And now, it’s Lohia’s turn!

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And now, it’s Lohia’s turn!

Prem Singh

23rd March is Dr. Rammanohar Lohia’s birthday. But it is said that he did not want people to celebrate the day because it was on this day that the revolutionaries – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed by the British government. So most of his admirers and Indian socialists celebrate Lohia Jayanti by observing it as the Martyrdom Day.

This time, on the occasion of Lohia Jayanti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Lohia on his blog. As soon as this news became public, one of my friends called me to take notice of this fact. He said with urgency in his voice that I should immediately write a reply to the Prime Minister’s tweet. I told the friend that in today’s politics, blogs and tweeters have become a huge industry, in which the mercenaries or paid people work in large numbers. If one were to write answers to the blogs and tweets of the leaders, then there will be hardly any time to do one’s own work. I asked the friend if anyone can respond to the stuff Modi has been stating/writing about personalities such as Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel, and Bhagat Singh for the last five years? Is it even desirable?

The phrase ‘Khanti Lohiavadi’ (staunch Lohiaite) is commonly used for die hard socialists. The friend who called me comes in the same category. He spoke anxiously saying ‘But the case of Doctor Saheb (Lohia) is altogether different. He was till now out of the picture. Modi should not be allowed to capture him’. I replied that joining this controversy would mean playing on Modi’s pitch, and that serves no purpose. The friend was slightly angry at my reluctance. I tried to convince him that Modi and RSS can capture neither Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel, Bhagat Singh nor Lohia. How can a person or organization, who does not have any regard for the values of Freedom Struggle and the values of the Constitution, can appropriate personalities who were moulded in the furnace of the struggle for the country’s Independence? There is a fundamental opposition between the two. Modi and RSS can use them only for their power game, and they are doing exactly the same. Regarding Lohia, saying anything about him in the context of Modi or RSS will be a bad joke. I reminded my friend about an article Amrit Lal had written ‘Rammannohar Lohia: In His Times and Ours’ discussing Lohia’s political thoughts and actions. The article was published in ‘Indian Express’ (12th October 2017) on the 50th death anniversary of Lohia. In my opinion, the article is perhaps the best journalistic piece written on Lohia in the recent times. It is an article to be read and circulated among others.

The friend reluctantly agreed but remained adamant on the idea of refuting Modi. Finally I asked him if there is any justification in blaming Modi and the RSS for ‘kidnapping’ Lohia. The blame falls more heavily on those ‘socialists’ who, on the occasion of Lohia Jayanti or Lohia’s death anniversary go to the extent of inviting Home Minister Rajnath Singh and President Ramnath Kovind along with other RSS/BJP leaders as guests and speakers on the day? They do this under the leadership of pro RSS/BJP leaders like Nitish Kumar and thus make marketable business of Lohia! The friend was now really upset and he put the phone down saying that such people have definitely been successful. Look at the great future possible! This time if Modi wins, his government might want to award Lohia with the Bharat Ratna. It does not matter of course, that it will actually be the worst kind of devaluation of Lohia till date .

In the morning I read the detailed news in newspapers on the comments Modi had made about Lohia in his blog. Modi, in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections, has finally made Lohia a weapon and attacked the opposition. The comment is full of inane observations and hollowness. It is a matter of regret that a person, who had been a freedom fighter and who constantly fought for equality in the interest of the poor, has been dragged in the scene for electoral gains on the occasion of his birth anniversary. Even more so when the person doing this is the Prime Minister of the country. As we know, there is no justification whatsoever in discussing Lohia’s ideology, principles and policies in the context of Modi’s blog. But I would only point out that Lohia’s non-Congress-ism, which according to Modi, was his ‘heart and soul’ is a completely wrong statement. Modi has replaced non-Congressism with anti-congressism in his blog.

Lohia had fought for the Independence of the country under the Congress banner. The Congress Socialist Party (CSP), of which Lohia was a part, was formed in 1934 within the Congress fold. After Independence the Socialist Party separated from the Congress in 1948. This decision was made because the Congress had refused to allow the existence of the CSP under its new party constitution. In the democratic system, the criticism of the ruling Congress and its leadership was Lohia’s democratic obligation. In a democracy, the rule of a single party should not continue for long. At least Lohia used to believe in this democratic ethos. So Lohia, at the fag end of his political career, adopted the strategy of non-Congressism to defeat the Congress in 9 states. It was not his political theory but a strategy. In his last editorial of ‘Jan’ (October 1967), he reviewed that experiment and expressed his dissatisfaction with the results.

The Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh Congress in the times of Modi has little to do with the Nehru Congress. The Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh Congress is a supporter of corporate capitalism. The RSS/BJP and Modi too are supporters of the same ideology and system. When Manmohan Singh implemented the New Economic Policies in 1991, the senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that now the Congress has adopted the ideology of the BJP. Therefore, Modi’s ‘anti-Congressism’ is primarily backed by his intention hold on to power for a longer time. In this respect there is no difference of policies between the two parties. Modi is simply pushing the Congress’ work ahead. However, there is one difference : Manmohan Singh, being an economist of high caliber, carried out neo-liberal policies in the classical way, while Modi makes blind moves in a bizarre manner. Even when it comes to the matter of misuse of power, the Modi government has not been far behind the Congress.

Citizens are being oppressed and humiliated for criticizing Modi or the government in during his regime, the constitutional institutions, which have formed the basis of democracy, are being devalued and destroyed, the ministers of the government openly proclaim that they do not accept the Constitution, rather they are working to change it, they go to the extent of declaring that this election of the Lok Sabha will be the last, the BJP president says we will remain in power for 50 years ….

Modi government’s anti-democracy manifestations are endless. In spite of all this, Modi uses the name of Lohia, a democrat from beginning to the end, just to attack his rivals in the opposition! What can one call it – irony or the culmination of hypocrisy?

(The author teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party)

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