Remembering, Dr Lohia....
Dr Lohia was born in a village Akbarpur in Ambedkar Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh, to Hira Lal, a nationalist and Chanda,a teacher. He was born to Marwari Maheshwari family. His mother died when he was very young. Hira 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 met Jawaharlal Nehru in 1921. Over the years they developed a close friendship. Lohia, however, never hesitated to censure Nehru on his political beliefs and openly expressed disagreement with Nehru on many key issues. Lohia organized a student protest in 1928 to protest the all-white Simon Commission which was to consider the possibility of granting India dominion status without requiring consultation of the Indian people.
Lohia attended the Banaras Hindu University to complete his intermediate course work after standing first in his school's matric examinations. In 1929, Lohia completed his B.A. from Calcutta University. He decided to attend Berlin University, Germany over all prestigious educational institutes in Britain to convey his dim view of British philosophy. He soon learned German and received financial assistance based on his outstanding academic performance.
While in Europe, Lohia attended the League of Nations assembly in Geneva. India was represented by the Maharaja of Bikaner, an ally of the British Raj. Lohia took exception to this and launched a protest then and there from the visitors gallery. He fired several letters to editors of newspapers and magazines to clarify the reasons for his protest. The whole incident made Lohia a recognized figure in India overnight. Lohia helped organize the Association of European Indians and became secretary of the club. The main focus of the organization was to preserve and expand Indian nationalism outside of India
Lohia wrote his PhD thesis paper on the topic of Salt Satyagraha, focusing on Gandhiji's socio-economic theory.
Lohia joined the Indian National Congress as soon as he returned to India. Lohia was attracted to socialism and helped lay the foundation of Congress Socialist Party, founded 1934, by writing many impressive articles on the feasibility of a socialist India, especially for its journal, the Congress Socialist. When elected to the All India Congress Committee in 1936, Lohia formed a foreign affairs department for the first time. Nehru appointed Lohia as the first secretary of the committee. During the two years that he served he helped define what would be India's foreign policy.
In the onset of the Second World War, Lohia saw an opportunity to collapse the British Raj in India. He made a series of caustic speeches urging Indians to boycott all government institutions. He was arrested on 24 May 1939, but released by authorities the very next day in fear of a youth uprising.
Soon after his release, Lohia wrote an article called "Satyagraha Now" in Gandhiji's newspaper, Harijan, on 1 June 1940. Within six days of the publication of the article, he was arrested and sentenced to two years of jail. During his sentencing the Magistrate said, "He (Lohia) is a top-class scholar, civilized gentleman, has liberal ideology and high moral character." In a meeting of theCongress Working Committee Gandhi said, "I cannot sit quiet as long as Dr. Ram Manohar 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 honor." Lohia was mentally tortured and interrogated by his jailers. In December 1941, all the arrested Congress leaders, including Lohia, were released in a desperate attempt by the government to stabilize India internally.
He vigorously wrote articles to spread the message of toppling the British imperialist governments from countries in Asia and Africa. He also came up with a hypothetical blueprint for new Indian cities that could self-administer themselves so well that there would not be need for the police or army.
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 "secondary cadre" stepped-up to the challenge to continue the struggle and to keep the flame for swaraj burning within the people's hearts. Leaders who were still free carried out their operations from underground. Lohia printed and distributed many posters, pamphlets and bulletins on the theme of "Do or Die" on 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 measure to give the disarrayed Indian population a sense of hope and spirit in absence of their leaders. He also edited Inquilab (Revolution), a Congress Party monthly along with Aruna Asaf Ali,Abdan Shaikh and Madiha took part in the Quit India Movement.
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. There he met, among other Nepalese revolutionaries, the Koirala brothers, who remained Lohia's allies for the rest of their lives.
Lohia was captured in May 1944, in Bombay. Lohia was taken to a notorious prison in Lahore, where it is alleged that he underwent extreme torture. His health was destroyed but even though he was never as fit his courage and willpower strengthened through the ordeal. Under Gandhiji's pressure, the Government released Lohia and his comrade Jayaprakash Narayan.
Following his release by the British at Gandhi's intervention, Lohia decided to vacation with a communist friend in Goa, Juliao Menezes12 & 3, author of the anti-Catholic and anti-Portuguese work "Contra Roma e além de Benares" ("Against Rome And Returning To Benares"), 1939 Contra Roma e além de Benares.
Juliao Menezes has admitted that his intention in inviting Lohia to Goa was to "disturb the peace in Goa" (Ben Antao: Dr. Juliao Menezes, A Glimpse).
Moreover, Jawaharlal Nehru publicly admitted that Goa was foreign territory where Indian politicians had no business ("Eighteen years ago a Congress Committee was started in Goa by Mr. Tristao Braganza Cunha and for some years he was a member of the All-India Congress Committee. Later under the constitution of the Congress such foreign committees were not affiliated" Maharashtra State Gazeteer).
Once there, despite being an outsider and a tourist, Lohia began to meddle in local political affairs, assisting the minuscule Goan Communist movement and fostering sedition. He decided to deliver a public speech but was arrested, briefly imprisoned, then expelled to British India.
Gandhi wrote to vehemently protest the Goan Government's actions, affirming Indian irredentism vis-a-vis Goa, stating that Goa would not be allowed to remain separate from India.
Gandhi said in response to the Goan Government's arrest & expulsion of Lohia:
"The little Portuguese settlement which merely exists on the sufferance of the British Government can ill afford to ape its bad manners. In free India, Goa cannot be allowed to exist as a separate entity in opposition to the laws of the free State. Without a shot being fired, the people of Goa will be able to claim and receive the rights of citizenship of the free State. The present Portuguese Government will no longer be able to rely upon the protection of British arms to isolate and keep under subjection the inhabitants of Goa against their will. I would venture to advise the Portuguese Government of Goa to recognize the signs of the times and come to honourable terms with the inhabitants, rather than function on any treaty that might exist between them and the British Government" (H, 30-6-1946, p. 208
Gandhi also said:
"...it is ridiculous... to write of Portugal as the Motherland of the Indians of Goa. Their mother country is as much India as is mine. Goa is outside British India, but it is within geographical India as a whole. And there is very little, if anything, in common between the Portuguese and the Indians in Goa." (H, 8-9-1946, p. 305.
Lohia attempted to re-enter Goa again on 28 September 1946 but was arrested at the Colem Railway Station at Colem, jailed with solitary confinement and then once again expelled with a ban on his re-entry for the next five years
When he began to prepare to enter Goa a third time, he desisted on the advice of Gandhi & Nehru.
In alliance with his socialist and communist friends in Nepal, Lohia then began a parallel movement to bring Nepal within the ambit of the Indian state, Indian and Congress politics. While his friends, the Koiralas and their Nepal Congress, remained personally popular, the masses of the Nepalese people reacted negatively and with hostility at this attempt to extend Indian irredentism against them, aggressively forcing Lohia on the backfoot and to precipately abandon the notion.
Lohia was in the front rank of the ‘Quit India’ struggle launched by the Congress party in 1942. Later, he met Jaya Prakish Narayan after JP, along with six other comrades fled from the Hazaribagh Jail, and both of them founded the Azad Dasta in Nepal. When the Government of Nepal arrested them, they were set free by their freedom fighter colleagues led by Suraj Narain Singh. After his arrest in India, he was kept in the infamous Lahore Jail and was tortured. But, his passion for freedom remained undimmed even after India achieved independence. He could not accept Portugal’s sovereignty on Goa, and visited the area in 1946 to strengthen the fight against the colonial rule.
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 surrounding them and stick to Gandhiji's ideals of non-violence. On 15 August 1947, as the rest of India's leadership gathered in Delhi for the handover of power, Lohia stayed by Gandhiji's side as he mourned the effects of Partition.
Lohia was one of the few members of the Congress Working Committee who opposed partition of the country in 1947. After partition, he was keen to promote the idea of a confederation of India and Pakistan. He was no less vexed on the communal tensions. He made a difference between the humanistic core of the Hindu religion and the narrow-minded use of it for creating communal tensions. He also wanted that a differentiation be made between foreign Muslim aggressors and the common Muslims who had nothing to do with those aggressions. These ideas are no less relevant today as they were during his lifeline.
Dr. Lohia favored Hindi as the official language of India, arguing
"The use of English is a hindrance to original thinking, progenitor of inferiority feelings and a gap between the educated and uneducated public. Come, let us unite to restore Hindi to its original glory."
Lohia decided to make the mass public realize the importance of economic robustness for the nation's future.
He encouraged public involvement in post-freedom reconstruction. He pressed people to construct canals, wells and roads voluntarily in their neighborhood. He volunteered himself to build a dam on river Paniyari which is standing till this day and is called "Lohia Sagar Dam." Lohia said "satyagraha without constructive work is like a sentence without a verb." He felt that public work would bring unity and a sense of awareness in the community. He also was instrumental in having 60 percent of the seats in the legislature reserved for minorities, lower classes, and women.
When he arrived in Parliament in 1963, the country had a one-party government through three general elections. Lohia shook things up. He had written a pamphlet, "25000 Rupees a Day", the amount spent on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, an obscene sum in a country where the vast majority lived on 3 annas (less than one-quarter of a rupee) a day. Nehru demurred, saying that India's Planning Commission statistics showed that the daily average income was more like 15 annas (a little under a rupee) per day. Lohia demanded that this was an important issue, one that cried out for a special debate. The controversy, still remembered in India as the "Teen Anna Pandrah Anna (3 annas −15 annas)" controversy.Member after member gave up his time to Lohia as he built his case, demolishing the Planning Commission statistics as fanciful. Not that the Commission was attempting to mislead, but the reality was that a small number of rich people were pulling up the average to present a wholly unrealistic picture. At that time, Lohia's figure was true for over 70% of the population.
Unlike the Marxist theories which became fashionable in the third world in the 1950s and 1960s, Lohia recognized that caste, more than class, was the huge stumbling block to India's progress.It was Lohia's thesis that India had suffered reverses throughout her history because people had viewed themselves as members of a caste rather than citizens of a country.
Caste, as Lohia put it, was congealed class. Class was mobile caste. As such, the country was deprived of fresh ideas, because of the narrowness and stultification of thought at the top, which was composed mainly of the upper castes, Brahmins and Baniyas, and tight compartmentalization even there, the former dominant in the intellectual arena and the latter in the business. A proponent of affirmative action, he compared it to turning the earth to foster a better crop, urging the upper castes, as he put it, "to voluntarily serve as the soil for lower castes to flourish and grow", so that the country would profit from a broader spectrum of talent and ideas.
In Lohia's words, "Caste restricts opportunity. Restricted opportunity constricts ability. Constricted ability further restricts opportunity. Where caste prevails, opportunity and ability are restricted to ever-narrowing circles of the people".In his own party, the Samyukta (United) Socialist Party, Lohia promoted lower caste candidates both by giving electoral tickets and high party positions. Though he talked about caste incessantly, he was not a casteist—his aim was to make sure people voted for the Socialist party candidate, no matter what his or her caste. His point was that in order to make the country strong, everyone needed to have a stake in it. To eliminate caste, his aphoristic prescription was, "Roti and Beti", that is, people would have to break caste barriers to eat together (Roti) and be willing to give their girls in marriage to boys from other castes (Beti).
Aside from the procedural revolution of non-violent civil disobedience, bridging the rich-poor divide, the elimination of caste and the revolution against incursions of the big-machine, other revolutions in Lohia's list included tackling Man-Woman inequality, banishing inequality based on color, and that of preserving individual privacy against encroachment of the collective.
Many of Lohia's revolutions have advanced in India, some with greater degrees of success than others. In some instances the revolutions have led to perverse results which he would have found distasteful. However,Lohia was not one to shy away from either controversy or struggle. Lohia believed that a party grew by taking up causes. He was a strong believer in popular action. In India's parliamentary system, where elections could be called even before the term was over, he once said that "Live communities don't wait for five years (the term of the parliament)", meaning that a government which misruled should be thrown out by the people. He carried out this idea by moving the first no-confidence motion against the Nehru government, which had by then been in office for 16 years !
Lohia is often called a maverick socialist, a cliched but nevertheless apt description.He gave that impression not to be controversial, but because he was always evolving his thoughts, and like his mentor, Gandhi, did not hesitate to speak the truth as he saw it. He often surprised both supporters and opponents. He astounded everyone by calling for India to produce the bomb, after the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
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 Samyuktha Vidhayak Dal Governments were formed by the Opposition parties of that time
Lohia was a socialist and wanted to unite all the socialists in the world to form a potent platform. He was the General Secretary of Praja Socialist Party. He established the World Development Council and eventually the World Government to maintain peace in the world.
During his last few years, besides politics, he spent hours talking to thousands of young adults on topics ranging from Indian literature to politics and art.
Lohia, who was unmarried, died on 12 October 1967 in New Delhi. He left behind no property or bank balance.