New Delhi: Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia played a major role in the Independence struggle, especially, during the Quit India Movement. It was Lohia who kept the movement alive through his ‘underground’ work, at a time when several top leaders were jailed by the British rulers.
Lohia was born on 23 March 1910 at Akbarpur in Uttar Pradesh in a family of traders. He was raised by his grandparents as his mother Chandri died when he was just two years old. His father, Hira Lal Lohia, who refused to remarry, was a committed nationalist.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Lohia, then 11 years old, got drawn to the Non-Cooperation Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi.
Lohia completed his intermediate studies from Banaras Hindu University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Calcutta and later a doctorate from the Humboldt University of Berlin, where he studied economics and politics.
In 1934, Lohia joined the Congress Socialist Party, which served as the Left-wing of the Indian National Congress. He was one of the founding members of the party and also edited its periodical called, Congress Socialist. In 1936, he became the secretary of the foreign department of All India Congress Committee.
Unlike Nehru, Lohia bitterly opposed India’s involvement in the World War-II. He was arrested for making comments against the British government in 1939-40.
“The massive edifice of the British Empire raised on the foundation of exploitation and slavery is shaking…” he said at a public speech in Dostpur, UP, on 11 May 1940.
“In ten provinces of the country, the popular governments have been replaced by the autocratic rule of the Governors, thus providing enough justification to launch a Satyagraha,” he said.
During the Quit India Movement in 1942, when most of the top leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were arrested, Lohia and Jay Prakash Narayan played a major role in mobilising support.
Lohia set up underground radio stations called, Congress Radio, at Bombay and Calcutta to “disseminate the much needed information to the masses to sustain a leaderless movement”, according to an article published by The Hindu. JP mobilised a guerrilla force to combat British colonial rule. As a result of this, Lohia was jailed again in 1944-46.
In February 1947, Lohia was elected chairman of the Congress Socialist Party.
Lohia, along with several leaders left the Congress in 1948 because of their differences with Nehru. Lohia apparently believed that Nehru talked at great length about socialism but never actually practised it, according to a report in Mainstream.
He joined the Praja Socialist Party in 1952 and served as its general-secretary for a brief period before resigning from the party in 1955. Later, he launched a new Socialist Party and edited its journal Mankind. Lohia started a series of “Satyagrahas” against social injustice and went to jail several times during this period.
Lohia was elected to the third Lok Sabha in a bypoll from Farrukhabad in May 1963. It was Lohia who made Parliament acknowledge the widespread problem of starvation among agricultural labourers. In the 1964 budget debate, Lohia showcased that 270 million Indians lived on three annas (19 paise) a day.
The social reformer
Lohia believed that unless caste inequality was abolished, India would not progress. He gave a number of suggestions for the eradication of caste system, including compulsory intercaste marriages for government servants and community festivals.
To eliminate caste barriers, he put forward the idea of “roti and beti”, which means that people would have to break caste barriers in order to eat together and allow marriage of their daughters with grooms from other castes.
Lohia died on 12 October 1967, at New Delhi’s Willingdon Hospital, which was later rechristened Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.
Lohia left behind his socialist legacy for the next generation of leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav among others.
This article was originally published in October 2018