cc David Floyd
Published in 1963

The Editor
Daily Telegraph

Dr. Lohia and Indian Parliamentary Revival

According to an Indian wit, there is a probable explanation of the sudden Chinese decision to have a cease-fire after the advance of their troops had put the Indian army in disarray. The story goes the President of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan, former Spalding Professor at Oxford, whose speeches on almost every subject are garlands of Sanskritisms, made a speech when the fighting had flared up on the border and declared, “We shall not lose for dharma is on our side”. When the speech was relayed by Chinese intelligence to Peking, Messrs. Mao, Liu-shao-chi and Chou were completely baffled by the word dharma. They feared it might even be a secret American weapon, the ultimate weapon. They unanimously decided to declare a unilateral ceasefire.

Indian politicians have a predilection for a political strategy based on a doctrine of salvation. Some like Tilak and Gandhi had an academic interest in the Bhagvad Gita. Their politics were often an exercise in a contemporary explanation with reference to the scriptural context. A backward glance at the political situation in 1947, when the Transfer of Power took place will show that Gandhian thought and practice had crated a wide gulf between politics (as understood in most free and democratic countries) and political-cultural-social voluntary work. There were heated debates on the subject: Are religion and politics the same or different activity? Mahatma Gandhi stood securely on the position that these two were basically the same activity and it was wrong to separate the two. Gandhiji’s idea was not altogether untenable and today in many countries other than India one can come across such a type of political leader. The last Pope, Rev. Martin Luther King and Lester B. Pearson may all be seen as representatives of the sort of political leadership to which we may be moving. There is no need to dwell here on the Gandhian atmosphere of politics, except to emphasise the important point that the particular situation in India in 1947 did not help to clarify the scope of the state system and the distinct field of social-political activity. Some like Jawaharlal Nehru had no difficulty in attaching themselves to the state system. Nehru was no Gandhian and the British were impatient to hand over power. But there were several others. The early days of the Gandhian movement had brought together some of the best minds in India. Many of these leaders could have found themselves in key positions if they had indicated their desire to join the government. Gandhi, himself, could have seized state power and there is no basis whatsoever for the belief that he was other-worldly. Gandhiji had a remarkably efficient administrative mind and after all he had been called to the bar in London and had practised as a lawyer. The key positions in the state system were abandoned by Gandhiji’s key men. These disciples were led to believe that legitimate power in free India would be found distributed according to some uniquely Indian law.

The lack of concern with the state system led leaders like Vinoba Bhave, Kripalani, Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayana, Achyuta Patwardhan, Shankerrao Deo and several others to underestimate Parliament as a vehicle for the expression of the Indian commitment to the important political, economic, social, and ideological issues of the day. This was undoubtedly an error of the first magnitude. The discipline which Gandhiji had demanded of his close followers would have been an asset in the attempts of the Indian state to exercise its state power in its early days. Although people like Narayan and Lohia were in touch with political parties, they did not wholeheartedly extend credit to the Parliamentary way of life. They were not for totalitarianism. Rather they were committed to the idea first expressed by Gandhiji in Hind Swaraj in 1908 that India could express its political genius by organising a system which avoided the “power structure” based on brute force and substituting it by a decentralised system based on “passive resistance”. These leaders it seems misjudged Gandhiji’s work on the level of universally valid ideas. Gandhiji presented a unified goal for small-sized autonomous communities which could avoid revolutionary upheaval while obtaining the fruits of whatever progress is promised by the fanatical leaders of totalitarian movements. This unified goal cannot however be applied in a facile manner to India or to any other country except when there are firm foundations for political practice which consolidates power of the “forces of good”.

In post-Independence India, “the forces of good” were threatened from both within and without. The orthodox Gandhian views would happily suffer revision to help maintain the spirit of much of Gandhi’s work. This seems to have come about in 1963. It is however, difficult to believe that it should have taken so long but there is no doubt that kaleidoscopic changes are taking place in India. The border conflict with the Chinese gave a tremendous push to everyone and to the way minds of political leaders were working. The tangible evidence was revealed when the enigmatic Dr. Lohia, a close and trusted disciple of Gandhiji decided to jump into the fray of Parliamentary life. He won one of the bye-elections along with Kripalani and Masani against the ruling Congress party. But Lohia’s victory is to be seen against the background of his earlier refusal to take serious note of Parliamentary life which had led him often to use harsh and offensive language against Parliamentary institutions. His debut in Parliament in August this year received wide publicity and according to one noted Indian political analyst “created an ideological chaos in the mind of the Congress Party.” Lohia’s attacks on the Congress Party and on Nehru cannot be brushed away as irresponsible. He demonstrated the unconvincing nature of most of the improvisations the Congress leadership has made and its refusal to undertake basic reforms. Lohia has shown rare political courage by accusing the government of even undoing some of the advantages conferred by British rule, a statement which could cost any lesser leader the future of his political life in the country. The Congress Party can draw an important inference from the reception of Lohia’s performance in Parliament: the intelligentsia are determined to secure a revitalisation of public life in India, and the sort of activity which party hacks have tried by labelling the opposition as “unpatriotic” will simply not work in the case of Lohia. The Congress Party has taken up a policy of reconstruction by calling in the resignations of several important ministers. It is, however, confronted with a problem of the first magnitude. Lohia has emerged as the national symbol of the “opposition” and his political reputation and the skilful parliamentary tactics of which he gave excellent proof in the August session of the Parliament, have helped to establish the pre-eminence of Parliament in the minds of Gandhi’s personal heirs. Gandhi’s political heirs are increasingly aware that a period of instability is in store for them. The fateful consequences of Dr. Lohia’s return to the main current of political life in the foreseeable future are to be found in the militancy against those who in the post-1947 period entrenched themselves in power and are now disinclined to allow public discussion which was a hallmark of Indian political life under British rule. While this may cause concern to the outsider interested in the orderly evolution of Indian politics, to the Indian and particularly to the younger generation, the characteristic feature of the developments narrated above spells hope.
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