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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009

Rammanohar Lohia

Saturday 21 March 2009, by Qurban Ali

Gandhian socialist, rebel by birth, visionary, man of letters, great parliamentarian and crusader for the upliftment of the poor and downtrodden of the country Dr Rammanohar Lohia was born on March 23, 1910 in Akbarpur in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh in a Marwari Vaishya community. Lohia’s father, Heera Lal, was a nationalist by spirit and a teacher by profession. His mother, Chanda, died when Rammanohar was very young. Lohia was introduced to the Indian independence movement at an early age by his father through the various protest assemblies. Heera Lal, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took his son along on a meeting with the Mahatma. This meeting deeply influenced Lohia and sustained him during trying circumstances and helped seed his thoughts, actions and love for swaraj. Lohia was so impressed by Gandhiji’s spiritual power and radiant self-control that he pledged to follow the Mahatma’s footsteps. He proved his allegiance to Gandhi, and more importantly to the movement as a whole, by joining a satyagraha march at the age of ten. Lohia attended the Indian National Congress’ plenary session in 1923 at Gaya in Bihar and also the 1926 session at Guwahati.

Lohia received his education in Bombay, Banares and Calcutta. He passed the Matriculation Examination in the first class in 1925. After a two-year course at the Banares University, he joined the Vidyasagar College in Calcutta. In 1929 he passed the Honours Examination in English Literature. Even in his student days he was attracted towards political agitation. He went to Germany for higher studies. Hitler was in power at that time. Lohia wrote his doctoral thesis on the Salt Satyagraha in India. He was awarded the Doctorate in both Economics and Political Science. He returned to India in 1932.

Lohia joined the Indian National Congress as soon as he returned to India. In 1934 he joined the group of Acharya Narendra Dev, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Yusuf Meherally, Achyut Patwardhan, Asoka Mehta, Purshottam Tricumdas and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and was the founder member of the Congress Socialist Party. These people dreamt of building a nation for the toiling millions.

In 1936, Lohia was elected a member of the All India Congress Committee. He travelled all over the country and drew young men into the freedom movement. The British imprisoned him in Calcutta on charges of sedition but he was released by authorities the very next day fearing a youth uprising. Soon after his release, Lohia wrote an article called “Satyagraha Now” in Gandhiji’s newspaper, Harijan, on June 1, 1940. Within six days of the publication of the article, he was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail. While sentencing him the Magistrate said: “He (Lohia) is a top-class scholar, civilised gentleman, has a liberal ideology and a high moral character.” At a meeting of the Congress Committee Gandhi said: “I cannot sit quiet as long as Dr Rammanohar Lohia is in prison. I do not yet know a person braver and simpler than him. He never propagated violence. Whatever he has done has increased his esteem and his honour.”

Gandhi and the Indian National Congress launched the ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942. Prominent leaders, including Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad, were jailed. The “second-rank cadres” stepped-up their activities to continue the struggle keeping the flame of swaraj burning within the people’s hearts. Leaders who were still free carried out their operations from the underground. Lohia printed and distributed many posters, pamphlets and bulletins on the theme of “Do or Die” in his secret printing press. Lohia, along with freedom fighter Usha Mehta, broadcast messages in Bombay from a secret radio station called Congress Radio for three months before detection, as a means of giving the disarrayed Indian population a sense of direction and hope, and lifting their spirits in the absence of their leaders. He also edited Inquilab (revolution), a Congress party monthly, along with Aruna Asaf Ali. Lohia then went to Calcutta to revive the movement there.

He changed his name to hide from the police who were closing in on him. Lohia fled to Nepal’s dense jungles to evade the British. Lohia was captured in May 1944 in Bombay. He was taken to a prison in Lahore, notorious throughout India for its tormenting environment. In that prison he underwent extreme torture. His health was destroyed but his courage could not be smothered. Even though he was not as fit, his courage and willpower were actually strengthened through the ordeal. Under Gandhiji’s pressure the government released Lohia and his comrade Jaya Prakash Narayan in 1946.

After his release Lohia decided to visit a friend in Goa to relax. Lohia was alarmed to learn that the Portuguese Government had censured the people’s freedom of speech and assembly. He decided to deliver a speech to oppose the policy but was arrested even before he could reach the venue of the meeting. The Portuguese Government relented and allowed the people the right to assemble. The Goan people weaved Lohia’s tale of unselfish work for Goa in their folk songs. As India’s tryst with freedom neared, Hindu-Muslim strife increased. Lohia strongly opposed partitioning India in his speeches and writings. He appealed to communities in riot-torn regions to stay united, ignore the violence around them and stick to Gandhiji’s ideal of non-violence.

Socialist Party

August 15, 1947. India became free. But then it was divided. Lohia was unhappy on this count. Gandhi was murdered on January 30, 1948. The communal virus spread all over the country. The Congress Socialist Party was not happy with the way in which the Congress leaders dealt with the situation. The CSP decided to bring together the peasants, factory workers and workers as well as the middle class. In March of that year, the Socialists left the Congress Party. They formed their own Socialist Party. One of the top leaders of the party was Lohia.

Thereafter Lohia toured the whole country. He strongly criticised the policies of the Nehru Government. In his inimitable style he argued in favour of the stand and policies of the Socialist Party. He stole the hearts of the youth of the country.

Praja Socialist Party

The first general elections in free India were held in 1952. The Socialist Party fielded its candidates all over the country. Dr Lohia did not contest. He toured all the States to explain the aims of his party. He visited the erstwhile Mysore State too and addressed many public meetings. The election did not bring much success to the Socialist Party.

On January 1, 1954, the Socialist Party and Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party founded by Acharya Kripalani merged. The new party was named the Praja Socialist Party. Acharya Kripalani became the President of the party. Dr Lohia was its General Secretary.

During this period, Travancore and Cochin, the two princely states, had been merged to form a single State. The Praja Socialist Party was in power and Pattom Thanu Pillai was the Chief Minister. Once there was an agitation by estate workers. The government resorted to firing. Lohia could not condone this action of the government headed by his own party. His contention was that the so-called people’s party had no right to misuse its powers and to use repression against its own people. He demanded that the Praja Socialist Party Government should resign immediately. He took a firm stand on the issue. Many leaders in the party did not want to accept his stand. But Lohia did not budge. Finally in 1955 the Praja Socialist Party took disciplinary action against Lohia.

Reviving Socialist Party

In the field of social revolution Lohia was a galvanising personality. Vast numbers of young men and women were attracted to his way of thinking. They resented the disciplinary action against Lohia. The idea of rebuilding the erstwhile Socialist Party began to take shape. In 1955, towards the end of December, the socialist Lohiaites met in Hyderabad to exchange views. At last the Socialist Party was reborn. It was the midnight of December 31, 1955. The city of Hyderabad witnessed a torchlight procession which symbolised the birth of the new party.

The Socialist Party chalked out a specific programme. Lohia was the author of this programme. He explained the fundamental aims of the party and clarified its practical approach. He started Mankind, an English daily from Hyderabad, which voiced his views. He also started Jana, a Hindi monthly.

More than half of our population comprises women. Their condition is pathetic. Cooking food, breeding children and being a slave to her husband —this is a woman’s fate. A woman is not considered equal to man, such is the blind belief sustained through the ages. The law has guaranteed equality to women, but that is only on paper. Equality has not been practised. Hence jobs must be reserved for women in all walks of life. They must be freed from the tyranny of homework. The latent talent of women should be brought to the limelight. Society does not progress as long as women remain oppressed. Society must be rid of deeprooted beliefs and old practices. Beginning with women in villages, every woman should be given justice. Lohia strove his utmost for this cause. According to him, emancipation of women was the foundation of the social revolution; without this there can be no prosperity.

Men should not hate one another because of the colour of the skin. Racial hatred is treachery to mankind. All men are equal. Lohia was a firm adherent of this ideology. This was why Lohia staged a satyagraha having experienced racialist prejudices at a restaurant in Jackson, a town in America. He was arrested at the time. In his life-span of 57 years Rammanohar Lohia suffered imprisonment twenty times. The government of free India imprisoned him as many as twelve times. As a staunch believer in satyagraha he felt it was his duty to fight injustice, whether it was on a small scale or a big scale.

Lohia never had faith in violence. By nature as well as training he was non-violent. He abhorred destructive tendencies. He never lost patience. Time and again he made it clear that non-violence was not a facade for cowardice. It is our tradition as Indians to remain gentle for a century than to pounce like a tiger in a matter of seconds. He advised people to hold their heads high always like human beings. He followed what he preached. He never bowed to any force on earth.

“I prefer the spade to the throne,” said Lohia. “We should build our nation. Our country has a huge population. We do not have big machinery. But we have plenty of manpower. Hence we must utilise it to the fullest extent. That will be possible only if everyone wields the spade. If every healthy person donates an hour’s labour a day to the cause of the nation, our country will soon be rich.” In his life the spade and the prison were like two sides of the coin.

Lohia contested the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha from Phulpur constituency in Uttar Pradesh. His rival was the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Lohia lost the election. But such was his courage that he would challenge even the mightiest man of the land.

In May 1963 there was a by-election from Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Lohia contested and won, and entered the Lok Sabha. It was his desire that the Lok Sabha should mirror public opinion. His maiden speech itself was historic. The daily income of twentyseven crore people of this country is a meagre twentyone paise, declared Lohia in the Lok Sabha, to the utter astonishment of government spokesmen. He argued that top priority should be given to improvement of the condition of such poor people. Everyone was astonished when Lohia disclosed that this poor country spent as much as twenty-five thousand rupees a day on the security of the Prime Minister. He wrote a book elaborating his statements. He argued that popular leaders should not alienate themselves from the common man.

Experiment with Non-Congressism

In 1963 he propounded the strategy of Non-Congressism. He was of the opinion that in the past three general elections the Congress won with a thumping majority and there was a feeling among the masses that the Congress cannot be defeated and it has come to stay in power for ever. Lohia invited all the Opposition parties to field a single candidate against Congress nominees so that this illusion can be removed from the masses. This formula of Dr Lohia got huge success in the 1967 general elections and in nine States the Congress party was defeated and SVD Governments were formed by the Opposition parties of that time.

Equality of opportunity—this is a sound principle. But when people who have been oppressed for ages are asked to compete with people belonging to forward communities the latter are bound to succeed. Hence it is but right that those who are backward should be given special opportunities. Lohia based all his programmes on this doctrine.

From time immemorial there has been a gulf between profession and practice in India. Lohia stressed the need to bridge this gulf between word and deed. He never owned any property. Until he became a Member of the Lok Sabha he never had any income. His friends and well-wishers looked after him.

His house in Delhi was always open to the
party workers. Lohia was returned to the Lok Sabha from Kannauj constituency in 1967. In September 1967, he underwent an operation. But he never recovered from it. On October 12, 1967 Lohia breathed his last.

Versatile Genius and Hero of Rare Courage

Lohia was a versatile genius. He had a sharp intellect. He wielded a sharp pen and was a very effective and persuasive speaker. While addressing public gatherings he always spoke in Hindi. His speech used to be translated into the language of the region. He knew English, German and French very well. He was also proficient in Bengali. He was a man of incisive logic. Once he chose a subject he would make a thorough study of it. He had a special love for Economics. And no one could deceive him with mere statistics.

Such was his life that Lohia became another name for fearlessness. Both during British rule and in free India he expressed his opinions fearlessly. His yardstick to judge any idea or plan was always the same—does it help the downtrodden and the poor? His scholarship was amazing. His intellect was penetrating. He was a man of independent views.

For five thousand years no one has known whether the common man is alive or dead in this land. His personality should blossom and he must grow into a new man. Lohia toiled and died for the cause of the common man.

He wrote a number of books. Marx, Gandhi and Socialism is his masterpiece. Guilty Men of India’s Partition, Wheel of History, Leisure amidst Politics and Will to Power are some of his other works.

Lohia died in 1967 in New Delhi. He left behind no property or bank balance but incisive ideas and contemplations.

The author is a TV journalist and can be contacted at qurban100@gmail.com

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