Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 14, March 21, 2009
On Rammanohar Lohia’s 99th Birth Anniversary
Saturday 21 March 2009
The birth centenary celebrations of Dr Rammanohar Lohia, the stormy petrel of the Indian socialist movement, one of the most talented and versatile personalities in the freedom struggle, and a profound, innovative and original socialist thinker, are to start from March 23, his ninetyninth birth anniversary. Dr Lohia was born at Akbarpur, Faizabad district, UP on March 23, 1910. Since his birthday coincided with the day of martyrdom of three of the country’s finest revolutionary freedom fighters—Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru (who were executed by the British rulers in Lahore Jail on March 23, 1931 when he was 21 years old)—Dr Lohia did not want his followers to observe or celebrate his birthday. However, this being the year marking the start of his birth centenary, the day is bound to be befittingly observed in different parts of the country—in fact he will be widely remembered at various functions for the next two years beginning March 23, 2009.
Following his Matriculation in 1925, he graduated with distinction in 1929 and went to Humboldt University (Germany) for his Ph.D in Economics the same year and returned to India in 1932 after receiving his doctorate degree. It was during his stay in Germany that he decided to devote himself fully to political work. In fact he was active among Indian students in Germany aspiring for the country’s freedom and participated in the anti-British demonstrations that rocked the sessions of the League of Nations at Geneva at that time.
In 1934 he was associated with the efforts to form the Congress Socialist Party within the Congress—the CSP was born on May 17 that year and Dr Lohia made a member of its National Executive. Between 1934 and 1936 he was active in the students and workers movements in Calcutta and became the editor of the CSP mouthpiece, Congress Socialist. He worked in the Foreign Affairs Department of the AICC from 1936 to 1939; he also became an office-bearer of the UPCC in this period and came close to Jawaharlal Nehru. In the years 1937-1948 he developed a close relationship with Mahatma Gandhi and enjoyed Bapu’s unalloyed affection.
He suffered imprisonment from May 1939 to July 1940 for anti-war propaganda; thereafter for the second time he was sentenced to a two-year prison-term for the same ‘crime’ but released after a year-and-a-half. Between 1938 and 1942 he had differences with Nehru on what policy India should adopt with regard to the Second World War. But this was also the time when he dedicated himself to Gandhiji for joining the total satyagraha for India’s freedom.
At the historic AICC session in Bombay’s Gwalior Tank on August 8, 1942 that saw the adoption of the famous ‘Quit India’ resolution, Dr Lohia was a delegate and spoke on the resolution. Thereafter like countless Congress workers he went underground to participate in Gandhiji’s memorable ‘Do or Die’ struggle, established the secret Congress Radio Centre in Calcutta, delivered several speeches on the air from there, and wrote as well as published and circulated several clandestine journals and publications. He also played a pivotal part in organising and carrying out a number of secret anti-British operations in that movement. In May 1943, the Nepal Government at the directive of the British Indian Government arrested Dr Lohia and Jaya Prakash Narayan in Nepal but a secret team of revolutionaries was shortly able to free them from captivity.
After 21 months of clandestine activities from the underground Dr Lohia was arrested in Bombay on May 10, 1944 and sent to Lahore first and then shifted to Agra. At Lahore Jail he was subjected to inhuman torture. In this period he lost his father, who was a Congress office-bearer in UP and arrested in the 1930-32 Non-Cooperation Movement, but he refused to come out of jail on parole. After 24 months of imprisonment he was released in June 1946. On his release Nehru offered him the party’s General Secretaryship but he refused to accept it as he has having serious differences with Nehru on several questions relating to the functioning of Congress leaders in power as also the Congress organisation.
On June 18, 1946 Dr Lohia launched the satyagraha movement in Goa that became the precursor of the Goa liberation struggle. He was arrested then and there, and again for nine days in September when he had to endure brutal treatment at the hands of the Portuguese authorities.
In 1946-47, the Nepal Congress was set up under Dr Lohia’s inspiration—he also went to Darjeeling to project and support the demands of the Nepali people and was arrested in that connection.
It is significant that on August 16, 1946, the Muslim League’s Direct Action Day that resulted in the Great Calcutta Killings, Dr Lohia was in Chittagong, then a veritable bastion of the East Bengal Muslim League, and spoke at a public rally there opposing the proposed partition of the country; this provoked the Muslim League goons to issue life-threatening calls which obviously failed to cow him down.
In February 1947 he was elected Chairman of the Congress Socialist Party at its Kanpur session. In June the Congress Working Committee met to take a final decision on partition—it found Dr Lohia and JP attending the meet as invitees and voicing their resolute opposition to the move for the nation’s vivisection which was, however, endorsed with majority support.
A day before Gandhiji’s tragic assassination on January 30, 1948 Dr Lohia had his last meeting with the Mahatma. In March the CSP decided to quit the Congress and he left the parent organisation with other CSP leaders and members.
Thereafter he suffered imprisonment for the first time in independent India in May 1949 when he led a demonstration on ‘Nepal Day’ in the Capital. He was also briefly imprisoned in the movement against the Princely State in Rewa (Madhya Pradesh) in January 1950 and for leading a peasant satyagraha in Karnataka in June 1951.
The Socialist Party participated in the first general elections in 1952 and lost heavily; against the backdrop of that defeat the party met at Panchmarhi (Madhya Pradesh) under Dr Lohia’s chairmanship in May 1952—the SP merged with Acharya Kripalani’s Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP) to form the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) in September of the same year. At the first conference of the PSP in Allahabad in December 1953, Dr Lohia was elected its General Secretary.
In August 1954 the PSP Government of Travancore-Cochin headed by Pattom Thanu Pillai fired on unarmed people as a consequence of which some persons were killed; Dr Lohia was then behind bars for having participated in a mass movement in UP—from prison he urged the State Government to tender its resignation on moral grounds but CM Pattom Thanu Pillai rejected the recommendation thus forcing him to resign from the post of the party General Secretary upholding principle over politics.
The Avadi session of the AICC in January 1955 saw the party opting for a socialistic pattern of society in the country. This was warmly welcome by PSP leader Asoka Mehta and his resolution to that effect was stoutly opposed by Dr Lohia while one of his closest followers, Madhu Limaye, voiced his public opposition to Mehta as a result of which Limaye was suspended from party membership with Dr Lohia opposing the disciplinary action. In June the internal squabbles of the PSP scaled a new high with even Dr Lohia placed under suspension. It was a matter of time before the party split. Within six months, in December, the Socialist Party was revived under Dr Lohia’s leadership in Hyderabad.
Nevertheless, he backed the efforts of JP to unite the PSP and SP into the SSP in 1957.
Dr Lohia fought the second, third and fourth general elections from UP, the third one in 1962 against Nehru from Phulpur. He lost in 1957 and 1962 but came to the Lok Sabha by winning a by-election from Farrukhabad. In 1967 he was re-elected to Parliament from Kannauj.
Even today, after 43 years, one distinctly remembers his absorbing speeches in the Lok Sabha in 1966—even now one can hear his inimitable voice in Parliament hurling sharp and acerbic attacks on PM Indira Gandhi especially during the acrimonious debate on the devualtion of the rupee. Every word was measured and his unequivocal pronouncements, full of wit and substance, were listened to with rapt attention by all sides of the House—he commanded a kind of respect from friends and foes alike few have been able to claim since his demise.
Dr Lohia led several mass movements and was jailed on numerous occasions in both pre- and post-independence India. He was an uncompromising and indomitable fighter who could not be suppressed by either force or coercion.
He visited several countries and participated in meetings of the Socialist International and World Peace Council. During his last trip abroad in 1965 he went to Germany, Russia and Afghanistan; while in Kabul he had the opportunity to meet the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
His espousal of several causes, like the one on giving Hindi the status of national language while strengthening the regional languages for the benefit of the poor and the marginalised, evoked mixed reactions. But his arguments were always logical and factual.
Towards the end of his life he expressed a strong desire to bring about Left unity in the country.
Following a prostrate-gland operation at New Delhi’s Willingdon Hospital on September 29, 1967, his condition suddenly deterioratede and he breathed his last on October 12 at the comparatively young age of 57. (As a homage to his memory the hospital was subsequently renamed after him.) There are very few political personalities in India who have contributed so much for the freedom struggle and the country’s post-independence regeneration in such a brief life-span.
While remembering him on this occasion we are reproducing here two articles written by him (the second one was published in this journal’s third issue in September 1962) and carrying tributes from Justice Rajindar Sachar, Surendra Mohan, Prof Anand Kumar and Qurban Ali. S.C.