell on the 17th and President’s Rule was introduced in U.P. on the 25th of February. There was, therefore, no reason for Nanaji to suspect the bona fides of the police, at least till the 17th.

“It is no pleasure to distrust political workers but Ramacharya seems to have identified himself so completely with the cause of his party that he permitted his vision to be blinded. He put himself in a position where he could not see truth from falsehood. I must express my disapproval that anyone should have been a party to the fabrication of a document for the purpose of producing it as evidence” (page121). Ramacharya was lent Deshmukh’s tool.

Witnesses disbelieved

Stronger censure was surely due. Deshmukh said on oath that he spoke to Ramacharya on the phone from Bombay to Lucknow. There was no STD then. The official of the Lucknow Telephone Exchange said that there was no such call that day and produced the record. In plain words, Deshmukh perjured himself. Witnesses are not just picked and put in the witness box. They are first tested for their veracity. Almost all Deshmukh’s witnesses were disbelieved. Murli Manohar Joshi was disbelieved, too (page 126, paragraph 10). He contradicted Deshmukh. Both spoke under oath. The commission censured Joshi (page 127, paragraph 12). Was Deshmukh not aware of the fact that Ramacharya Pandey’s diary, which he so confidently produced before the commission, was, as the commission noted, a fabricated document on the face of it—“written subsequently” (page 120, paragraphs 99, 100, 101 and 102).

Evil intent is carried out by evil means. In this case, a torn paper cutting was put before the commission plus evidence regarding a planchette. Read these paragraphs at pages 92 and 123. Dr Kataria, a reputed surgeon, is not an independent witness.... “There is an interesting sidelight to Dr Kataria’s evidence. The Jana Sangh produced before me a truncated cutting from Organiser dated the 18th of February 1968. It says that one could make “the following” statement after discussing the matter regarding Shri Upadhyaya’s death with Shri Ram Prakash, Shri Balraj Madhok, Shrimati Khanna and ‘a leading surgeon’. In that cutting, what follows has not been included. It has been cleverly cut out. That the reference in the cutting to “a leading surgeon” is to Dr Kataria is clear from the diary of Shri Ramacharya Pandey in which, under the date 13th of March 1968, he refers to a cutting from Organiser dated the 18th of February in regard to ‘Dr Kataria’.

“It is interesting to have a look at the whole of the news item dated the 18th of February. It says expressly at page 2, that according to the opinion of ‘a leading surgeon of Delhi... only the sudden stroke in the head causing instantaneous death, can explain the closed eyes and the calm face’. Reading this, one can understand why the whole of the cutting was not placed before me. It is clear that the initial opinion of Dr Kataria was that death must have occurred instantaneously as a result of the head injury. He has now made a valiant effort to establish that death must have supervened an hour after the injuries were caused. Who else put the torn cutting but the man who led the Jana Sangh team before the commission—Nana Deshmukh.

“It seems to me that in their moment of grief, those interested in Shri Upadhyaya were groping in the dark to discover the truth. They did not even hesitate to consult the planchette but they were not satisfied with the answers they got there. As reported in Organiser dated the 10th of March 1968, the planchette favoured the theory that a drunken man with a masked face knocked on the door of Shri Upadhyaya’s cabin, entered the cabin, twisted his arm, sat on his chest, and hit on his head before the train had reached Varanasi, but while the train was travelling at a slow speed. This theory was found unsuitable and was dropped. In a quest for a more plausible theory, politics was imported into the crime. I do not think that either planchette or politics can yield a correct solution to the problem before me.”

Before he demits office as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi must confer a Bharat Ratna on Murli Manohar Joshi. He deserves it as much as Nana Deshmukh did.

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