Dr. Lohia – Our Revolutionary Mentor

Today is Dr. Lohias Birthday. We remember him with love and affection and as one of our top leaders of the socialist movement. He had many facet personality. He was different from our other leaders like J.P.  We had a reverence for J.P., a certain kind of awe in his presence. There was no question of levity or extra talk – it was only a vision of a just socialist society that we listened to.

But with Dr. Lohia, while philosophical, political and theory of socialist thought were no doubt a constant exchange, there was a lightness of conversation, banter, a little bit of cynical talk but of course without venom – more in a friendly manner.

It was in fortuitous circumstances that brought me close to Dr. Lohia. In May 1949, the Socialist Party under Dr. Lohia leadership held a demonstration before  Nepal  embassy at  Barakhamba Road, New Delhi to protest against the takeover of Nepal government by Rana and the forced fleeing of King. We were arrested (about 50 of us including Dr. Lohia) for violating Section 144 CrPC. As a policy decision had been taken that none of us would be asking for bail – our prosecution was being done in jail – (apparently the government was too embarrassed to prosecute Dr. Lohia in open court.) So we remained in jail for a month and a half. Dr. Lohia had an informal and easy mixing temperament. He liked to sit with all of us, exchanged serious policy matters and also light talk. So a close relationship came up which continued throughout. He had that informal lifestyle that one never felt a distance, which one may have felt between average worker like myself and a leader of Dr. Lohias stature. This was not only an experience of a few but many who claimed to be close to him.

I had become an active member (in fact chairperson) of Socialist Party (Punjab Branch), So my contact with Dr. Lohia was quite frequent.

There is a wrong impression that Dr. Lohia was personally hostile to Pt. Nehru. There is no doubt that he was strongly critical of Pt. Nehru’s policies and criticized him strongly, not only on political ideology but for his general philosophical outlook. But it is wholly unfair to analyze it as a personal rancor. The fact is that Dr. Lohia had his earliest lessons in politics under Nehru’s leadership,  and  openly  acknowledged  that  Nehru, “ was at one time my leader and teacher.” Whatever their differences, a certain bond of nearness continued between them. This was reflected when we were in jail in 1949, and Indira Gandhi sent a basket of mangoes for all of us. Good grace amongst politicians had not vanished at that time.

In 1951 before Lohia’s visit to the USA, he had come to Delhi. I remember that we were talking in the sitting room when someone told him that there was a phone call for him. Dr. Lohia went to the other room. When he came back I asked whose phone was it. He said Pt. Nehru. What did he say, I asked. Dr. Lohia in half banter and annoyance repeated the conversation thus;

Nehru : “ Rammanohar, I hear you are going to USA

Dr. Lohia : ‘Yes’

And there was a pause. Then again Nehru asked:  “when”

Dr. Lohia : ‘Next week’.

pause and then Pt. Nehru said ‘Alright’, switched off.

It was a curious talk and I asked Dr. Lohia what was the purpose of calling. Dr. Lohia in half banter said – you know he wanted to tell me- Rammanohar, you are going abroad – do not criticize government when abroad, but did not have the guts to tell me. And then Dr. Lohia in a half annoying and anger said, “what strange behaviour – does  he  think  I  will  talk  ill  of  government when abroad”. Such was their closeness, and yet so apart. Of course I know apprehension of Nehru was somewhat correct because Dr. Lohia could not help but comment when in the USA on some of the international policies of the government of India – but there was no such wholesale criticism – However when Lohia met Einstein, he could not restrain and in answer to the latter’s questions remarked that “politicians are liars”. Einstein was normally sobriety personified, but he added warmly “that they were criminals”. Would Einstein have been able to find adequate words now – I doubt it.

It must be recognized that the reverence and hero worship for Nehru was normal and strong not only for Dr. Lohias generation, but even of my generation who had been brought up on the heroism, sacrifice and intellectualism of Pt. Nehru – for my father right throughout his life, Pt. Nehru represented almost an icon  of perfection in patriotism, intellect. I remember basking in Nehru’s presence when he came to Lahore to canvas for my father’s Assembly election. Again in 1945, after his release from prison, Pt. Nehru while going to Srinagar, broke his journey at Lahore – my father had invited him and some other important leaders for an informal get together at our place. I remember the awe, inspiration, admiration and respect which all of us felt in his presence. I am mentioning this to highlight Dr. Lohia’s strange love/anger relationship with Pt. Nehru, because I myself had a very personal experience in 1955 which of course in later time makes me feel stupid, and yet it shows the different phases one passes through.

In 1955, Punjab High Court at Chandigarh was to be formally inaugurated by Pt. Nehru. I was then the General Secretary of High Court Bar Association. Pt. Nehru had come to Chandigarh the  evening before. My father who was then the Chief Minister of Punjab invited Pt. Nehru for breakfast at his residence in the morning. I was staying with father, though my office was in another sector. Here was an occasion for a young man like me, who had hero worshiped Pt. Nehru from his waking period, and amongst the earlier books which had inspired me, were Nehru’s Autobiography, and Letters from Prison to Indira. But then I had grown up, become a full-blooded socialist and still in thirties.  We in the party were convinced (rightly or wrongly, time alone will tell) that Pt. Nehru, who had shown the vision of socialism to us had not kept that pace, following wrong policies. Our disappointment with his policies were deep. I was a small fry in part of that milieu. So I told father that I will not be at the breakfast table to receive Pt. Nehru, though my wife will certainly he there along with my mother to play the hostess and look after the arrangements. My father and I had beautiful understanding and our sense of values and respecting each others views were the same. That is why he accepted my hesitation though he mentioned that I was being childish. I thereafter  went  out  of  the  residence to my  office  before  Pt. Nehru arrived for breakfast. I had even at that time, such admiration and inspiration for Nehru that I could not think of being at home and be rude by not joining for breakfast. Of course I behaved absolutely correctly and all of us office bearers received Pt. Nehru with all the dignity and respect and deference due to him  when he came to the High Court to inaugurate it.

Later on and now I laugh at my presumptuousness – a chit of boy, whom Pt. Nehru will not even notice beating his chest by absenting himself and denying to himself such a close breakfast meeting with one of the greatest leaders  of all time and who had been a hero of our family. But then I take it that such are the peculiarities of radical youth, the devil-may-care attitude and the almost fatalistic belief in the rightness of the cause of one’s own party. But then I suppose that is the real difference between youth and old age – one may laugh now, but one does not demean it because at that time it represented what I like to feel was a youthful genuine and unshakeable faith in a socialist society – which faith, fortunately I have still not lost.

Dr. Lohia was very particular and sensitive in avoiding any reference to his personal top position in public life. I remember he was to appear as a witness in an Election Petition, which had been filed against Mani Ram Bagri, our socialist candidate from Hissar. I  was the Advocate for Bagri.  Dr. Lohia was to be examined as a witness. He told me that I should not ask him, as he assumed normally witnesses are asked to give their background to establish their position in public life and status. I told him I had no such intention because if the Judge did not already know about stature and position Dr. Lohia, I was not going to belittle Dr. Lohia by giving history. As expected the Judge naturally knew about Dr. Lohia’s position and status. May be his suggestion was a small little sensitivity that his political standing should not be told to the Court who on its own should be expected to know about it. I am mentioning this, to show how Dr. Lohia looked at each small point in detail.

I had the privilege of Dr. Lohia coming on tour and staying with me in Chandigarh at my residence for two days. As I said Dr. Lohia never believed like a stiff political leader. I remember we had a public meeting in the evening – the morning was free. I had an important engagement in the morning, but Dr. Lohia wanted to go around Chandigarh and willingly was taken out for a cup of coffee by our District Socialist Party Comrades. Dr. Lohia’s simplicity and spontaneous companionship made even the smallest worker feel at ease.

I remember however a very pained Dr. Lohia when he was staying with me at Chandigarh on the next morning. News had come that Anti Hindi Agitators in South had  burnt  Hindi  periodicals.  I  still  see him sitting quietly with a sad look on his face, sitting in the verandah lawn of my house at Chandigarh and telling me softly ‘Rajindar – movement for Hindi is dead – when it will be revived, I do not know’.  Dr. Lohia was not a Hindi chauvinist. He was for State languages – he believed that the presence of English knowing minority, of which even now are only 4% will never let poor become the vehicle of politics. He accepted the supremacy of Tamil & Telugu language in the States. He was insistent that states should communicate with the Center in their own regional languages and the Center was bound to reply in the state’s language. He could not understand why Hindi speaking states should not correspond with the Center in Hindi, which was the official language. He was not against English language as such. He was of the view that in no democratic people’s State, bureaucracy can effectively work for people’s policies unless the administration is carried out in the states – i.e. poor people’s language – present use of state languages in its own administration, though not fully satisfactory shows the vision he saw decades ago, being now recognized, though slowly.

His greatest contribution to the political thought is the role of castes in India. He was the first political thinker to put forward the startling truth that castes and class are interchangeable in our Indian conditions. I remember him telling us that   Communist   Party   considered   this    formulation    as   an    anathema  to

revolutionary politics (though they later on accepted it). He finding this reluctance to  accept Indian  realty, told  them once  in his annoyance and in lighter vein that

they had read English translation of Karl Marx but he read him in the original, as he studied in Germany.

He described the philosophy of caste thus; ”The gap between the hundred million Dvijas on the one side, and the two hundred million Sudras on the other is so wide that no political party has as yet undertaken to fill it up. Political life in India is not clean. Nepotism, jobbery, opportunism, flattery, non-adherence to truth and a tendency to twist doctrines to suit particular motives are some of the traits of Dvija leadership. These traits will remain with the Dvijas unless they make a conscious effort to bridge the gulf between themselves and the Sudras. The Sudras too has its shortcomings. It has an even narrower sectarian outlook. Once in office, the Sudras tries to perpetuate themselves by having recourse to dirty sectarian methods. They cannot achieve a broadness of outlook.. Despite all this, not only must the Sudras be now pushed to positions of power and leadership, but sustained efforts should be made to enable them to imbibe a broad cultural outlook so that the stagnant waters of the country’s social life may flow, and the Dvijas and Sudras both shed their weaknesses. It is futile to talk of revolutionary  politics  unaccompanied   by   efforts for   social  change. Only  that

political party has a future now in the country, which would make itself the spearhead of this social revolution and by its organization, herald a new dawn.

This division of Indian society into hundreds, if not thousands of castes, which have a political as much as a social significance, explains why India wilts before foreign armies. When she has not so wilted in her history, it has almost always been those periods when the bonds of caste were loose. A great misreading of Indian history is current. The tragic succession of foreign conquests, to which the Indian people have succumbed, is ascribed to internal quarrels and intrigues. That is nonsense. The largest single cause is caste. It renders nine-tenths of the population into onlookers, in fact, listless and nearly completely disinterested spectators of grim national tragedies.

The Indian experience of caste goes farther than that of any other nation and all the world may have lessons to learn from it. At the moment, we are concerned with the terrifying damage castes have done to India and how she may rid herself of it. The entire scale of values has been upset.

The system of caste is a terrifying force of stability and against change, a force that stabilizes all current meanness, dishonor and lie. An unholy fear prevails, lest,  if  some meanness or lie  were to tumble the whole structure might

topple. Post freedom, India is but a strict continuance of British India in most essential ways. The Indian people continue to be disinherited. They are foreigners  in  their  own land. Their languages are suppressed and their bread is

snatched away from them. All this is done for the alleged sake of certain high principles. And these principles tie up with the system of caste, the great chasm between a few high-castes and the four hundred million of the lower-castes.

He always found Delhi heartless and removed from reality in the country. (I feel that still holds true) Dr. Lohia described Delhi thus  “Furthermore, where is the base for summit polities? Whenever I come to Delhi, a sense of overwhelming despair seizes me. There is no fundamental question of theory or even of enduring politics. One hears nothing but gossip about succession, inter related with spicy stories of what the other side has been doing in connection with money, or women or foreign relations. The worm is eating into Delhi’s heart”.

There is another misunderstanding – that Dr. Lohia did not give due regard and respect to J.P. How wrong this is. Dr. Lohia himself told me when J.P. after general elections and the not so successful Bhoodan movement, was leading a semi retired life, Dr. Lohia was convinced that in order to revive socialist movement. J.P.’s leadership was mandatory. He told us that he went to J.P. at Patna and told him ‘Jai  Prakash  utho’  (get up) – you alone can  electrify the country (this clearly shows realism of Dr. Lohia and respect for J.P.) – but J.P. was reluctant and expressed his hesitation saying he had no one left to understand him – Dr. Lohia, friendly and mischievous as he was, told him ‘Come on, you have at least Prabha Ji – I have, on the other hand (none).’  Such were the banters of the giants. I still recollect J.P’s oration at Dr. Lohia’s cremation at Delhi when J.P. overwhelmed with sentiment said “Ram Manohar, you were younger to me – your place was not there, I if anybody, it should have been me.” What a beautiful relationship and  political comradeship.

Dr. Lohia gave a slogan, the sheet anchor of Democratic Socialism, thus – “spade – prison – vote” – spade symbolized constructive activity, prison stood for peaceful struggle against injustice, and the vote for political action.

Unfortunately all the political parties, including those who call themselves leftists, with rare exception, have only one item in their list of work – ‘vote’ – but this will not transform the society and we will remain mired in small squabbles.

March 23rd is also the Martyrdom of one of the greatest revolutionaries of our age – Sardar Bhagat Singh.  I have no doubt that both of them would have been  the  closest of  kindred souls as they shared above all their compassion for the poor and their determination to fight for their rights to enable them to get their just dues in the society.

I salute the memory of these two great inspirational souls.