Dr Ram Manohar Lohia was a Gandhian but with an anti-congressism tinge at heart
Gandhian socialist, rebel by birth, visionary, a man of letters, the great parliamentarian and crusader for the upliftment of the poor and downtrodden of the country Ram Manohar Lohia was born on March 23, 1910, in Akbarpur in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh in a Marwari family. Lohia’s father, Heera Lal, was a nationalist by a spirit and a teacher by profession. His mother, Chanda, died when Rammanohar was very young.
Lohia was introduced to the Indian independence movement at an early age by his father through the various protest assemblies. Heera Lal, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took his son along on a meeting with the Mahatma. Lohia was so impressed by Gandhiji’s spiritual power and radiant self-control that he pledged to follow the Mahatma’s footsteps. He joined a satyagraha march at the age of ten. Lohia attended the Indian National Congress’ plenary session in 1923 at Gaya in Bihar and also the 1926 session at Guwahati.
Lohia received his education in Bombay, Benares and Calcutta. He went to Germany for higher studies. Hitler was in power at that time. Lohia wrote his doctoral thesis on the Salt Satyagraha in India. He was awarded the Doctorate in both Economics and Political Science. He returned to India in 1932.
Lohia joined the Indian National Congress as soon as he returned to India. In 1934 he joined the group of Acharya Narendra Dev, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Yusuf Meherally, Achyut Patwardhan, Asoka Mehta, Purshottam Tricumdas and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya and was the founder member of the Congress Socialist Party. These people dream of building a nation for the toiling millions.
In 1936, Lohia was elected a member of the All India Congress Committee. He travelled all over the country and drew young men into the freedom movement. The British imprisoned him in Calcutta on charges of sedition but he was released by authorities the very next day fearing a youth uprising.
After Mahatma Gandhi’s death, the Socialists left the Congress Party. They formed their own Socialist Party. One of the top leaders of the party was Lohia. Lohia toured the whole country criticising Nehru Government’s policies.
The first general elections in free India were held in 1952. The Socialist Party fielded its candidates all over the country. Dr Lohia did not contest. He toured all the States to explain the aims of his party. He visited the erstwhile Mysore State too and addressed many public meetings. The election did not bring much success to the Socialist Party.
On January 1, 1954, the Socialist Party and Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party founded by Acharya Kripalani merged. The new party was named the Praja Socialist Party. Acharya Kripalani became the President of the party. Dr Lohia was its General Secretary.
In his life-span of 57 years, Rammanohar Lohia suffered imprisonment twenty times. The government of free India imprisoned him as many as twelve times. As a staunch believer in satyagraha, he felt it was his duty to fight injustice, whether it was on a small scale or a big scale.
Lohia contested the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha from Phulpur constituency in Uttar Pradesh. His rival was the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Lohia lost the election. In May 1963 there was a by-election from Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Lohia contested and won, and entered the Lok Sabha. It was his desire that the Lok Sabha should mirror public opinion.
His maiden speech itself was historic. The daily income of 27 crore people of this country is a meagre 21 paise, he said in the Lok Sabha, to the utter astonishment of government. He argued that top priority should be given to the improvement of the condition of such poor people. Everyone was astonished when Lohia disclosed that this poor country spent as much as twenty-five thousand rupees a day on the security of the Prime Minister. He argued that popular leaders should not alienate themselves from the common man.
Experiment with Non-Congressism
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 forever. 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 SVD Governments were formed by the Opposition parties of that time.
Equality of opportunity is a sound principle. But when people who have been oppressed for ages are asked to compete with people belonging to forwarding communities the latter are bound to succeed. Hence it is but right that those who are backward should be given special opportunities. Lohia based all his programmes on this doctrine.
From time immemorial there has been a gulf between profession and practice in India. Lohia stressed the need to bridge this gulf between word and deed. He never owned any property. Until he became a Member of the Lok Sabha he never had any income. His friends and well-wishers looked after him. His house in Delhi was always open to the party workers. Lohia was returned to the Lok Sabha from Kannauj constituency in 1967. In September 1967, he underwent an operation. But he never recovered from it. On October 12, 1967, Lohia breathed his last.
Lohia was a versatile genius. He had a sharp intellect. He wielded a sharp pen and was a very effective and persuasive speaker. While addressing public gatherings he always spoke in Hindi. His speech used to be translated into the language of the region.
He knew English, German and French very well. He was also proficient in Bengali. He was a man of incisive logic. Once he chose a subject he would make a thorough study of it. He had a special love for Economics. And no one could deceive him with mere statistics.
Lohia died in New Delhi in 1967 fighting for the cause of the common man. He left behind no property or bank balance but incisive ideas and contemplations.
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