Of late there has been a revival of interest in the thoughts and ideas of Dr.Ram Manohar Lohia, though it has been fifty years since he died. This is especially seen among people resisting environmental degradation, displacement and large-scale development projects. This is due to the fact that Lohia provided an alternative perspective on development, planning and science.
Ram Manohar Lohia was born at Akbarpur in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh on March 23, 1910. He lost his mother at a young age and was brought up by his father. He graduated from the Calcutta University in 1929 and did his doctoral studies at Germany between 1929-33. Lohia wrote his PhD thesis paper on the topic of ‘Salt Taxation in India’, with a focus on Gandhi’s socio-economic theory. He lived a short and intense life of thought and action and was an innovator of ideas.
Thoughts and achievements:
Lohia was one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) along with Jaya Prakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan, Yusuf Meherally, etc. and editor of its mouthpiece ‘Congress Socialist’. As part of the Foreign Relations Department of the Congress Party, he evolved the theory of the Third Camp in world affairs. He rejected both the blocs in the Cold War and his policy became the official policy of the Congress Party.
Lohia was at the forefront of the ‘Quit India’ movement launched by the Congress in 1942, and founded the Azad Hind Radio during its underground phase. After independence, he was against Portugal’s continuing sovereignty over Goa, and visited the area in 1946 to strengthen and inspire the fight against colonial rule.
He opposed the partition of the country in 1947 along with a few other members of the Congress. However, after partition, he was keen to promote the idea of a confederation of India and Pakistan.
He was of the opinion that industrialisation of Western Europe was due to the exploitation of their colonies. He wanted to bring out the close relation between industrialisation and imperialism.
As regards the economic strategy to be adopted after independence, Lohia pointed out that India was capital scarce but labour abundant, didn’t have colonies or the time-space of a hundred years or more which the Western countries used for their industrialisation. He therefore suggested labour intensive technology as against the capital intensive technology of the West and wanted the introduction of the small unit machine to be driven by power. He called upon Indian technologists and scientists to attempt the invention of such machines.
Lohia’s desire was to achieve economic equality and end exploitation. He wanted public ownership of large scale industries and wanted to reconstruct the Indian economy with land reforms with land to the tiller. He wanted limits to be imposed on income and expenditure.
Lohia analysed the caste system and advocated preferential treatment for the backward castes. He felt that the abolition of the class system would lead to the simultaneous abolition of the caste system. He believed that inequality was not only economic but social too. In India where caste system and patriarchy were part of society, one had to fight for caste and gender equality along with economic equality. He demanded 60 per cent reservation in all areas of public life for women, the backwards and the backwards amongst the minority religious groups.
Lohia was staunchly anti-English and pro-vernacular. He desired that the country’s administration, judiciary and its elite professions must not remain alienated from the masses. He was against the continuation of English as the medium of higher and professional education, administration and judiciary. He wanted English to be replaced by regional languages and Hindi to replace English as the link language. If a large proportion of Indians are still illiterate/semi-literate and the quality of education low and at many times sub-standard, the reason for it is the opposition to Lohia’s language policy.
Lohia advocated devolution of politico-administrative power and coined the phrase ‘Four-Pillar State’. He supported Panchayat Raj.
With respect to communal tensions and conflicts, Lohia made a difference between the humanistic essence of the Hinduism and the narrow-minded use of it for fomenting communal tensions. He also differentiated between foreign Muslim aggressors and the local Muslims who had nothing to do with those aggressions. These ideas of Lohia are more relevant today in the present surcharged communal atmosphere as they were during his lifetime.
Lohia also influenced the writings of Kannada writer U.R.Ananthamurthy, Hindi writers such as Fanishwarnath Renu, Raghuvir Sahay, Srikant Verma, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena besides Assamese writers like Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya and several Marathi, Oriya and Gujarati writers.
He led a crusade against the despotic rule in Nepal and assisted the Nepali Congress in its democratic struggle. In order that the socialist movement in the Afro-Asian countries become a vehicle of the aspirations of the people of the Third World, Lohia, along with Jaya Prakash Narayan and other colleagues, helped in founding the Asian Socialist Conference in Rangoon, Myanmar in 1953.
Lohia’s major writings in English include ‘Fundamentals of a World Mind’; Guilty Men of India’s Partition; India, China and Northern Frontiers; Interval during Politics; The Caste System; Foreign Policy; Fragments of World Mind; Marx, Gandhi and Socialism, etc.
Thus, Ram Manohar Lohia was the father of non-Congressism; champion of backward castes in the politics of north India; originator of Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservations; a critic of dynastic politics of the Nehru-Gandhi family and the man responsible for the politics of anti-English. He campaigned against poverty, unemployment and price rise and advocated gender justice. He was a staunch nationalist who suggested a sharp response to Chinese aggression and also upheld the Indian case on Kashmir.
His cultural politics included efforts to organise a Ramayan Mela; an effort to bring Indian languages closer; a call for cleaning rivers and protecting pilgrimage centres ; protest against museumisation of adivasis (aboriginals) such as the Andamanese, Nicobarese, Todas, etc. and an anxiety about culturally integrating the north-east with the rest of the country.
As an Internationalist, he advocated paciﬁsm; opposed nuclear weapons; protested against racial inequality; advocated Indo-Pak federacy; and dreamt of a world without visas and passports in effect recommending the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).
Though Lohia has faded away many of his thoughts and ideas still reverberate in the political and intellectual landscape of India and find practical application in economy, religion, society and politics.