Hari Lal, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, took his son along on a meeting with the Mahatma. This meeting deeply influenced Lohia and sustained him during trying circumstances and helped seed his thoughts, actions and love for swaraj. 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 Gandhi, and more importantly to the movement as a whole, by joining a satyagraha march at the age of ten.
Lohia met Jawaharlal Nehru in 1921. Over the years they developed a close friendship. Lohia, however, never hesitated to censure Nehru on his political beliefs and openly expressed disagreement with Nehru on many key issues. Lohia organized a student protest in 1928 to protest the all-white Simon Commission which was to consider the possibility of granting India dominion status without requiring consultation of the Indian people.
Lohia attended the Banaras Hindu University to complete his intermediate course work after standing first in his school's matric examinations. In 1929, Lohia completed his B.A. from Calcutta University. He decided to attend Berlin University, Germany over all prestigious educational institutes in Britain to convey his dim view of British philosophy. He soon learned German and received financial assistance based on his outstanding academic performance.
Lohia wrote his Phd thesis paper on the topic of Salt Satyagraha, focusing on Gandhiji's socio-economic theory.
In the onset of the Second World War, Lohia saw an opportunity to collapse the British Raj in India. He made a series of caustic speeches urging Indians to boycott all government institutions. He was arrested on May 24, 1939, but released by authorities the very next day in fear of a youth uprising.
Soon after his release, Lohia wrote an article called "Satyagraha Now" in Gandhiji's newspaper, Harijan, on June 1, 1940. Within six days of the publication of the article, he was arrested and sentenced to two years of jail. During his sentencing the Magistrate said, "He (Lohia) is a top-class scholar, civilized gentleman, has liberal ideology and high moral character." In a meeting of the Congress Working Committee Gandhi said, "I cannot sit quiet as long as Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia is in prison. I do not yet know a person braver and simpler than him. He never propagated violence. Whatever he has done has increased his esteem and his honor." Lohia was mentally tortured and interrogated by his jailers. In December of 1941, all the arrested Congress leaders, including Lohia, were released in a desperate attempt by the government to stabilize India internally.
He vigorously wrote articles to spread the message of toppling the British imperialist governments from countries in Asia and Africa. He also came up with a hypothetical blueprint for new Indian cities that could self-administer themselves so well that there would not be need for the police or army.
Gandhi and the Indian National Congress launched the Quit India movement in 1942. Prominent leaders, including Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad, were jailed. The "secondary cadre" stepped-up to the challenge to continue the struggle and to keep the flame for swaraj burning within the people's hearts. Leaders who were still free carried out their operations from underground. Lohia printed and distributed many posters, pamphlets and bulletins on the theme of "Do or Die" on his secret printing-press. Lohia, along with freedom fighter Usha Mehta, broadcast messages in Bombay from a secret radio station called Congress Radio for three months before detection, as a measure to give the disarrayed Indian population a sense of hope and spirit in absence of their leaders. He also edited Inquilab (Revolution), a Congress Party monthly along with Aruna Asaf Ali.
Lohia then went to Calcutta to revive the movement there. He changed his name to hide from the police who were closing in on him. Lohia fled to Nepal's dense jungles to evade the British. There he met, among other Nepalese revolutionaries, the Koirala brothers, who remained Lohia's allies for the rest of their lives.
Lohia was captured in May 1944, in Bombay. Lohia was taken to a notorious prison in Lahore, where it is alleged that he underwent extreme torture. His health was destroyed but even though he was never as fit his courage and willpower strengthened through the ordeal. Under Gandhiji's pressure the Government released Lohia and his comrade Jayaprakash Narayan.
Following his release, Lohia decided to vacation with a friend in Goa. Once there, Lohia was alarmed to learn that the Portuguese government had introduced new curbs on the people's freedom of speech and assembly. He decided to deliver a speech to oppose the policy but was arrested even before he could reach the meeting location. The publicity served to force the Portuguese government to relent and it allowed the people the right to assemble. The Goan people weaved Lohia's tale of unselfish work for Goa in their folk songs.
As India's tryst with freedom neared, Hindu-Muslim strife increased. Lohia strongly opposed partitioning India in his speeches and writings. He appealed to communities in riot torn regions to stay united, ignore the violence surrounding them and stick to Gandhiji's ideals of non-violence. On the 15th of August, 1947, as the rest of India's leadership gathered in Delhi for the handover of power, Lohia stayed by Gandhiji's side as he mourned the effects of Partition.
"The use of English is a hindrance to original thinking, progenitor of inferiority feelings and a gap between the educated and uneducated public. Come, let us unite to restore Hindi to its original glory."
Lohia decided to make the mass public realize the importance of economic robustness for the nation's future.
He encouraged public involvement in post-freedom reconstruction. He pressed people to construct canals, wells and roads voluntarily in their neighborhood. He volunteered himself to build a dam on river Paniyari which is standing till this day and is called "Lohia Sagar Dam." Lohia said "satyagraha without constructive work is like a sentence without a verb." He felt that public work would bring unity and a sense of awareness in the community.
As a democracy, the Parliament of India was obliged to listen to citizens' complaints. Lohia helped create a day called "Janavani Day" on which people from around the nation would come and present their grievances to members of Parliament. The tradition continues even today.
When he arrived in Parliament in 1963, the country had a one-party government through three general elections. Lohia shook things up. He had written a pamphlet, "25000 Rupees a Day", the amount spent on Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, an obscene sum in a country where the vast majority lived on 3 annas (less than one-quarter of a rupee) a day. Nehru demurred, saying that India's Planning Commission statistics showed that the daily average income was more like 15 annas (a little under a rupee) per day. Lohia demanded that this was an important issue, one that cried out for a special debate. The controversy, still remembered in India as the "Teen Anna Pandrah Anna (3 annas -15 annas)" controversy.Member after member gave up his time to Lohia as he built his case, demolishing the Planning Commission statistics as fanciful. Not that the Commission was attempting to mislead, but the reality was that a small number of rich people were pulling up the average to present a wholly unrealistic picture. At that time, Lohia's figure was true for over 70% of the population. Unlike the Marxist theories which became fashionable in the third world in the 50's and 60's, Lohia recognized that caste, more than class, was the huge stumbling block to India's progress.It was Lohia's thesis that India had suffered reverses throughout her history because people had viewed themselves as members of a caste rather than citizens of a country. Caste, as Lohia put it, was congealed class. Class was mobile caste. As such, the country was deprived of fresh ideas, because of the narrowness and stultification of thought at the top, which was comprised mainly of the upper castes, Brahmins and Baniyas, and tight compartmentalization even there, the former dominant in the intellectual arena and the latter in the business. A proponent of affirmative action, he compared it to turning the earth to foster a better crop, urging the upper castes, as he put it, "to voluntarily serve as the soil for lower castes to flourish and grow", so that the country would profit from a broader spectrum of talent and ideas.
In Lohia's words, "Caste restricts opportunity. Restricted opportunity constricts ability. Constricted ability further restricts opportunity. Where caste prevails, opportunity and ability are restricted to ever-narrowing circles of the people".In his own party, the Samyukta (United) Socialist Party, Lohia promoted lower caste candidates both by giving electoral tickets and high party positions. Though he talked about caste incessantly, he was not a casteist -- his aim was to make sure people voted for the Socialist party candidate, no matter what his or her caste. His point was that in order to make the country strong, everyone needed to have a stake in it. To eliminate caste, his aphoristic prescription was, "Roti and Beti", that is, people would have to break caste barriers to eat together (Roti) and be willing to give their girls in marriage to boys from other castes (Beti).
Lohia was early to recognize that Marxism and Capitalism were similar in that both were proponents of the Big Machine. It was his belief that Big Industry was no solution for the third world (he even warned Americans, back in 1951, about their lives being taken over by big corporations). He called Marxism the "last weapon of Europe against Asia". Propounding the "Principle of Equal Irrelevance", he rejected both Marxism and Capitalism, which were often presented as the only alternatives for third world nations. Nehru too had a similar view, at least insofar as he observed to Andre Malraux that his challenge was to "build a just society by just means". Lohia had a strong preference for appropriate technology, which would reduce drudgery but not put the common man at the mercy of far away forces. As early as 1951, he foresaw a time of the 'monotonic mind', with nothing much to do because the problems of living had been all addressed by technology.
Aside from the procedural revolution of non-violent civil disobedience, bridging the rich-poor divide, the elimination of caste and the revolution against incursions of the big-machine, other revolutions in Lohia's list included tackling Man-Woman inequality, banishing inequality based on color, and that of preserving individual privacy against encroachment of the collective.
Many of Lohia's revolutions have advanced in India, some with greater degrees of success than others. In some instances the revolutions have led to perverse results which he would have found distasteful. However,Lohia was not one to shy away from either controversy or struggle. Lohia believed that a party grew by taking up causes. He was a strong believer in popular action. In India's parliamentary system, where elections could be called even before the term was over, he once said that "Live communities don't wait for five years (the term of the parliament)", meaning that a government which misruled should be thrown out by the people. He carried out this idea by moving the first no-confidence motion against the Nehru government, which had by then been in office for 16 years!
Lohia is often called a maverick socialist, a cliched but nevertheless apt description.He gave that impression not to be controversial, but because he was always evolving his thoughts, and like his mentor, Gandhi, did not hesitate to speak the truth as he saw it. He often surprised both supporters and opponents. He astounded everyone by calling for India to produce the bomb, after the Chinese aggression of 1962. He was anti-English, saying that the British ruled India with bullet and language (bandhook ki goli aur angrezi ki boli). Full of unforgettable phrases which would characterize a point of view, he captured who was a member of India's ruling class in with near-mathematical precision that have not been bettered in three decades -- "high-caste, wealth, and knowledge of English are the three requisites, with anyone possessing two of these belonging to the ruling class". The definition still holds.
Lohia wanted to abolish private schools and establish upgraded municipal (government) schools which would give equal academic opportunity to students of all castes. This, he hoped would help eradicate the divisions created by the caste system.
At the Socialist Party's Annual Convention, Lohia set up a plan to decentralize the government's power so that the general public would have more power in Indian politics. He also formed Hind Kisan Panchayat to resolve farmers' everyday problems.
Lohia was a socialist and wanted to unite all the socialists in the world to form a potent platform. He was the General Secretary of Praja Socialist Party. He established the World Development Council and eventually the World Government to maintain peace in the world.
During his last few years, besides politics, he spent hours talking to thousands of young adults on topics ranging from Indian literature to politics and art.
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