Introduction – Acharya Narendra Dev was India’s leading freedom fighter, prolific writer, socialist ideologue, polyglot, thinker, and educationist. After reaching to the position of Acharya in Banaras Hindu University (‘BHU’), he was conferred the honorary title of Acharya for life. As a freedom fighter he was someone who worked as a member of All India Congress Committee from 1916 to 1948 and even went to jail whenever it was needed as part of his civilisational duty. As a person of prodigal talent and well-rounded personality, he is always remembered as a teacher par excellence and an educationist with a vision for the future.
Early Life – Acharya Narendra Dev was born on 31st October 1889 in Sitapur district of present-day Uttar Pradesh. During his childhood, he was named Avinashi Lal and he happened to be the son of Baldev Prasad who was a prominent lawyer and politician of his time. Due to the religious and political inclinations of his father, Acharya Narendra Dev got exposed to stalwarts like Swami Ramtirth, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, and Pandit Din Dayalu Sharma right since his early age. In 1899, at the age of ten, he accompanied his father to the Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress. His love towards India’s rich traditions and culture arose at a tender age and it remained his guiding values when he entered the arena of politics. His professional education began with a degree of B. A. at Allahabad University. His curiosity towards India’s civilisational history took him next to pursue the course on Archaeology from Queens College, Kashi. Despite being reluctant to pursue the practice of law, Acharya Narendra Deo joined law school thinking that it would be helpful in his upcoming political journey.
Political Life – Since the beginning of his political career, he was a person with revolutionary attitude and he found himself placed in the Garam Dal camp of the Indian National Congress. After completing his education of Law, he practiced law in Faizabad district between 1915 to 1920. When the Non-Cooperation movement began, he quit the practice of Law and shifted to BHU to pursue a career in teaching. As it has been mentioned above, it was here that he was given the honorary title of Acharya for lifetime as a recognition of his teaching ability and overall personality. He turned BHU into a centre for pro-freedom activities by emerging as the leader of all the students and professors with similar inclinations. Along with being the member of All India Congress Committee from 1916 to 1948, he was also an active member of the Congress Working Committee.
Despite his poor health, he took part in the Salt Satyagraha movement and faced the tortures of prison. When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi passed the proposal of Do or Die on August 8 1942 as part of Quit India movement, Acharya Narendra Dev was present in Bombay and was arrested alongside all other members of the Indian National Congress. While being lodged in Ahmednagar jail alongside Jawaharlal Nehru, he assisted J L Nehru in editing the draft copy of “The Discovery of India”. With an intent to lead the Congress party towards Socialist ideas, he formed the Congress Socialist Party within the broader organisation in 1934 alongside Jay Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. He even presided over the first session of the Congress Socialist Party as the President. When it was decided by the Congress leadership that it won’t allow members of other organisations to be a part of the Congress, he left the INC to continue his association with the Congress Socialist Party. He will always be remembered as the stalwart of India’s socialist movement.
His knowledge of Languages – Along with being a leading political figure and an ideologue, Acharya Narendra Dev was also a distinguished figure in the Academic arena. He was someone who had proper command over several languages such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Pali, Prakrit, Bangla, Urdu, Persian, English and French. After his tenure as a Professor at BHU, he also went on to serve as the Vice-Chancellor of the same University. Later, he also served as the Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University as well.
His writings – Once on a radio show titled “My Memories”, Acharya Narendra Deo had shared indulging in politics and taking active interest in reading-writing are two of his life long habits. He had a special interest in reading about Buddhist philosophy and he published two works related to the same titled “Buddh-Dharm-Darshan” and “Abhidhamkosha”. He could not complete the work of writing a dictionary for philosophical terms used in Buddhist philosophy due to his untimely death.
His collected speeches remain one of the key expressions of his thought process. He also edited and published several magazines such as “Vidyapeeth”, “ Janvani”, “Sangarsh”, and “Samaj”. The writings in these magazines revolved mostly around Nationalism, Socialism, Socialist Party, Marxism, India’s Freedom Struggle, War and India, and the issues of Farmers.
Towards Vaikuntha – Acharya Narendra Dev had suffered lifelong due to Asthma. He left the Vasundhara to move towards Vaikuntha after his demise due to Dama in Adore, Tamil Nadu where he was on visit for personal rejuvenation on the invite of his friend and Governor of Madras State Shree Prakash.