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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Ode to Ram Manohar Lohia

By *R.K. Bhatnagar - Syndicate Features

The great socialist and freedom fighter Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia was born 96 years ago on March 23, 1910 at Akbarpur town of Faziabad district in the present day Uttar Pradesh. The family acquired the surname of Lohia as they were engaged in the business of Loha (Hardware). His father, Hira Lal, was a nationalist, teacher and businessman all rolled in one. Ram imbibed the nationalist outlook from him. Hira Lal took him to Mahatma Gandhi at a very young age.

Ram 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 Gandhiji, and more importantly to the freedom movement by joining a Satyagraha march at the tender age of ten.

While in school, Ram noted that the British author of the prescribed history textbook referred to the great King Chatrapati Shivaji as a “bandit leader”. Ram researched the facts and proved that the label “bandit leader” was an unjust description of Shivaji. He launched a campaign to have the description removed from the textbook. He also organized a student protest in 1918 to protest against the Simon Commission which was to consider granting India dominion status.

Ram met Jawaharlal Nehru in 1921. Over the years they developed a close friendship. Yet, he never hesitated to disagree with Nehru on his political beliefs and openly expressed disagreement many a times. Ram joined the Banaras Hindu University to complete his Intermediate after standing first in Matric examination. In 1929, he completed his B.A. from Calcutta University. He opted for the Berlin University for further studies in Germany. He could have gone to any of the prestigious universities in Britain. He did not.

That was his way of registering his opposition to British rule in India. Once in Berlin, Ram learned German in a very short time. He received financial assistance based on his outstanding academic performance.

While in Europe, Ram Manohar Lohia attended a session of the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva. Maharaja of Bikaner, a known British puppet, represented India at the meet. Ram took exception to it and launched a protest from the visitors’ gallery itself. He became an instant celebrity of sorts. Ram subsequently shot off letters to the editors of several newspapers and magazines explaining his protest.

As a student in Berlin, Ram helped organize the Association of European Indians and became its secretary. Its main focus was to preserve and expand Indian nationalism outside India. Ram obtained his doctorate on the topic of “Salt Satyagraha”, focusing on Gandhiji’s socio-economic approach. In 1933 he returned to India.

He ran out of money for buying a train ticket to travel to his home town from the port town. He immediately penned a topical nationalistic piece for The Hindu, popular English daily from Madras (now Chennai); the remuneration for the article came by money order a few days later and that was sufficient to pay for his rail fare.

Ram joined the Congress but was attracted to socialistic ideas. Along with Acharya Narendra Dev, Jawaharlal Nehru, Jaya Prakash Narayan, and Achyut Patwardhan and with Gandhiji’s blessings, he founded the Congress Socialist Party. Jawaharlal Nehru saw to it that Ram was made Secretary of the Foreign Affairs department. In the next two years, both of them helped define what would be India’s Foreign Policy.

Ram worked very hard and established contacts with various organizations outside India. The Foreign Affairs Department brought out pamphlets mostly written by Ram. Some of the notable pamphlets were: Struggle for Civil Liberties; Indians outside India, India on China. His pamphlet on the foreign policy of the Congress and the British Labour Party was described as a “work of outstanding merit” by Jawaharlal Nehru.

When the Second World War broke out, Ram was clear that India should not extend any support to the Britain. He advocated complete non-cooperation. Let us refuse supply of men and money to the Government, he argued passionately. So, when the Congress passed a resolution (1939) supporting Britain in the war effort, Lohia was disappointed. And wrote an article, “Down with Armaments”.

The British never liked Ram Manohar Lohia. They were always after him finding faults with his actions. An anti-war speech offered the rulers a ruse to arrest him in 1940 and produce him before a Magistrate in Sultanpur. Though he was against the British Empire and its predatory nature, he bore no ill-will against Englishmen. Just like Gandhiji. He told the Sultanpur Magistrate. “I do not want destruction of Britain. The British have done evil to us but I do not want to do evil to them”.

Ram played a significant role in the ‘Quit India’ movement. He directed the Movement while remaining underground for nearly two years. He established an underground radio station. And turned a prolific writer. The topics were really fascinating like, for instance, “How to establish an Independent Government?”, “I am free”, “Prepare for the Revolution”, and “Brave Fighters March Forward”. Another scholarly work was ‘Economics after Marx’. He was arrested on 20 May 1944 and kept in prison till 11 April 1946.

In 1947, the Congress Socialist Party became the Socialist Party at a conference held in Kanpur though it continued to be a part of the Congress. A year later, in 1948, Ram Manohar Lohia and other Socialists dissociated from the Congress. Initially it was Praja Socialist Party. A full fledged Socialist Party was formed in 1956 under the chairmanship of Ram.

The Socialist leader made his debut in the Lok Sabha in 1963. On the first day when he entered the House, all the members stood up to welcome him. He was again elected in 1967 to the Fourth Lok Sabha. He was a stormy petrel not only in the Lok Sabha where he fulminated on the floor of the house against the policies of the Government but also in the larger and more extensive field of national life for over thirty years.

Ram Manohar Lohia’s greatness was his simplicity and his intense love for fellow countrymen. In him, there was an ideal combination of piety, love, modesty, anger and suffering. He was a relentless revolutionary and an exponent of dynamic, political and economic thought. Friends and foes as also critics and admirers hailed him as a great thinker, a unique leader, an eminent parliamentarian and a rebel.

It was indeed sad that this leader of the masses, who always spoke in their language, had a very short span of life. He passed away in New Delhi on 12 October 1967. He was just 57. Indira Gandhi, who was always at the receiving end of Ram Manohar Lohia’s ire, paid a moving tribute thus: “His untimely death removed a vigorous mind and a dynamic character from the country. His whole life was a struggle for causes he had held dear for the downtrodden and the under-privileged.

The following couplet aptly sums up the Lohia phenomenon

“Bade shauk se sun raha tha zamana
Ki khud so Gaye dastan kahte kahte”.

* R.K. Bhatnagar - The writer is formerly Press Secretary to President R Venkataraman

- Syndicate Features -

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