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Iconising an iconoclast: Why Nitish Kumar is wrong in demanding a Bharat Ratna for Lohia

Iconising an iconoclast: Why Nitish Kumar is wrong in demanding a Bharat Ratna for Lohia

Iconising an iconoclast: Why Nitish Kumar is wrong in demanding a Bharat Ratna for Lohia
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By V Krishna Ananth  May 2, 2018 8:59:28 AM IST (Updated)

Lohia’s acumen helped drive a distinction between the ‘left’ as held by Subash Chandra Bose then and the radical position, that the INC formulated.

Ram Manohar Lohia, on his return from Germany in 1933 after defending his PhD thesis on Salt Taxation in India (from what is today the Humboldt University, Berlin), plunged into the struggle for independence.

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Lohia was among those whom Jawaharlal Nehru, elected as president of the Indian National Congress (INC) at Faizpur in 1936, handpicked to assist him conduct the foreign affairs department of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
Jayaprakash Narayan was another of those whom Nehru took in with him then and together they steered the INC to the left.
Lohia’s acumen helped drive a distinction between the ‘left’ as held by Subash Chandra Bose then (and Bose had seen virtue then to meet with Fascist Benitto Mussolini around that time) and the radical position, that the INC formulated then, combining its opposition to imperialism and fascism.
Lohia was among the prominent leaders of the INC who formed the underground resistance to colonial rule during the Quit India Movement and yet left the Indian National Congress to form the Socialist Party in 1948; and more importantly turn out the most acerbic distracter of Jawaharlal Nehru, within and outside Parliament.
Lohia’s presence in Parliament was short. He entered the Lok Sabha in May 1963 in a by-election and remained only until October, 12 1967, when he passed away at the Wellington Hospital (now the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital), in New Delhi.
Lohia, all his life, was an iconoclast. He refused to submit 150 copies of his thesis to the university, a norm then, after his successful defence. It could be, hence, that none have seen or read through his thesis. He wrote little.
Lohia’s thoughts, however, were recorded and his lectures, ex-tempore always, were reduced into writing and published by his followers.
And his lectures covered a whole lot of subjects; one of those, on the art and the aesthetics of Ajanta and Ellora is such intense reading and titled Interval During Politics. Lohia attacked his own fellow travellers without mincing words.
Trenchant Critic of Gandhi and Nehru
Jayaprakash Narayan, his colleague at the AICC since 1936 and his ‘leader’ in the underground resistance since 1942 and the founding chairman of the Socialist Party, was castigated by Lohia.
In a brilliant analysis on what happened to Gandhi after Gandhi, Lohia held out that Gandhi has been reduced to governmental Gandhism (sarkaari Gandhi), rendering Gandhi into a museum piece, which he attributed to Nehru, Muttvadhi Gandhi, which he attributed to Acharya Vinobha Bhave, accused JP for having reduced Gandhi into an apostle of sterile thought and stressed that the essence of Gandhi lay in what Lohia called kujaat Gandhi; for Lohia, Gandhi was a heretic and a quintessential rebel to emulate.
To recall these aspects from the life of Lohia, more than fifty years after his death, is indeed important to locate Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s orchestration today of a demand that the iconoclast be awarded Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of our Republic.
Apart from the absurdity of making an icon of an iconoclast, the fact that this orchestration comes from one who is part of an establishment that has pulled all the stops to paint all those who criticise the government as anti-nationals is clearly a problem.
Lohia, in Parliament and outside Parliament, did all that he did to drive hard the point that those in public life shall be subjected to the harshest scrutiny.
As for instance, he teased the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had drafted him into the political establishment of the day in 1936, of presiding over a system that spent Rs 25,000 a day on the Prime Minister’s security even while the average daily earnings of an ordinary Indian was just three annas.
This was on September 6, 1963 during the debate on the first ever No-Confidence motion in our short history.
Nehru, rather than letting his followers — who were in large numbers in the House -- to shout down Lohia, challenged the socialist leader with figures from the Planning Commission to argue that the daily average income of an Indian citizen then was fifteen annas.
Lohia did not yield and with all the time he was given (after many opposition MPs stood up to transfer their own allotted time during the debate to Lohia!) went on to establish that the Planning Commission’s figures were the making of skilful jugglery with numbers.
A Disservice to His Record as Public Figure
Well, Lohia’s exposition then came to be celebrated in his own times as a classic debate (teen anna pandrah anna) and got Lohia a place in any compilation of the great debates in our Parliamentary history.
Lohia also held, in the same debate, that it was imperative for the Republic to level the salary of a minister in the union cabinet (and here he named the then finance minister TT Krishnamachari) with that of a sweeper in order to get those from the Upper castes to run after jobs that were considered menial.
In other words, Lohia remained an iconoclast all his life and inspired some of his many followers – Madhu Limaye in particular – to iconoclasm as a way of life.
I name Limaye in particular because in another time, Madhu Limaye went ahead turning Lohia’s anti-Congressism on its head to subvert the RSS takeover of the Janata Party.
A lesson that Nitish Kumar pretended to learn but jettisoned to stay as Bihar chief minister with support from the BJP; and called it a dictate of his conscience.
For him to now seek a Bharat Ratna for Ram Manohar Lohia is indeed inimical to all that Lohia lived for in his life.
Nitish Kumar is free to ask anything he wants in a democracy. But then, he shall not do it in the name of Ram Manohar Lohia, who rightly called himself a heretic Gandhian (kujaat Gandhi) and thus turn Lohia into a Sarkaari Gandhian!
Professor V Krishna Ananth teaches History at the School of Liberal Arts and Basic Sciences at the SRM University – AP, Amaravati.
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