Review of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna – A Political Crusader: A Handbook of UP’s Checkered Political History


The life of HN Bahuguna is an important contribution to understanding the divisions within Congress, in Delhi as well as in the United States.

The life of HN Bahuguna is an important contribution to understanding the divisions within Congress, in Delhi as well as in the United States.

The starting point of the biography, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna: a political crusaderis a fascinating account of how the Bandopadhyas of the Gaur Province of the United Bengal Province transformed into the ‘Bahugunas’ (of many qualities) of the Garhwal region.

Co-authored by Ram Naresh Tripathi and Rita Bahuguna Joshi, daughter of freedom fighter and former Congress stalwart, and translated into English by Ajai K. Rai, the book is useful for understanding contemporary politics in Uttar Pradesh, the power play and the subsequent decline of Congress and so on.

Chronicling Bahuguna’s transformation from being an impressionable spirit, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, to becoming a student leader who was on the radar of British authorities during the Quit India movement, the book also sheds light on the role of student leaders of Allahabad University, then citadel of the student movement.

“From the last week of August, the movement [protests following the Quit India call] had split into two currents – the violent and the non-violent. Bahuguna skilfully managed the two currents of the movement. He used to infuse his foot soldiers with so much vigor and confidence that they put their lives on the line to complete the assigned job. Endowed with a photographic memory, Bahuguna addressed his cohorts by the names of their place of origin or Mohallah. His exceptional memory had a magical effect on the militants, and each of them felt closest to Bahuguna,” the book quotes Professor Damodar Khanna, a colleague of Bahuguna, to reveal the transformation of the young boy from Garhwal into a promising student leader.

The book also sheds light on how students moved seamlessly between the parallel political narratives of moderate nationalists and armed revolutionaries; many like Bahuguna were as much influenced by Lenin as by Gandhi and Nehru.

Coming out of student politics, Bahuguna carved out a niche for himself as a labor leader. He first contested and became a deputy in 1952 from the assembly seat of Karchana and finally became a UP minister in 1957.

Until 1969 he was a dominant figure in UP politics and eventually joined Indira Gandhi’s cabinet as Minister of State for Communication in 1971. The rank as well as portfolio was considered a demotion by Bahuguna’s supporters, but he accepted it without question. fidgets and puts his own spin on the slogan “I’m the country’s first postman”.

After independence, the book notes, the internal contradictions within the party – which have always existed since 1907 and eventually led to the exit of top leaders like Acharya Kripalani, Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia – were accentuated under Indira Gandhi. “Cracks in Congress burst into the open as Ms. [Indira] Gandhi’s tenure,” say the authors.

Bahuguna sided with Indira Gandhi and it helped him become the UP’s Chief Minister in 1973 when an armed revolt by the UP’s Provincial Armed Gendarmerie (PAC) overthrew Kamlapati Tripathi . With elections just months away, the newly appointed Chief Minister delivered on his promises by comfortably winning the Assembly elections.

Bahuguna, however, soon developed differences with Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi during the emergency years, which prompted his resignation as chief minister in 1975. By 1977 he had joined the leadership group as Jagjivan Ram to create the Congress for Democracy, and became a cabinet minister in the Janata Party as well as Charan Singh governments.

The book is an important contribution to understanding the turbulence within Congress, in Delhi as well as in the United States.

However, if the authors were to release a second edition, they would have to subject the manuscript to more rigorous editorial review as several bloopers feature in the final printing.

Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna: a political crusader; Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Ram Naresh Tripathi, translated by Ajai K. Rai, Vani Prakashan, ₹895.

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