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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

Remembering Surendra Mohan

Friday 31 December 2010, by Devaki Jain


In the passing away of Surendra Mohan, India has lost one more—soon after L.C. Jain—stalwart of the Indian political landscape. Surendra Mohan and L.C. Jain worked—I used to often tease them—like tweedledum-tweedledee during the space between the results of the elections of 1977 and the formation and definition of the Janata Party of their dreams. I use the term “dreams” as they had envisioned what perhaps most Indian citizens have always aspired for—a highly democratic political party clearly dedicated to Gandhi’s Second Freedom, namely, widespread well-being or, to put it in another way, freedom from hunger and oppression.

Every afternoon would find the two of them working out of separate spaces—one in the Janata Party building and the other in his office in Connaught Place—drafting press releases of that day for the party, usually read out by another one of them, namely, Ramkrishna Hegde. If anyone who is interested in party politics could retrieve those daily press releases, they would have the characteristics of a model Indian political agenda.

The friendship forged at that feverish time continued over the next four decades, even though collaborative work faded away. Surendra Mohan was always there at any event that stood up for the rights of the majority. Not being an aggressive person nor a child of corporate power nor of a dynasty, his leadership, just like the experience of his almost brother, L.C. Jain, remained in the wings.

One aspect of the progressive political leaders of the sixties and seventies, again a feature of both Surendra and Lakshmi, was their extraordinary erudition; constantly devouring the latest books on India as well as other countries, and their political and legal systems, and constantly writing into those journals at the margin, like Janata or Mainstream. In a way talking to each other, as alas their voice did not consolidate to become more than a friendly space for the younger generation. Their voice did not offer a challenge to the current political power-stage or its drama. Conscience-keepers at the margins. Models for the idealistic among the younger generation.

Antara Dev Sen in an obituary for Lakshmi Jain said he was the last pillar of the idea of India that was prevalent soon after India achieved freedom. This could perhaps be said of Surendra Mohan too, with the modification that he was the last pillar of an important configuration post-freedom, namely, the democratic socialists such as Madhu Dandavate, Madhu Limaye, Achyut Patwardhan, Nath Pai and others of that biradari. I will miss his uninhibited embrace and expression of joy at every meeting between him and us.

The author, a noted development economist, is a former Member of the South Commission.

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