Jana Krishnamurthi: The Pied Piper of Hindutva in South India

It was unimaginable for a Tamilian to rise this high in politics in a supposedly Hindi party. The last man to do it was the mighty Kamaraj.

ByAnantha Narayan

Published Jun 03, 2024 | 2:00 PM Updated Jun 03, 2024 | 2:19 PM

Jana Krishnamurthy (file)

Everyone celebrates Kapil Dev for India’s first World Cup victory. As an icon, he deserves all the glory he gets. But how many remember the contribution of Madan Lal? He scored 17 crucial runs in the final– two more than Kapil Dev. And he took 3 massive wickets – Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, and Larry Gomes. In sharp contrast, Kapil took one.

The same story played out in 2007. Everyone admired Dhoni’s massive achievement when India won the first T20 World Cup. In the final, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan made great contributions, taking three wickets each. And yet, no one remembers them as champions.

That’s been the story across all domains in our country. The Kohlis and the Bumrahs walk away with all the limelight. The contributions of the Pujaras and the Zaheers are seldom noted.

That’s why, from time to time, it’s imperative to place on record the stellar role played by the unsung heroes of history.

The quiet achiever

Jana Krishnamurthi was one such quiet achiever. He, along with Khushabhau Thakre and Sunder Singh Bhandari, were the legendary organizers who laid the foundation of the giant edifice called the BJP with ample support from countless faceless karyakartas.

Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) (the previous avatar of BJP) was founded in 1951 with the full backing of the RSS. After the sudden death of its founder, Shyam Prasad Mukherjee, in 1953, the flame of Jana Sangh caught the imagination of folks in the Hindi belt when Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay took charge of the party in 1967.

His mysterious death robbed BJS of all momentum. That’s when MS Golwalkar issued a clarion call nationwide for patriots to join the Jana Sangh. Heeding his call, Atal Bihari Vajpayee took charge as the president in 1968. Down South, Guruji urged Jana Krishnamurthi to sow the seeds of the party in Tamil Nadu by abandoning his lucrative career as a lawyer in Madurai.

It was a huge decision for Jana because Tamil Nadu had fallen in love with the Dravidian movement. The anti-Hindi sentiment was at its peak. Atheism disguised as rationalism was rampant in the state. There was zero clamour for a Hindi-Hindu party in Tamil Nadu. Imagine giving up all you’ve got and becoming a farmer in an arid desert. That was the role chosen by Jana.

Laying the foundations in the South

Many sceptics warned him against taking the call, and some urged him to consider other parties. However, Jana was crystal clear about building Jana Sangh largely because he had been a Swayamsevak since his teens. He was one among hundreds of people who were arrested in the country in 1948 when the RSS was banned following Gandhiji’s assassination.

Jana took up the Tamil Nadu challenge in all earnestness. And covered all corners of the state by cycle, bus, and train. And built a loyal band of workers and convinced thousands to vote for this unknown entity called Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

Within a decade, he became the Secretary of the Resistance Movement during the Emergency in 1975. His work received due attention, and he became one of the leading lights of the Janata Party in Tamil Nadu when BJS merged to oppose Indira Gandhi’s tyranny.

In 1980, when BJP was born, he was one of the founding fathers. As the All-India Secretary, he was handed the responsibility of building the party in South India. His experience of working in a tough terrain like Tamil Nadu came in handy. He was quickly able to show results in Karnataka.

His efforts bore fruit

In the 1983 election, the BJP won 18 assembly seats, breaching the South for the first time, and the national leadership was truly elated. One more breakthrough was achieved in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls. Chandupatla Janga Reddy won the Hanumakonda seat in Andhra Pradesh. One of the two measly seats the BJP won was from the South!

Although there were glimmers of hope in Karnataka and Andhra, his own home state of Tamil Nadu saw the emergence of three titans—MGR, Karunanidhi, and later Jayalalithaa, which made it even tougher to penetrate.

The South started taking the party more seriously as the BJP’s equity grew in North India in 1990. The BJP’s vote share in Kerala rose to nearly five percent. Karnataka chose 40 MLAs in 1994. The BJP’s stature in Andhra Pradesh was rising. And in Tamil Nadu, finally, a BJP MLA won his seat from Padmanabhapuram!

The sprouting of the lotus in Dakshin Bharat was widely lauded within the party. And Jana’s reputation as an organizer grew by the day. He went on to become the General Secretary and the Vice President of the party at the national level.

The shift to Delhi

In 1993, LK Advani invited him to shift to Delhi, where he was assigned the complex task of attracting intellectuals to the party.

Jana went about it meticulously and set up the BJP’s first-ever Intellectual Cells for Defense, foreign policy, economic affairs, Agriculture, and many other domains. These cells later acted as think tanks for the BJP when it held power from 1996 to 2003.

Jana’s sweetest victory in Tamil Nadu politics was when he managed to end the BJP’s ‘splendid isolation’ by swinging an electoral alliance for the 1998 Lok Sabha polls with AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa. The BJP ended up winning three Lok Sabha Seats in Tamil Nadu. In 1999, the tally went up to four seats when the BJP allied with the DMK.

His Southern successes and the many roles he played within the BJP as election in-charge, spokesperson, headquarters in-charge, and think tank seeder, combined with his immaculate reputation for honesty and organizational brilliance, ultimately received the highest recognition.

Finally, the laurels

Jana was given the prestigious national presidentship in 2001. For a Tamilian to rise this high in politics was unimaginable in a supposedly Hindi party. The last man to do it was the mighty Kamaraj.

Jana went on to become Union Law Minister in 2002. However, he had to step down due to ill health. He continued to serve the country as a Rajya Sabha Member from Gujarat.

He passed away in 2007 at the age of 79. Had he been around now, he would have been particularly pleased to see the gargantuan electoral growth of the BJP.

Jana’s incorruptible image, generosity, softspoken nature, erudition on so many subjects, humility with which he wore power, simplicity, and organizational nous continue to inspire thousands of karyakartas nationwide.

His finest achievement is lighting the spark of Hindutva in South India. Someday, when the BJP sweeps to power in all five Southern States, hopefully, they will remember that it all started with a young man from Madurai fired up by the cause of nationalism.

(Anantha Narayan is a mining engineer turned B-school grad, writer, adman, serial entrepreneur, and columnist. He is the son of Jana Krishnamurthi. His views are personal.)