The League of Nations meeting in Geneva, somewhere during the 1930’s. The Indian representative the Maharaja of Bikaner an ally of the British , rose to spoke on behalf of India. In the galleries a young lad of 22, with spectacles and short in height, stood up and whistled loudly. He was promptly sent out, the young lad, smiled much like the rebellious student in class, who heckles the professor, and feels proud on being sent out. He did not stop with there, he dashed off letters to various newspapers, questioning the validity of sending a British lackey to represent India at an international forum.
The young rebel here was a certain Ram Manohar Lohia, often called the stormy petrel of Indian politics. If there was one word to describe Lohia, maverick would be the right answer. There was much to Ram Manohar Lohia, a devout Gandhian, who went underground during the Quit India movement, a maverick socialist who felt that both Marxism and Capitalism were not suited for India, a man who helped the Leftists in Goa against Portuguese rule and one of Nehru’s fiercest opponents in Parliament. It would not be appropriate to classify Lohia in the Western framework of Left and Right, he would not have fit in either. While a socialist in economic policies, he was also very religious. One of the most revolutionary thinkers, who was against caste divides, stood for women’s equality, and who advocated individual freedom over the collective.
Born in 1910, in a small village Akbarpur( now part of Ambedkar Nagar district) in Uttar Pradesh, his father Hiralal was a merchant and also a die hard nationalist. With his mother passing away when he was small, Lohia was bought up by his grandmother. His father was a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, and Lohia attended the Gaya session of the Indian National Congress when he was just 13 as a volunteer, he later attended the Gauhati session too. Passing out from Vidyasagar College in Kolkata, with Honors in English literature, he later went to Germany( then under Nazi ruler) for higher studies. His doctoral thesis in Germany was on the Salt Satyagraha in India and he got his Doctorate in both Economics and Political Science.
Returning to India in 1932, when he was all of 22, Lohia plunged headlong in to the freedom movement in response to Gandhiji’s call for Satyagraha or Civil Disobedience. Imprisoned for his participation, Lohia met like minded nationalists, who felt that things were more or less status quo and no real change was happening. Imprisoned in the Nashik Road Jail, these young men wanted to take the movement to masses, in this case, the poor, the peasants, the working classes. And within Congress, they formed a youth wing calling it the Congress Socialist Party, which along with Lohia, had Jayaprakash Narayan, Yusuf Mehrally, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashok Mehta, Acharya Narendra Deva and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. Lohia began to edit a periodical called Congress Socialist, and when Congress opened a new branch for external affairs, he was the one choosen to look after it, due to his vast knowledge of international affairs. It was due to Lohia’s efforts that Congress could have contacts with thinkers from all parts of the world, and he also set up a separate cell for Indians abroad.
When Britian entered the World War in 1939, and pulled India forcibly into it, Lohia gave speeches protesting India’s involvement, for which he was arrested. Again during the Quit India movement in response to Gandhiji’s Do or Die call, he along with JP, set up an underground movement and a secret broadcasting station. Imprisoned again in 1944, he was taken to Lahore, where Lohia was tortured in the worst possible manner in prison. He would be put in handcuffs of different sizes and weights; he was forced to spend sleepless nights, in case he drowsed off, his head would be twisted or his handcuffs pulled at. Lohia was finally released from prison in 1946 along with JP, under Gandhi’s pressure, but the relentless torture had weakened his body, though his spirit was as strong as ever.
On release, Lohia went to Goa, which then was under Portuguese colonial rule, that was even more brutal than the British one. It was at Goa he met his friend Juliao Menezes, a communist, and author of the seminal anti Catholic, anti Portuguese book “Contra Roma e além de Benares” (“Against Rome And Returning To Benares”). Menezes later admitted that he wanted Lohia in Goa to disturb the peace there. Lohia did that promptly involving himself with leaders of the Goan Communist movement and fostering sedition. He was once again arrested, and expelled to British India after some time. But by this time, Lohia in a way laid the foundation for the freedom struggle in Goa against the Portuguese rule. He once again tried to re enter, Goa on Sept 28, 1946 but was again arrested at Colem, put in solitary confinement and expelled, prohibiting his entry there for the next 5 years. He also stirred up a revolt in Nepal, against the despotic rule of the Ranas, creating an alliance with the socialists and communists there, most of whom were mentored by him at Benaras.
Lohia was dead against Partition, and was unhappy when India split into 2 on Aug 15, 1947, when it became independent. Gandhiji was shot dead on Jan 30, 1948, and Lohia along with others, were not happy over the way the Congress was handling the situation, be it the aftermath of Partition or the communal riots. The Socialist wing of Congress felt that it had become a party of the elite, and decided to break away from it. On April 15th, 1948 the Socialists left Congress, and formed their own party, Lohia was one of it’s main leaders. This party was founded to fight for the rights of the middle class, peasants and working class, on a common platform. Lohia became one of Nehru’s biggest critics, as he toured all over the country spreading the ideals of the Socialist Party, and attracting the youth.
Kagodu was a small village in Shimoga district of Karnataka, known for it’s sandalwood forests. Like most other parts, feudalism was prevalent here, the peasants toiled without any reward under the tyrannical landlord, who forbade them from even raising their head. However in the wake of independence, the peasants began to organize themselves and started to protest against the landlords. The landlords struck back, evicting the peasants from the lands which they were cultivating. In 1951, the peasants formed the Farmers Union and Socialist Party of Karnataka, launching a satyagraha against the landlords. The Govt backed the landlords, and many farmers were arrested in Shimoga and Sagar. Lohia immediately rushed to Kagodu,in July 1951, and with a flag in hand, launched the Satyagraha, leading the peasants in a procession throughout the village. He was arrested bought to Sagar, and later placed in confinement in the Govt House in Bangalore, where he was later released on an appeal to the High Court. Appaled by the state of prisoners in Shimoga Jail,where they did not get proper food, Lohia handed over his money to the inmates, asking them to get better food with it. Lohia was a fighter for the common man, the downtrodden, as he took part in every agitation all over India, fighting for their rights. He did not have mere pity for them, but respected them as human beings.
When the first General Elections were held in 1952, Lohia did not participate, but travelled all over the country, campaigning for the Socialist Party. However with the Socialist Party failing to achieve much success, he merged it with the Kisan Mazdoor Party founded by Acharya Kripalani. This merger created the Praja Socialist Party, of which Kripalani was the President, while Lohia was the General Secretary. They had earlier been together in Congress too, when Kripalani was the General Secretary of AICC, Lohia was heading the External Affairs department, and there was a close bonding between the two men. Lohia was a true man of integrity who did not spare the misdeeds of his own party itself. When Travancore and Cochin were merged into one single state, the Praja Socialist Party was in power ruled by Pattamthanu Pillai. When the Govt resorted to police firing on striking estate workers, Lohia vehemently protested and demanded that the Govt should resign. With his refusal to budge from his stand, Lohia was finally expelled from the Praja Socialist Party in 1955.
Towards the end of December in 1955, Lohia again started the Socialist Party from Hyderabad, with a torchlight procession. He also started Mankind an English daily and Jana a Hindi monthly that would propagate the views. Lohia was not in favor of both Capitalism and Communism as was being practiced in the West and Russia. Having studied various political thinkers, Lohia was deeply influenced by Marx and also believed in Gandhi’s principle of Satyagraha. He felt that massive mechanization and huge industries were suited to Europe and US, with their smaller populations, but would not suit India with it’s much larger population, he rather favored smaller machines, and more small scale industry. He also advocated doing away with English, and felt the Government should introduce official communication in Hindi or regional language, so that it can communicate better with people. He felt that English created an elite parasitical class, which alienated them from the common man, so regional languages should be given more priority.
He was also a strong advocate for women’s rights, demanding reservation in jobs for them and that their talent should be properly used. He felt that a society and a nation cannot progress unless women are not given their due, and felt they should have equal rights and justice. Emancipation of women was the foundation of social revolution, there would be no prosperity without it. He was firmly in favor of non alignment, did not want India to be part of either the American or Russian camps, he sought a third bloc consisting of nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America, that shared similiar problems. He hated racism based on skin color, was once arrested in Jackson, a small town in Missisippi, US, protesting against the racist prejudice in a restaurant. 57 times was Lohia imprisoned in life, at least 12 times after independence. He was a man who believed in ideals, his cause, the fight for justice. He firmly believed in non violence, and advised people to hold their heads high have self respect. Lohia’s non violence was standing up for justice peacefully, not bowing in front of injustice, it should not a facade for cowardice.”I prefer the spade to the throne” Lohia once remarked, saying that our country needed more hard work, and utilization of the existing manpower. He remained true to his word, fighting for the rights of people, working along with the masses, rather than seek power.
Lohia vs Nehru
If there was one man in post independent India who was not swayed by Nehru’s personality and dared to take him head on, it was Lohia. He had the guts to contest against him in Phulpur during the 1952 General Elections, though he lost, his courage was there for the world to see. He entered the Lok Sabha in 1963, from a Bye Election in Farrukhabad, UP, and his maiden speech was one of the most historic ones ever. He stunned the nation when he revealed that over 25,000 Rs, was spent on Nehru’s security, a sum he argued a poor nation could ill afford. He was man of simple living, often would wear the same dress again and again. Nor did he own any property, and his home in Delhi was always open to party workers. Lohia again won from Kannauj in 1967. He fervently believed that reservation was needed for Dalits and Backward Castes, in order to give them better opportunities in education and uplift them.
He was a polyglot, fluent in English, German, French and Bengali, apart from Hindi. He loved economics, and studied the subject thoroughly, it was not easy to fool him with some mere statistical jugglery. An excellent orator, he could win over people, with the sheer force and persuasion of his arguments. He also was an author of the books, “Marx, Gandhi and Socialism”,”Culprits of the Division of Bharat”, “Wheel of History”, “Leisure amidst Politics”, and “Power Determination”. He had an excellent knowledge of Ramayan and Mahabharat, and wrote articles on Ram, Krishna and Shiva. He felt that our mythological characters might actually have been real life historical figures, Shiva for all we know might have been an engineer who dug a canal for Ganga. He had a love for Rama, and organized a Ramayan Mela near Ayodhya. This is what he had to say about Ram and Krishna.
Eight parts of Vishnu were embodied in Rama. His was a limited personality. But Krishna had sixteen parts of Vishnu. Hence his personality was as mighty as the ocean.
He had great regards for M.Viswesarayya whom he called the 2nd greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi. He also wanted a single script for all Indian languages, which however did not work out. He was against the existing set up, where all power was centralized with the Union Govt, and once elected, MPs, did not have any contact with the common man. He suggested a decentralization of power at all 4 stages- Center, State, District and Panchayat. He wanted villages to be autonomous, have their own local self Government, instead of having to depend on the State or Central Govt for every small need. On September 12, 1967 Ram Manohar Lohia passed away peacefully into sleep, another of Bharat’s great sons, was no more physically, but his legacy and views would continue to live after him.