Friday, January 14, 2011

Condolence message from Sher Bahadur Deuba

I was saddened to learn about the recent pasing away of Mr Surendra
Mohan who was an inspiring leader and friend to me and to Nepal.
Please convey my wife's and my deep condolences to Mrs. Mohan and the


Sher Bahadur Deuba
Senior Leader, Nepali Congress
& Former Prime Minister of Nepal

The socialist extraordinary by Kuldip Nayar

The socialist extraordinary

By Kuldip Nayar

For some years, Surendra Mohan and the socialist movement in the country have been synonymous. He would travel by train through the length and breadth of India to string together a trade union here and a left-inclined group there to revive the Socialist Party, which was alive and kicking till 1977 when the Janata Party was formed. The party's founder, Jayaprakash Narayan, was himself the leader of the Socialist Party when it parted company with the Congress in 1948 and wanted the people to recognise its separate identity.
The Socialist Party has gone through many splits and reunions leading to the formation of many parties. These included the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, Praja Socialist Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party. Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashok Mehta, Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia and S.M. Joshi were among the leaders of the Socialist parties. Many existing parties, like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and the Janata Dal (Secular) trace their origin to the Socialist Party.
Surendra Mohan had wanted the groups swearing by the name of socialism to come on the same platform. That he could not do so before his death does not minimise the cause. In fact, his death should strengthen the determination to make his dream come true.
Not many socialists have suffered and sacrificed as much as Surendra Mohan did. He considered no work stupendous enough to put his heart and soul in it. He worked to revive the party till his last breath.
Surendra Mohan was known to Congress leaders because he had been working in the field from the age of 17. Sixty-eight years are too long a period spent at the grassroots to know who is who and prove one's mettle.
He could have been a minister in the Morarji Desai government, which was led by the Janata Party. But an unassuming Surendra Mohan preferred to work in the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and sent instead George Fernandes, a tried trade unionist to the government. It is another story that Surendra Mohan was annoyed with his old friend Fernandes when the latter joined the BJP-led government. It shows how uncompromising Surendra Mohan was when it came to joining hands with communal forces.
That he stayed distant from the Congress indicates his incisiveness in spotting the parties that called themselves secular and played the minority card for the sake of votes. Surendra Mohan was known to Congress leaders because he had been working in the field from the age of 17. Sixty-eight years are too long a period spent at the grassroots to know who is who and prove one's mettle, which he did. Yet, he did not go near the Congress despite the overtures by the party, because he had before him the example of JP who felt cheated by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Surendra Mohan was as far left as his leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia — who stood for an alternative to the Congress — was. But being a socialist, Surendra Mohan was firm in his belief in democracy, which has a different connotation for the Communists. Dictatorship of the proletariat did not go well with a freely elected Parliament. He was a Rajya Sabha member and saw from close quarters how the Communists had an understanding with the Congress, not for ideological reasons, but for the vicarious satisfaction of enjoying power. Surendra Mohan's experience with the Communist Party of India during Emergency was shattering. He was detained without trial like other Opposition leaders for two and a half years. He became the Janata Party's spokesman, but minced no words when he found it quarrelling.
It is a tragedy that he died when he is needed the most. After holding conclaves in some cities like Mumbai to provide the country an alternative in the shape of the Socialist Party, he had fixed 27 May to launch the party on the day when 62 years ago JP founded it. The venue was Hyderabad. What would give solace to his soul is if the elements he tried to bring together assemble there to revive the Socialist Party.

26th Dec

End of an era: A Tribute by Qurban Ali

End of an era: Tribute
Surendra Mohan (1926-2010)
With the demise of Surendra Mohan on December 18, 2010, India has lost one of the veteran socialist who would always be remembered for his simple life and political integrity.
Surendra Mohan was known for his intellectual honesty, moral uprightness and personal sacrifices. He was one of the founding General Secretaries of the Janata Party in 1977 and played a vital role in its historic victory. He was also spokesman of the Janata Party during 1977, General elections and played a crucial role during the elections and in the formation of the first non-congress government at the centre.
Despite imprisonment during emergency, he declined the job of a Union minister when Morarji Desai-led Janata Party came to power. He preferred to remain a worker of the party.
He died at time when he was planning to revive his old Socialist Party and drafted its Policy statement. The foundation Conference of the proposed party was slated to be on 17th May 2011.
Mohan was one of the founding General Secretaries of the Janata Party in 1977 and played a vital role in its historic victory. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha for a term from 1978-84. He remained with the Janata Party, Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Secular) and was finally the President of the recently formed Socialist Janata Party.
His associates and friends describe him as a "directory of Socialists" in India as well as as the ‘encyclopedia of socialist movement’. He had good connections with socialists in other countries and had personal rapport with Gandhians, civil society movements and intellectuals. He was an ideal socialist. Till the end he struggled for the deprived and the downtrodden. He made it a point to come to all programmes, big and small, for the causes he believed in. He was a fighter of socialist ideals for an egalitarian and just society.
Surendra Mohan was born in Ambala (United Punjab) on December 4, 1926.His romance with socialist movement started in 1942 during Quit India Movement when he was a student of eleventh standard at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) when he heard the names of Jayprakash Narayan and Dr Ramanohar Lohia and their historic role during Quit India Movement. But his first contact with the leaders of Congress Socialist Party (CSP) was in early 1946 when senior CSP leader Munshi Ahmed Din visited the DAV College Jullundar where he was a final year student of B.Sc and was working as General Secretary of the district unit of the Punjab Student Congress. In May 1946, Sardar Gurbaksh Singh, an organizer of Punjab CSP visited Ambala a CSP unit was formed at Ambala and Surendra Mohan was elected its district secretary.After the formation of Socialist Party in 1948, he became whole timer of the party at his native place Ambala and later became the district General Secretary of the party. In June 1950 he participated in a Satyagrah at Karehra village near Yamunangar against evictions of agricultural workers and was arrested and awarded two and half years of rigorous imprisonment. After the intervention by Jayprakash Narayan and Prof. Tilak Raj Chaddha and meeting with the then Punjab Chief Minister Gopi Chand Bhargava, he was released after seven months imprisonment by the end of January 1951. In July 1952 he was the Chairman of the reception committee of the State conference of the Punjab Socialist Party held at Ropar (now Roop Nagar) and inaugurated by Dr Rammanohar Lohia.For higher education he went to Dehradoon in October 1952, from where he obtained masters degree in sociology. In 1955 he joined Kashi Vidyapeeth as a lecturer of Sociology for two years and started writing for the Janata. In June 1958 Prem Bhasin the then joint Secretary of Praja Socialist Party (PSP), requested him to join Central office of the party to be a full-time political worker as organizer of the Samajwadi Yuwak Sabha. Surendra Mohan resigned from Kashi Vidyapeeth and after attending PSP’s National Conference at Pune in 1958 he joined the PSP’s central office in New Delhi. He proved his mettle in the Praja Socialist Party, Samyukta Socialist Party and Socialist Party and rose to become first its Joint Secretary, 1965-71 and later the General Secretary of the Socialist Party from 1972-77.
A political leader who believed in the power of ideas, Surendra Mohan was a prolific writer and regular columnist in many Hindi and English newspapers. He was also the Editor of the socialist journal Janata. Four collections of his essays in Hindi were published besides three books authored by him. He was associated with Peoples Union for Civil Liberties ever since its foundation and was very active in promoting human rights. During the last three decades of his life, he spent much of his energy with youth, social movements and people’s organizations like the National Alliance for Peoples Movements, Socialist Front, Rashtra Seva Dal. An internationalist at heart, he was active with Socialist International and supported Nepal’s democratic struggle. So committed was he to the cause of socialism that for several years he did not pay attention to getting married. One day his worried mother asked him when he would marry. Finally he married Manju Mohan in 1974. He was 85 and is survived by his wife, Ms Manju Mohan, a son and a daughter
A friend of all the pro-people initiatives in the country, he would be missed by a wide range of followers and admirers across the political spectrum, socialist workers, pro-people intellectuals and peoples movements across the country.
(Qurban Ali is a broadcast journalist. E-mail:

Surendra Mohan : An Obituary by Prem Singh

Surendra Mohan : An Obituary
Prem SinghWhen he left the world at the age of 84, Surendra Mohan was busy, absolutely engrossed in his work. During the last few years he had fought his indifferent health having even fainted on the dais at a public function in Delhi some years ago. Manju Mohan tried her utmost to make him realize his physical frailty and be mindful of his health issues but he was not the one to listen to her protestations. He did have to be hospitalized a few times, to draw his attention to his treatment and medication but Surendra Mohan's strong zest for life always pulled him back to active public life. Nothing - bad roads, distances, inclement weather could hold him back from his commitments.When he was hospitalized on the night of 11th December 2010 before the next-day vital meeting in Mumbai regarding the formation of the Socialist Party, no one was really surprised to see him reach the meeting venue dot on time at 10 in the morning. He dismissed Manju ji’s concerns about his health. His age and health could neither temper the energy he directed to his meetings nor dilute his hunger for reading, information and thought. He was always present at social, cultural and educational events despite his political engagements and struggles. Very few amongst his generation and also young contemporaries matched his active lifestyle. No wonder he was one of the most sought after presence in public programs and meetings.People often start pondering about the last phase of their life after a certain age. Few actually bid adieu to the world in the manner they would really like to. Surendra Mohan was never considered death as a hindrance to ongoing peoples' movements. This was the secret why he did not worry too much about heath matters. He wanted to die working in the political arena and that is exactly how it happened. On 16th December he participated in a sit-in dharna at Jantar Mantar against judicial corruption and breathed his last the next early morning. Earlier he had gone on a whirlwind tour of various states. Had he lived to see the day of 17th December, he would have been busy attending some program or the other or meeting visitors and discussing issues with them at home. This is the closest example one get of a person embracing death on one’s own terms.Those who do not bother about and focus instead on their commitments in the here and now, are more anxious about how their efforts will be remembered and taken forward. A person who had spent a life time for the poor and downtrodden is concerned how his endeavors will go on when he is no more. One realizes, through experience, how an individual’s contribution is either dissipated or drastically morphed after his death. Every thinker and activist has a different perspective of his own contribution when he or she will be no more and is concerned about it in one way or another. Surendra Mohan lived such a life that he will always be remembered as one who fought relentlessly for the cause of the poor and unheard masses against neo-liberalism and was one of its greatest opponents.Surendra Mohan had thus become synonymous with the movement against neo-liberalism in a positive and realistic manner in the country. Even the neighboring countries were influenced by his efforts and concerned citizens respected his cause. The loud and clear message of his life is that all the forces and groups that stand in opposition to neo-liberalism, should not be viewed as competitors but as associates and colleagues. They should come together in cooperation and work as associates in a similar goal. His comrades included Gandhians on one hand to extreme left leaning activists on the other. He was a constant figure at every platform that espoused the cause of marginalized groups - Dalits, women, tribals, minorities, peasants etc. In his all encompassing efforts, he virtually expanded and intensified the scope of the socialist idea.The media did write about his passing away but the reports were usually confined to his achievements in the mainstream political domain. Surendra Mohan's relevance and significance lies in his efforts towards the expansion and intensification of the struggle against neo-liberalism, not in the fact that he played a role in the Janata Party or his role in the times of VP Singh and Devegowda. During the times he was working towards his crusade as an opponent of liberalization is viewed in many journalistic circles as a period of his marginalization in politics, solely because it is not 'newsworthy'. Politicians who succeed in the power game of politics come a dime a dozen. It is sad that the media concentrates on only those who have succeeded or are elbowing their way to seats of power. Why is it that the passing away of Surendra Mohan is not newsworthy to the media for the efforts that he was making without seeking political 'success' and limelight?The greatest accrual of the JP movement was the rescue and re-establishment of democracy in India. Post emergency, that was the most important achievement. But that could, nonetheless, have been possible by the coming together of all opposition parties against emergency regime of Indira Gandhi. JP himself realized very soon that Janata Party was an experiment to save democracy. It wasn’t meant to benefit the cause of socialism in any way and it did not. Had the socialist leaders of the times dug in their feet on this point, JP might have had to retract his 'dictate' of merging the Socialist Party in the newly formed Janata Party. In this context I would like to underline the fact that the entire politics of social justice espoused by the various fragments of 'Janata Parivar' is only incidental and remote in its connection to the revolutionary content of the socialist philosophy and transformative politics of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. Despite the fact that Surendra Mohan often enumerated the positive fallout of the Janata Party and the resultant politics of social justice in its wake, the fact cannot be brushed aside that the merger of Socialist Party with Janata Party rang in the demise of the socialist movement in the country. The ease with which the country sashayed into the arms of neo- liberalism is due to the absence of the Socialist Party on the political landscape. The damage could have been controlled to some extent if the founders of Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) like Kishan Patnaik, Bhai Vaidya, Pannalal Surana and Vinod Prasad Singh along with the leader of Samajwadi Janata Party, Chandrasekhar and leader of Janta Dal (Secular), Surendra Mohan had come together in some sort of an understanding. Surendra Mohan did encouraged new political workers to join the Samajwadi Jan Parishad after its formation in 1995 to strengthen the socialist movement but unfortunately no real efforts for understanding or co-operation could emerge between the leading lights of the day.Surendra Mohan would say that he and some others tried to revive the Socialist Party in 1979 but it didn’t find many takers. In the last 2 or 3 decades there has been talk of rebuilding unity amongst the socialists but it has not come to pass in reality. It leaves serious doubts, therefore, that the revival and reorganization of the Socialist Party of 1948 in Hyderabad on 17th May 2011 will be any more successful than the earlier attempts. The revival of Socialist Party, which is often mentioned as the culmination of Surendra Mohan's dream, is a challenging and difficult aim. Surendra Mohan knew this and was not in a hurry to step on the gas. Just as it is not possible to strengthen the socialist movement by the ‘socialists’ who hobnob with neo-liberal and communalist forces, the formation of one more outfit in presence of several, will not result in any forward movement. The best way, initially, would be to simply learn to work and co-operate together for some time. It is necessary to mention that Surendra Mohan’s significance attains different hues for certain people. The so called socialists who sided with or joined BJP and Congress and helped promote neo-liberalism as well as communalism and several NGOites find a good camouflage in Surendra Mohan’s association, even if by remote connections of history. They are happy to live in the reflected glory of his association, howsoever distant. They will, in all probability, continue to reap this benefit even after his death. Surendra Mohan never rejected their advances. His belief in the goodness of man and possibilities of change was inexhaustible. Hopefully such people will not break his faith when he is no more.Surendra Mohan was a prolific writer and wrote extensively in both Hindi and English newspapers and magazines. Two of his recent books are - ‘Vartmaan Rajniti Ki Jwalant Chunotiyan' (Burning Challenges of Contemporary Politics) and 'Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Ki Neetiyan' (Policies of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia). He was the editor of the English weekly ‘Janata’. His editorials in this journal, launched in 1946 by socialist stalwarts, have immense archival value. He excelled in editorial work and his knowledge was immense with a memory to match. He was a busy political activist but his involvement did not prevent him from extensive reading. On his 75th birthday, the committee formed to organize the celebrations had planned to release his articles in book form. Two days before the function, he called me up to enquire if it was at all possible for a booklet to be produced for the program, given the short notice. My colleague Harimohan Mishra and I spent two nights at the press, gathered together his articles and brought out a booklet titled ‘Samajwad: Ateet, Vartmaan Aur Bhavishya' (Socialism : Past , Present and Future). Sometime later I planned two other books of his writings - ‘Samajwad Dharmnirpekshta Aur Samajik Nyay' (Socialism Secularism and Social Justice) and ‘Vikas Ka Rasta' (Path of Development). Surendra Mohan was an open minded person. Ever since I started working with him, I have not known him to be adverse to criticism or difference of opinion. It was a pleasure to work with him and we often shared many a humorous moments. Surendra ji is no more - it is going to hurt for some time. However, his inspiration will nudge us on and things will go on, hopefully in the way he would have wanted them to. It is the responsibility of all those who knew and respected him to pledge to work in this direction and ensure that the torch of his life's mission continues to burn and show us a lighted path. We salute our comrade. (The author of this obituary Dr. Prem Singh teaches Hindi in Delhi University and was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. He is closely associated with socialist philosophy and movement.)

Steadfast Socialist by Yogendra Yadav


Steadfast socialist

Surendra Mohan (1926-2010) upheld the tradition of personal honesty and political integrity of the first generation of socialists.

TO remember Surendra Mohan is to recall the finest human virtues and political values that the socialist movement in India contributed to the country's public life. He began his political life as a socialist and remained so through his more than six decades of multifarious involvement in public life.
Surendra Mohan will be remembered across the political spectrum for upholding the tradition of personal honesty and political integrity established by the first generation of leaders of the socialist movement. Within what remains of the socialist movement, he will be remembered as a conscience keeper, someone who rose above petty factional disputes, who tried his utmost to keep the movement and its core political values alive in the face of its political disintegration. In the wider world of progressive social movements in the country, he will be remembered as a trustworthy friend, a bridge between politics and social movements and an intellectual guide. Each facet of his personality showcased the best in the socialist movement.
Born in 1926 in Ambala, Haryana (in Punjab until 1967), Surendra Mohan was attracted to the socialist movement during the popular rebellion of 1942. This was a glorious moment in the history of the socialist movement. Socialist leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) and Ram Manohar Lohia led the popular resistance during the Quit India movement since much of the Congress leadership was behind bars and the communists were supporting the British war effort. Surendra Mohan was one of the thousands of young people who were attracted to the then Congress Socialist Party (CSP).
Surendra Mohan's first contact with the socialist movement, with the Punjab unit of the CSP, reminds us of a forgotten chapter in the history of this movement. Munshi Ahmed Din, a senior CSP leader, visited DAV College, Jullundar, where Surendra Mohan was a final year BSc student and a general secretary of the district unit of the Punjab Student Congress. Soon after, in May 1946, a CSP unit was formed in Ambala, and Surendra Mohan was elected its district secretary. After Partition, the CSP came out of the Congress and became the Socialist Party. In June 1950, his participation in a satyagraha at Karehra village near Yamunanagar against the eviction of agricultural workers earned him two and a half years of rigorous imprisonment. Intervention by JP and Tilak Raj Chaddha led to his release after seven months.
The first general election (1951-52) was a big setback to the Socialist Party, as the electoral performance fell far below its expectations. This was followed by a period of disorientation and finally a split in 1955 when Lohia's followers left to revive their own Socialist Party. Much of the Punjab unit of the party remained with the parent organisation, then the Praja Socialist Party (PSP).
During this period Surendra Mohan completed his master's degree from Dehradun and taught sociology at Kashi Vidyapeeth for two years. He also started writing for the party's weekly organ, Janata, an association that was to persist for half a century as he and G.G. Parekh, the two co-editors, kept the journal alive.
In June 1958, he quit his job and became a party whole-timer at the request of Prem Bhasin, the then joint secretary of the PSP. He chose low-profile organisational work at the central office of the party and worked with the Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha (SYS), the youth wing of the party. Through the 1960s, he remained a key organisation person for the PSP, which briefly became the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), and was its joint secretary from 1965 to 1971. He was the general secretary of the Socialist Party, reunited with the merger of most of the streams, from 1972 to 1977, when the party merged into the Janata Party.
A simple life
His life as a full-time political worker symbolised the virtue of aparigraha. He led a frugal life, remaining a bachelor until he was nearly 50. He suffered a heart attack while in prison during the Emergency but refused to seek parole on principle. He was fortunate in finding a political comrade in his wife, Manju Mohan. Unlike the lifestyle associated with the politically high and mighty these days, they led a very simple life. He earned his livelihood by writing for newspapers. Friends and admirers contributed to ensuring that the couple had a modest flat of their own in Delhi. Despite obvious financial difficulties, he donated to public causes the purse that was collected to honour him a few years ago.
He carried the spirit of detachment to political power as well. Despite playing a key role in the formation of the Janata government, he refused to partake of any fruits of power. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1978 and made no compromise to seek another term. He was a confidant of V.P. Singh when the latter was Prime Minister but declined the offer of the Rajya Sabha ticket and insisted that it be given to someone from the backward communities. H.D. Deve Gowda persuaded him to accept the post of Chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission in 1996, but he resigned on his own as soon as the Janata Dal government fell in 1998. He thus carried forward the highest tradition of the socialist movement.
One of the principal architects of the Janata Party, Surendra Mohan upheld the political values of the socialist movement through the long history of the splits and unities of the Janata family. Once the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parted ways with the Janata Party in 1980, Surendra Mohan consistently opposed any collaboration with communal forces.
He remained with the Janata Party through the 1980s, led then by Chandra Shekhar, which then merged into the Janata Dal. As the disintegration of the Janata Dal began after the fall of the government, Surendra Mohan stayed with the mainstream Janata Dal and then the Janata Dal (Secular), until Deve Gowda formed a coalition with the BJP in Karnataka.
Until the end of his life, he was engaged in an attempt to bring together all those socialists who had stayed true to the values of the movement. As president of the recently formed Socialist Janata Party, he was working for its foundation conference in May 2011 when his journey came to an end.
A political leader who believed in the power of ideas, Surendra Mohan was a voracious reader and a prolific columnist both in Hindi and English. He was a walking encyclopaedia on the history of the socialist movement. His writings displayed a subtle grasp of issues in different parts of the country and an ability to connect everyday political developments with the larger developments in history.
He possessed a rare ability in contemporary political life: he exercised political judgment. Four collections of his essays in Hindi were published, besides three books authored by him. His writings connected India to the larger international context. One of the few Indian socialists to keep alive his connection with the Socialist International, Surendra Mohan was active in the Nepalese struggle for democracy and was a source of support for Burmese and Tibetan activists in exile.
Surendra Mohan was true to the tradition of the socialist movement, and his life was not confined to the party political domain. In the last three decades of his life, he spent much of his energy on the youth, social movements and people's organisations. He was associated with the People's Union for Civil Liberties ever since it was founded and was very active in promoting human rights. As a member of a political party, he could not have accepted any office in the PUCL, but those who worked with it fondly remembered his contribution to the organisation.
Following the legacy of JP, he was a source of support and inspiration to movements ranging from the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Right to Information to the struggle for human rights in Nagaland and Kashmir. He was one of the few leaders that activists from a vast range of ideological backgrounds, from naxalites to Gandhians, could relate to. He was associated with the National Alliance for People's Movements, the Socialist Front and the Rashtra Seva Dal.
Surendra Mohan's passing away snaps our bond with a glorious chapter in our national history. (He died in his sleep on December 17 in New Delhi after a cardiac arrest.)

Burma: India’s Betrayal of the Democratic Struggle

Home page > 2010 > Burma: India’s Betrayal of the Democratic Struggle
Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 33, August 7, 2010
Burma: India’s Betrayal of the Democratic Struggle
Surendra Mohan
The ethos of the Indian independence struggle was built around the concepts of human rights for all, freedom of all colonial peoples and secular plural democratic polity. This ethos guided India’s foreign policy for several decades, and India stood firmly in support of anti-colonial movements, struggles against authoritarian regimes and establishment of human dignity. Her identification with the Palestinians’ aspirations for liberation and self-rule in their land, anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Nepalese quest for democratic governance, freedom struggle in Algeria and Kenya was highly respected by all freedom loving peoples. The concept of non-alignment strengthened these policy orientations, for it freed countries accepting it from all kinds of colonial and authoritarian influences. The Panchsheel signed at Bandung also reflected the same perspective. India occupied the moral ground of an independent international voice of peace and freedom. Even if the government faltered some times, the civil society raised its voice against attempts to subvert the sovereignties of other nations by their strong neighbours. The invasion in Hungary was one such issue, as was the Baby murder in Tibet. The liberation struggle in East Pakistan elicited strong resonance from the people which was taken up by the government as well.
After it was guaranteed that the British were withdrawing from India, the Vice-President of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Jawaharlal Nehru, organised the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1947, in order to strengthen the freedom movements in Indonesia and Burma in particular. Soetan Sjariar, the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of Indonesia, was flown to New Delhi by a daring Biju Patnaik who had to evade the strong encirclement by the Dutch Air Force. Aung San, the leader of the Burmese freedom fighters, came to attend the Conference amidst great risk. The Conference gave a new fillip to anti-colonial struggles all over Asia and Africa.
However, our foreign policy got gradually compromised under the pressures built by ‘pragmatists’. A country, which had taken principled positions at the time of the Korean conflict and the liberation struggle in Vietnam, kept quiet when the Russian Army marched into Kabul. We were quiet again when the Americans sought to suppress the revolt of the masses against the monarchy in Iran. Then, India tilted towards Israel, ignoring the latter’s aggressive and racist occupation of much of the area which the United Nations had earmarked for the Palestinians. Gone were days when Yasser Arafat was welcomed in New Delhi as a hero. Influenced by the USA and wanting to distance the country from its traditional Arab friends, the Government of India decided that our defence and internal security challenges required that we court Israel. The same kind of ‘pragmatism’ made us to propose constitutional monarchy in Nepal at a time when the monarch, Gyanendra, was under siege of a mass upsurge.

NOW, we have turned our backs on the Burmese people’s struggles and abandoned Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of our guest of yore Aung San and leader of the democratic forces of that nation. Suu Kyi has been in detention for fifteen of the last twentyone years, the longest that a leader of a party fully supported by the people has suffered. We are silent when the military dictatorship wants to hold a fraudulent election in Burma. We have instead, hosted the military dictator, General Than Shwe, in New Delhi, forgetting that he heads a regime which had repudiated the democratic verdict of the people when they massively voted in favour of the National League of Democracy and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The military junta had dissolved the elected House, arrested Suu Kyi and other leaders of the NLD, including a large number of elected MP’s and forced several other elected representatives of the people to go into exile. That was in 1989, and the Indian civil society had then expressed strong resentment against the junta’s suppression of the democratic movement. Since then, two decades have passed, Suu Kyi continues to be under detention, the NLD is virtually banned, most of its leaders are either incarcerated or in exile, the Ethnic Nationalities Council has expressed its solidarity with the NLD, and yet, our government decided to invite Than Shwe.
It is known to everyone that the military junta has rejected any intervention by the United Nations and all those who are pledged to upholding human rights. It has cared little for international public opinion. Its main supporter is China, a country which itself suppressed the democratic aspirations of its own people. No one has forgotten the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square, which happened almost at the same time when the Burmese military junta rejected the massive verdict of the Burmese electorate. Even when Burma’s South Asian neighbours strongly told the junta that they collectively disapproved its authoritarian actions, the latter did not relent.
Two years ago, the Buddhist monks and thousands of youth mounted protests against rising prices and repression. The junta used armed force against them too. The Army attacked even the monasteries to arrest the protesting monks. It has no intention of handing over its arbitrary power to the people; yet, if only to deflect criticism, it is organising an election. Free and fair elections cannot be held when the military regime still denies freedom to its opponents, keeps hundreds of them in jails, refuses to free Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic struggle, and constitutes an Election Commission which does not enjoy credibility among the people. These conditions have compelled the NLD and Ethnic Nationalities Council to boycott the election.
All this, however, means nothing to a government blinded by sheer opportunistic ‘pragmatism’. It wants Burma’s gas and petroleum. It desires her cooperation in quashing the terrorist threat in the country’s North-East, even though it is a democratically elected government in Bangladesh which has refused haven to such terrorists and has, in fact, turned them over to India. Our government has been lulled by false promises made by the military dictators in Burma. We are trying to woo the junta away from China, which is just impossible. These are the petty considerations and false hopes, which fool us into denying support to a right cause of the NLD and other democratic forces in Burma. The Government of India’s invitation to Than Shwe and the enthusiastic welcome given to him have betrayed the democratic struggle in that country; these are an insult to our own ideals which India has cherished for about a century. Slowly, India is abandoning all her past, present and potential supporters.
Only a democratic Burma will be a sure friend of our democratic republic. Only free citizens living with dignity will be marching with us towards world amity and peace. The junta will continue to ally with those who have the same power-hungry attitude to their own people as the Generals have. While deploring the policy of our government towards the Burmese fighting for restoration of democracy, we, on behalf of India’s democratic forces, salute those fighters and their undisputed courageous leader, Suu Kyi, who turned 65 in June this year.
The author is one of the country’s leading socialist ideologues.

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In the same section
Meeting the Challenge
Tribute To Surendra Mohan
Remembering Surendra Mohan
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Socialists-Communists: Need for a Continuing Dialogue

Home page > 2006 > December 23, 2006 > Socialists-Communists: Need for a Continuing Dialogue
Socialists-Communists: Need for a Continuing Dialogue
Surendra Mohan
The parliamentary General Election in 1967 was contested by the non-Congress parties with limited electoral adjustments. Dr Lohia’s strategy of non-Congressism was more or less accepted in practice, if not in theory. After the election, Samyukta Vidhayak Dals (SVDs) formed their coalition governments in UP, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK, having secured majority on its own, formed its single-party government, while in Kerala and West Bengal, the Left Democratic Front and the United Front respectively came to power. In the latter States, the Jana Sangh and Swatantra Party were not represented in the State Assemblies. While the CPI joined the SVD coalition governments wherever it had its MLAs, the CPI-M gave them outside support.
In West Bengal, the extreme Left appeared in Naxalbari and took to the ‘Left adventurist’ ways. It had broken with the CPI-M and disowned the parliamentary path. The CPI-M took its own time in analysing this new phenomenon. The result was the creation of the CPI-ML, which, however, got its own sweet time in making its response clear, and for almost the whole year of 1967, there was lot of confusion. Socialist leaders S.M. Joshi, the Chairman of the SSP, and S.N. Dwivedi, the Parliamentary Party leader of the PSP, jointly toured the troubled area to build public opinion against it, as also to pressurise the United Front to make its stand clear. Both these parties were partners in the UF coalition government.
The CPI-ML was in the meantime undergoing splits, with the concomitant logic of increased adventurist fury at every split. On the other hand, Dr Lohia had advocated that if the SVD governments do not implement some basic reforms within six months of their assuming power, they should be pulled down. He wanted to show the difference between a Congress Government and the governments of the SVDs in a short time. Since most of these governments had conservative elements as constituents like the Jana Sangh and Swatantra Party, the only consequence of his insistence could be instability. It then appeared to some people in the PSP that while the CPI-ML wanted to destabilise the whole system, Dr Lohia’s advice would create instability within parliamentary politics. It is a fact that all SVD governments were out by 1968, which led to the mid-term General Election held in 1969.
In the National Executive of the PSP, in its first meeting after the 1967 General Election, those of us who desired democratic stability with peaceful radical social transformation, suggested that there was need to discuss the emerging situation. In this context, we pleaded for a discussion with the CPI, but not with the Jana Sangh or the Swatantra Party. The Executive therefore asked Nath Pai and me to contact the leadership of the CPI. We met Krishnan and Mohit Sen in the central office of the CPI, and meetings between senior leaders followed.
This was the time in West Europe when Euro-Communism had started to show its head, though it took concrete shape only after the march of the troops of the Soviet Union into Csechoslovakia in 1968 ousted the new regime led by the Communist Party leader, Dubcek, who had proposed communism with a human face. That event created a lot of furore within the CPI, though the CPI-M supported the Soviet action fully. The Central Committee of the CPI also later supported the Soviet action by a majority. C. Rajeswara Rao, the party General Secretary, explained to me that several generations of its cadres had learnt Communist politics by studying the publications of the People’s Publishing House, Moscow, and did not relish any criticism of the Soviet Union.
Socialists in West Europe were also facing revolts from their youth and student sections. The SPD in the Federal Republic of Germany and the British Labour Party were compelled to reorganise their youth and student factions. The French youth had sought to stage a real revolution and some youth groups in West Germany were also active in the same direction.
The process of dialogue between the CPI and the PSP got disrupted when the CPI made a solid alliance with the Congress party in Kerala in 1969 against the CPI-M. In West Bengal, the two Communist Parties were in two rival alliances. Then, after the Central Government rigged the general election for the West Bengal State Assembly in 1972, the CPI-M, on the one hand, and the Congress party and the CPI, on the other, became bitter enemies. The PSP had by then, that is, 1971, united with the SSP, and the name of the new Party was the Socialist Party. The draft of the Policy Statement of the party, prepared by Madhu Limaye, was provisionally adopted by its Foundation Conference held in Bulandshahar in UP on the last three days of 1971. It characterised all the other Opposition parties critically and warned against alliances and power sharing with any one of them, while proposing only electoral adjustments and simultaneous agitations. However, in June 1973, Madhu Limaye, in the meeting of the National General Council held in Bangalore, moved an amendment proposing to delete the whole paragraphs pertaining to the above, and their replacement by paragraphs proposing the creation of a federal party together with the Congress-O, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and Bharatiya Kranti Dal, with a common election manifesto, common election symbol and common leadership.
The Council, however, rejected this plea for the creation of a ‘viable’ alternative to the ruling Congress party, and adopted an amendment proposed by K. Chandra Shekharan for the creation of a radical alternative together with the Left parties. The adoption of this amendment resulted in a sustained dialogue with the Left parties, other than the CPI, and in June 1973, after a three-day joint meeting of the Socialist Party with the CPI-M, an agreement was signed in which the only disagreement was on the caste policy and the policy of political and administrative decentralisation. After JP launched the movement for Total Revolution in 1974, the party convened a joint meeting of all the Left parties, including the CPI, in order to mobilise support for it. Nevertheless, after the failure of that meeting, there was again a meeting between the Socialist Party and the CPI-M, to discuss the political situation. It was followed by a meeting in Patna in September of the same year in which Promode Dasgupta and M. Basavapunnaiah of the CPI-M and Madhu Dandavate of the Socialist Party were present along with JP. A joint statement was agreed upon, which called for strengthening the people’s opposition to the policies of the ruling Congress party. However, the leaders of the CPI-M refused to support the JP-led movement.
In September 1975, after the declaration of the National Emergency in June in the same year, I was deputed by the Jan Sangharsh Samiti, which was coordinating the resistance to it, to contact the Left parties. I went to Kolkata, incognito, and secretly met with the leaders of the CPI-M, the Forward Bloc, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Socialist Unity Centre, namely, Promode Dasgupta, Ashok Ghosh, Tridib Choudhuri and Shibdas Banerjee, respectively. Additionally, I met the leaders of the Congress-O and the Jana Sangh. In fairness, I must testify to the friendly warmth with which the Left parties received me. However, there was no agreement on their supporting the movement against the Emergency. Before the parliamentary General Election in 1977, and after the creation of the Janata Party, an agreement on electoral adjustment was arrived at with all the Left parties, barring the CPI.
Some party colleagues in Kerala were thinking of separating from the main party on the question of unification in the Janata Party, as they were apprehensive that the CPI-M might not include them in the Left and Democratic Front in that State. I met E.M.S. Namboodiripad and asked him whether his party would adopt a separate attitude in Kerala, while cooperating with the Janata Party everywhere else, and requested him to properly advise these colleagues. EMS was forthcoming on this and these comrades remained with us.
The Janata Party toughened its bargaining position after it had come to power at the Centre, in respect of the general elections to the State Assemblies in Jammu & Kashmir, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. We, in the erstwhile Socialist Party, and the then President of the Janata Party, Chandra Shekhar, favoured a continuation of the policy adopted in the parliamentary General Election. Yet, Morarji Desai, Choudhry Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram were adopting a rigid bargaining position. EMS invited me for a discussion of the situation in West Bengal, and suggested that the Janata Party could offer 125 seats to the entire Left Front. It was obvious that he did not want to be quoted. I tried hard, and Madhu Limaye, in particular, was quite insistent that an honourable settlement be made with the Left Front in that State. Some prominent Socialist colleagues like Prof Samar Guha and H.V. Kamath, however, did not like this position.
It is well-known that in all three States, the Janata Party contested on its own, and fared very badly. The loss which it inflicted on itself then was a permanent one. However, in the general elections for the Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh State Assemblies, Chandra Shekhar and General Secretaries Madhu Limaye, Rabi Ray and Ramakrishna Hegde (and I as coordinator of the party for these elections) prevailed upon the party to enter into electoral adjustment with the CPI-M, the CPI, the Congress-S and the Republican Party of India. The leaders of the erstwhile Jana Sangh supported our stand. On this occasion, I met P. Sundarayya and Basavapunnaiah to discuss electoral adjustment in Andhra Pradesh. Hegde took the same initiative in Karnataka, and we were successful. In Maharashtra, on the other hand, the People’s Democratic Front was formed at the initiative of S.M. Joshi.
The unification of the Bharatiya Lok Dal in which the SSP had merged in 1974 and the Socialist Party in the Janata Party left no party with distinct socialist objectives. On the other hand, Socialists who had left the PSP in 1955, 1964 and 1970 and those colleagues who had left the Socialist Party led by Dr Lohia in 1960 and 1973 to join the Congress party, and a large number of followers of JP came together under one banner in the Janata Party. Madhu Limaye suggested to me that I should get together with Raj Narain and Chandra Shekhar so that an effort for their coming together could be initiated. Hence, a meeting was held in the end of April 1978, and another in the middle of May. A largely attended meeting of comrades in Madhya Pradesh was held in Pachmarhi towards the end of May. This process was put an end to when, on the bidding of Choudhry Charan Singh, Raj Narain started to challenge the leadership of the party. Nevertheless, the keen desire for socialist unity was clearly expressed.
When a vote of no-confidence was moved against the Janata Party’s government in 1979, Hegde, Krishan Kant, Ram Dhan and I called upon EMS to appeal to him that the CPI-M should support the government. While he promised that his party would not lend support to any breakaway group from the Janata Party, he could not make good that promise. It might be recalled that Jyoti Basu, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, had advised the party to support the government. After the fall of the government, I had occasion to confront EMS and the CPI’s Bhupesh Gupta on their strategy. I pointed out to them the assured return of Indira Gandhi in the forthcoming mid-term General Election, arguing that before the motion of no-confidence, she was terribly isolated, as the Karnataka Chief Minister Devraj Urs had also deserted her and had been left with only 146 members of the Lok Sabha, but, in the General Election, owing to the split between the Janata Party and Choudhry Charan Singh-led Janata Party (Secular) with which they had aligned, her return to power was definite.
When the general elections for the State Assemblies in Kerala and West Bengal were to be held, some elements in the Janata Party again revived the controversy about joining or opposing the Communists. By that time, the CPI had, in its National Congress at Bhatinda, revised its policy of aligning with the Congress party and had joined the LDF in Kerala and the Left Front in West Bengal. In both the States and the National Executive of the Janata Party, most of the former colleagues from the erstwhile Socialist Party, but not all, were for making common cause with the LDF and LF. A Congress leader from West Bengal wrote to Chandra Shekhar that the party should not obstruct the victory of the Congress party as A.K. Antony was leading it. He and Antony had been with Chandra Shekhar, during the time when as a ‘Young Turk’ in the Congress party, the latter was opposing the Kamaraj-led faction, and later had contested for the Central Election Committee against the wishes of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. While that letter did not have much effect, the party decided not to align with the Left parties. However, in 1984 Chandra Shekhar was keen that common understanding between the party and the Leftist parties should emerge. This happened in a large number of seats except that of Chandra Shekhar himself, owing to some leaders at the State level. However, when V.P. Singh, after his expulsion from the Congress party, formed the Janata Dal, and later the National Front with the regional parties in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Assam, both the Leftist parties and the BJP agreed to make electoral adjustments with them. The Leftists generally supported the policies of the National Front Government, including the reservation of jobs in the control of the Central Government which the BJP opposed. It had made significant gains in the General Election in 1989, because of its fundamentalist policies and was set to advance further as its anti-Babri Masjid agitation brought out the anti-Muslim sentiments among the Hindus in North and Western India.
As a reaction to these policies as also the ‘New Economic Reforms’ introduced by the Congress party’s government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, the NF and the Leftist parties came together, and the result was their success in forming the United Front Government with outside support of the Congress party. But, this government had a short duration, and after that, the regional parties parted with the Janata Dal and the Left parties, and joined hands with the BJP.
During this period between the fall of the NF Government and the installation into power of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government, efforts to start a dialogue with the Communists continued, as also those which could unify the Socialists. After the developments in Eastern Europe in 1989-91, Madhu Dandavate and I felt that the time had come to resume a dialogue with the CPI, in particular, and also with the CPI-M. On the one hand, we encouraged the leaders of the Hind Masdoor Sabha to achieve unification with the AITUC, a proposition heartily welcomed by the then General Secretary of the AITUC, Indrajit Gupta. On the other hand, three outfits, each belonging to the Socialists, the CPI and the CPI-M: the S.M. Joshi Socialist Foundation, the Joshi-Adhikari Foundation and the Social Scientist held a three-day seminar in Pune (Maharashtra) on the Economic Policies, that is, mainly, the Structural Adjustment Programmes. Indrajit Gupta and Madhu Dandavate were thinking together of creating the base for a broad Democratic Left party. The elder Socialist leaders, S.M. Joshi, N.G. Goray and Prem Bhasin, agreed with this proposition. Goray had, in fact, circulated a paper on the need for such coming together on the occasion of the National General Council meeting of the Janata Party, held in Bangalore in 1987.
The next meeting of the three outfits was held in New Delhi in 1993. While the agreement was that the political situation would be discussed, Sitaram Yechury of the CPI-M met me to suggest that we again discuss the economic issues, as his party was not in a position to join in a discussion of the political-ideological policies. Since I was interested to continue with the process, I agreed and urged others also to agree. Nevertheless, the CPI-M comrades did not join the seminar. Thereafter, during the last ten years or more, I repeatedly reminded leaders of the two Communist Parties to continue the process. The response was lukewarm. However, after we launched the Socialist Front in June 2002, Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan showed interest in it. Colleagues in general were, keen on it. But, Shishir Dhar in Kolkata and some other valued colleagues were greatly put off by this prospect. The Socialist Front has now active units in about thirty districts, and some State units are quite active. Much more requires to be done in this behalf, though.
The need for a broad-based democratic-Leftist platform, if not a united party, has been expressed by several friends who find the economic policies of the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party congruous with each other. Without doubt, some of our colleagues are wary of the United Front tactics of the Communists, though they represent a minority. The Communist Parties, on the other hand, are still suspicious of our links with the Socialist International, something which influenced even Indrajit Gupta, in later years. That was mainly because of the role played by the SPD Government in Germany, in particular, as, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, it quickly recognised Croatia as a separate state. These suspicions were unfounded because the Socialist International does not function as the Comintern or its successor, the Cominform, did. It never lays down particular policy lines for its member parties and forces them down the throats of all its affiliates. Moreover, the Indian Socialists had helped to found, as early as in 1953 in Yangon, the Asian Socialist Conference which had its second conference in Mumbai in 1956. However, it failed to function after the suppression of democracy first in Indonesia, then Nepal and finally, Myanmar in 1962. Moreover, as recently as in January 2004, the Socialist Front and the Socialist International held a joint seminar at the World Social Forum in Mumbai and there our differences on globalisation came out sharply. The Indians were surprised that, apart from a delegate from Tansania, another developing country, no one else from the SI was critical of the ruination of the economies of the developing countries, including India, by the WTO. Unfortunately, the former Prime Minister of Spain, Philip Gonsales, referred to internationalism of the socialist tradition. I had to regretfully request him not to reduce this noble sentiment to a joke.
The prospect of the unification of the two Communist Parties is dim, indeed, as the CPI-M is not at all interested in it. The CPI has been proposing it for almost two decades. The ML groups are no less disparate, even though some of them claim to have come together. On the occasion of the Asian Social Forum in January 2003, my colleague Vijay Pratap of the Socialist Front helped the Front in convening a seminar of certain Leftist groups, with Kanu Sanyal of the CPI-ML and me in the chair. Among the participants were Prof Vinod Prasad Singh of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (and the Socialist Front), A.K. Roy of the Marxist Communist Party, Dr Vinayan of the Maoist Coordination Committee and Sudhakar Reddy, State Secretary of the CPI in Andhra Pradesh. There has been no progress in this dialogue, however. As the National Convener of the Front, it was obviously my responsibility which I failed to discharge.
Nagbhushan Patnaik of the CPI-ML (Liberation) attended the National Congresses of the CPI and the CPI-M in 2002, and suggested the creation of a Left Coordination Committee. His passing away and that of Vinod Mishra, General Secretary of that party, in quick succession, brought that initiative to an end. Vijay Pratap, Dr Yogendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Jan Parished and I had interacted with Vinod Mishra. Later, I discussed the matter with A.B. Bardhan, General Secretary of the CPI, to suggest that some discussion should be held on the proposal. After talking over with the CPI-M, he said that if this process was to go forward, then the CPI-ML (Liberation) must not organise agitations against the Left Front Government in West Bengal. On Vinod Mishra’s insistence that, in that case, his party should be free to criticise the anti-people policies and actions of the government, which I conveyed to Bardhan, it appeared that common ground could be developed on these points and the idea mooted by Nagbhushan Patnaik could be fructified. But since the new leadership of the CPI-ML (Liberation) showed no interest, there was no point in pursuing the matter.
A small incident brought home to me the differences of approach between the CPI-M and CPI-ML. In March 2001, efforts were made to organise a strong resistance against the WTO. Dipankar Bhattacharya, the new General Secretary of the CPI-ML, and S.P. Shukla, a respected ex-bureaucrat who was India’s ambassador to the GATT, asked me to join in a consultation for it. I enquired whether the CPI-M and the CPI were not to be involved. On their willingness to do so, I, along with Vijay Pratap, approached Prakash Karat of the CPI-M. He pointed out that recently, two workers of his party from Punjab, one of them an activist of the CITU, who had been expelled from the party and the CITU, had been eagerly invited to join the CPI-ML. In fact, I had met one of them in the meeting I have referred to. Karat said that if such practices of poaching among the Left parties were to start, then mutual cooperation in joint activities was impossible. He was perfectly right, and I therefore conveyed his sentiment to Bhattacharya. He agreed that these two comrades would not attend the anti-WTO conference that was being planned. The conference drew a large number of intellectuals and social activists from among the Left parties, the Gandhians and Socialists and set up a coordination committee with Shukla as its convener. This effort culminated in a big rally in November on the eve of the Doha Conference of the WTO, and another, much smaller, rally in August 2003 on the eve of its Cancun Conference.
The reader might wonder that when I personally do not accept the Communists’ beliefs or their policy prescriptions, why I persisted in this effort. Moreover, when I had discovered that the Communists were not keen on a dialogue between them and the Socialists, there was hardly any meaning in my efforts. I would like to refer to the hope expressed by the late Acharya Narendra Dev, the doyen of Indian socialism, in the end of 1955, that with sufficient technological progress, the Soviet Union would adapt Democratic Socialism, for human beings’ love of freedom must ultimately assert itself. At that time, the international communist movement held the Soviet Union as its model. Gorbachov, after coming to power in 1985, wanted the Soviet Union to pursue the direction that Acharyaji had predicted. He failed. Unfortunately, Yeltsin followed the capitalist model, and the main reason was self-aggrandisement. However, some of the other East European countries have lurched towards the Democratic Socialist model as available in West Europe.
Secondly, in Indian conditions, the Communists have had to adopt parliamentary democratic means, whatever the rhetoric that they indulge in. This is true of the CPI-M and the CPI. The CPI-ML (Liberation) also contests elections, and could gradually inch towards the acceptance of parliamentary means. The various Maoist groups are showing lot of resilience these days, but they are so disunited and faction-ridden that they cannot pose much challenge, particularly at the ideological level, and in a country of India’s size. At present, the repression of the state strengthens them and reinforces their appeal. Under the combined pressures of the civil society and progressive political groups, they, too, could undergo change. If the Socialist movement gets together and projects a healthy choice, or a broad democratic Left platform comes about, that too will have its own effect.
Moreover, the social questions related to the caste system and gender discrimination have to be sorted out and one cannot say that the class struggle and the victory of the proletariat in it will resolve these social contradictions. The CPI showed some recognition of it when Indrajit Gupta, its then party General Secretary, said in 1992 that a conscious effort was necessary to promote the Dalits, the Adivasis and the OBCs in leadership positions within the party. When the CPI-M said in a resolution in its last conference that party cadres would take up constructive work, then I had suggested to its General Secretary, H.S. Surjeet, that the ten-point programme of Gandhiji, modified to suit the present conditions, could help. That programme asked for working to remove the practice of untouchability, promote Hindu-Muslim unity and engage in rural reconstruction. I am not aware of the views of other Communist Parties or groups, or whether the CPI-M itself has moved in that direction, seriously.
Another issue relates to religion. In 1990 C. Rajeswara Rao, the eminent leader of the CPI, addressed a conference on communal unity and expressed disagreement with V.M. Tarkunde, the eminent Radical Humanist thinker and activist, on the issue that one must give up one’s faith in religion or any kind of supernatural power totally if one had to embrace secularism. Rao said that faith in religion was a personal matter and that secularism required that it does not interfere in public life nor define civic morality. I found, however, that the party did not agree with this view. Nevertheless, the steep rise of communalism in 1991-92, and the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in UP made most Leftists aware of the challenges of the distortion of religion and culture and of the need to appreciate that they could not be left uncared for their exploitation. When the RSS could misuse the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, an exponent of the unity of all religious faiths and a staunch campaigner against the caste system, because the Swami found no place in the secular pantheon, then it was a very abnormal situation. Yet, barring the Sahmat and later the Anhad, which organise cultural activities, nothing concrete had been done to remedy the situation. But, while the Sahmat’s attempt to liberate Rama from the utter commercialisation by the RSS was laudable, it created a strong negative reaction by showing a historical parallel which depicted him and his wife Seeta as brother and sister.
The CPI-ML (Liberation) has been able to attract the rural poor and the educated youth and students in cities on account of its comparatively open politics among the ML parties and groups. It is a model, on the one hand, for these groups, and can radicalise Left politics. However, it follows the orthodox communist philosophy, and has no answers to the issue of unemployment in the present industrial society. This is a paradox of all the parties which desire to pursue the technology of modern industrialisation, and concern themselves only with the transformation of its ownership and control of the means of production. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, brought out this contradiction recently by making a statement that the economic policy which he was pursuing was not socialism but capitalism. Capitalism, he said, produces wealth which socialism cannot. He forgot, however, that capitalism also produces unemployment and economic disparities. In the developing countries, which are obliged to produce wealth as well as distribute it, this problem has become a serious one. Those countries which own a particular commodity like oil as Venezuela does may not be faced with this problem, but others are facing it. For, their basic raw materials like chromium or bauxite are under the control of the MNCs, and unless this imperialist scheme of the international economic order is snapped for good, they cannot build self-sufficient and independent economies, though even then the issue of employment generation would not go away.
Production of goods of mass consumption by the masses themselves by harnessing local resources over which the local communities should have ownership and control, with the use of small unit technology, improved and modernised to suit the essential requirements of the people, is a strategy that prevents centralisation of ownership and control of the productive processes, reduces the possibility of economic disparities and requires no bureaucrats or managers. The degradation of the physical environment is also prevented. Decentralised technologies have been and are being perfected in various regions and sectors and can be exchanged mutually. Massive tree plantation, mini-watershed development and electricity generation by the use of non-conventional methods and at local levels, the adoption of organic agriculture and the construction of the physical infrastructure by the local communities are to be joined with them. Wherever extremely necessary, large-scale technology can be introduced, and workers’ or cooperative ownership and control may be employed to remove the growth of inequality. Local communities can easily plan to remove poverty and unemployment as also other problems of industrial societies. By creating community chests they can look after the security and welfare of the mentally and physically challenged.
These issues have been discussed for years within the local people’s action groups like the National Alliance of People’s Movements. Issues of water scarcity, environmental degradation and production of energy are easy to resolve by the use of these technologies. Marxist scholars like Parameswaran and several unorthodox Gandhian scholars have advocated this line of thought. The pattern of ownership of land must change at the earliest and the actual tillers must become the owners of the lands they cultivate, along with service and credit cooperatives to help them.

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Remembering Surendra Mohan by Devaki Jain


Remembering Surendra Mohan

By Devaki Jain

In the passing away of Surendra Mohan, India has lost one more—soon after L.C. Jain—stalwart of the Indian political landscape.

Surendra Mohan and L.C. Jain worked—I used to often tease them—like tweedledum-tweedledee during the space between the results of the elections of 1977 and the formation and definition of the Janata Party of their dreams.

I use the term "dreams" as they had envisioned what perhaps most Indian citizens have always aspired for—a highly democratic political party clearly dedicated to Gandhi’s Second Freedom, namely, widespread well-being or, to put it in another way, freedom from hunger and oppression.

Every afternoon would find the two of them working out of separate spaces—one in the Janata Party building and the other in his office in Connaught Place—drafting press releases of that day for the party, usually read out by another one of them, namely, Ramkrishna Hegde. If anyone who is interested in party politics could retrieve those daily press releases, they would have the characteristics of a model Indian political agenda.

The friendship forged at that feverish time continued over the next four decades, even though collaborative work faded away. Surendra Mohan was always there at any event that stood up for the rights of the majority. Not being an aggressive person nor a child of corporate power nor of a dynasty, his leadership, just like the experience of his almost brother, L.C. Jain, remained in the wings.

One aspect of the progressive political leaders of the sixties and seventies, again a feature of both Surendra and Lakshmi, was their extraordinary erudition; constantly devouring the latest books on India as well as other countries, and their political and legal systems, and constantly writing into those journals at the margin, like Janata or Mainstream. In a way talking to each other, as alas their voice did not consolidate to become more than a friendly space for the younger generation. Their voice did not offer a challenge to the current political power-stage or its drama.

Conscience-keepers at the margins. Models for the idealistic among the younger generation.
Antara Dev Sen in an obituary for Lakshmi Jain said he was the last pillar of the idea of India that was prevalent soon after India achieved freedom. This could perhaps be said of Surendra Mohan too, with the modification that he was the last pillar of an important configuration post-freedom, namely, the democratic socialists such as Madhu Dandavate, Madhu Limaye, Achyut Patwardhan, Nath Pai and others of that biradari. I will miss his uninhibited embrace and expression of joy at every meeting between him and us.

The author, a noted development economist, is a former Member of the South Commission.

Tribute To Surendra Mohan by Sumit Chakravarty

Home page > 2010 > Tribute To Surendra Mohan
Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)
Tribute To Surendra Mohan

Socialist leader Surendra Mohan is no more. He passed away in the morning of September 17 at his residence in Sah Vikas in the Trans-Jamuna area of Delhi. He had health problems no doubt but was not ailing. He literally died in harness. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter.
Only a few months ago one had met him at a meeting in the Capital and requested him for an article for Mainstream as it was necessary for someone like him to write from a Gandhian perspective. He smilingly replied: “Yes, I am Gandhian alright, but essentially I am a socialist. I will write from a socialist perspective.” He was indeed the most prominent and lucid socialist ideologue of the present period. One could find in him streaks of a Lohia or a Madhu Limaye on various occasions. His departure from the scene at this juncture is, in that sense, literally an irreparable loss.
What he wrote in the last Independence Day issue of this journal definitely bears repetition.
After the Cold War ended, the USA assumed the role of the gendarme of the whole world. But, elsewhere, significant changes were taking place… In Western Europe, which had taken a sigh of relief as the threat from the East had ended, Social Democratic parties were coming to power in country after country and the Reagan-Thatcher model was being given up. They were busy strengthening the European Economic Community. Eastern Europe also had got new opportunities of setting up democratic regimes. In such an emerging scenario, a confident country of subcontinental size and influence could have joined with these winds of change. Together, they could stop the USA in its steps. The challenge was an exciting one. There was an opportunity to bolster the prospects of peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, India became a client state of the sole superpower, adopted the Washington Consensus in the economy and joined the neo-liberal arrangement of the WTO. It did not even look at the changes..
He then pointed out:
India felt overwhelmed by its foreign exchange crisis. The crisis was not unmanageable, provided the leadership gave a call for a little austerity and initiated policy alternatives in that direction. It could have shown self-confidence and resilience. But, it decided otherwise. Till date it continues to drift. These were an incisive observer’s extraordinary analyses.
But Surendra Mohan was not just an observer or a political columnist but an activist who had livewire contacts with all those at the grassroots. Whether in Narmada or in Beawar he was always on the move. The fragmentation of the socialist movement and the absence of a democratic socialist alternative did pain him of course, but he was not one to accept defeat, imbued as he was with boundless optimism. He knew he could draw inspiration from those working at every nook and corner of the country selflessly, without any fear or favour. That is because he too was one of them. He was a fullfledged practioner of Gandhian austerity that went well with his character which happened to be a brilliant manifestation of impeccable integrity, so rare in today’s deadent world of power and pelf. There was no gulf between his words and deeds just like the Gandhians, Socialists and Communists of yester-years.
He was an ardent advocate of Socialist-Communist unity even though some of the Communist hotheads with their “holier-than-thou” attitude and jaundiced vision spurned his overtures. But he was too decent a person to pay them back in the same coin. The following article, published in Mainstream Annual 2008, bears testimony to his approach. While remembering him on this occasion we are reproducing this article alongwith his recent piece on the Government of India’s Burma policy (Mainstream, August 7, 2010). The cause of Burmese democracy was extremely close to his heart.
An intimate friend of the Mainstream family having been closely associated with N.C. since the Janata days, Surendra Mohan used to regularly write for this journal. His last piece appeared on December 4, 2010. We thus feel orphaned by his demise. While mourning his passing we pledge to carry forward his legacy to the best of our ability. But we shall always miss his presence alongside his intellectual acumen, political foresight and dedication to the service of the teaming millions in the Gandhian mould.

Socialists-Communists: Need for a Continuing Dialogue
by Surendra Mohan
read the article at:

Burma: India’s Betrayal of the Democratic Struggle
by Surendra Mohan
read the article at:

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Tribute To Surendra Mohan
Remembering Surendra Mohan
Indian People Should Extend More Support To Burma’s Democratic Movement: Suu Kyi
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Judicial Corruption in Profusion Must be Wiped Out without Mercy
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Militant Left Radicalism, State and Civil Society with Special Focus on Land Rights
West Bengal: Simmering Embers of Rajarhat
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

In Lieu of an Obituary

In Lieu of an Obituary

In the demise of veteran social activist Surendra Mohan the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) has lost a great guardian, a teacher and someone to whom one could fall back upon for that vital advice. In fact to come to grips with the reality that Surendra Mohanji is not with us anymore is an unfathomable loss for the democratic movements and activists in South Asia. He stood firmly on the side of the democratic struggles of the people anywhere in the sub-continent. More than six decades of his involvement in democratizing our society is an exemplary life that unflinchingly stood with hundreds of peoples’ movements across the subcontinent.
Whether it was on communalism or displacement or TADA, POTA or death sentence and political prisoners’ rights, or parliament attack case, he stood firmly with all of us like a beacon, who made efforts to build people’s campaign and struggles. He participated in each and every meeting, rally or dharna, small or big or even preparatory gatherings, unless in the case of being out of Delhi. You need to tell him only once. No need to remind him of any meeting or gathering. He would be there sharp on time or he would inform you what time he would come.
He treated any activist, experienced or inexperienced in the same way. He never said he was busy, when you call him to tell that you are dropping in, though he was always actually busy writing articles, books, editing them and attending scores of meetings every week in and outside Delhi. You are received with the same hospitality whenever you reach at his place with the same friendly hand touching you, as if all over your body. The vast treasure of experience of Surendra Mohanji in various struggles of the people throughout the subcontinent used to enliven every discussion either in erudite English or very lyrical Hindustani for hours and hours sprinkled with anecdotes and stories bringing forth sharp insights or theoretical points in his own inimitable style.
When we first approached him for taking his suggestions and guidance for the convening of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) apart from sharing his deep insights into the way ahead for such an important but extremely difficult task, also congratulated all of us to have taken such an important initiative. We fondly remember how he recalled old stories of providing shelter to underground Naxalites from Andhra Pradesh in his own house soon after the gloomy days of Emergency though he knew nothing about them at that point of time. He also told us how he argued successfully with the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai to release all political prisoners whether those who took up arms or otherwise. Without any hesitation he also agreed to be the Chief Advisor of the Committee.
Surendra Mohanji had always exhibited a sharp democratic mind when framing the demands of any democratic struggle related to ordinary issues for partial resolution of them or issues pertaining to deeper strategical resolution.
He had a rare democratic sensibility that discerned the nature of the fragile democratic space that we all work in as social or revolutionary activists to build a democratic society. That’s how and why he always advised many of us when to do and when not to do what without interfering in the activities of any people’s organizations. This is, again, a rare quality of a person who was too big to be humble. In his death we miss a great democrat of our times, a civil libertarian who set such high standards without being judgemental or prejudiced.
Such a genuine democratic mind that had the conviction to practice it in his everyday life stood apart from many a senior democratic activist in this country. The arrogance of the older generations prevails over the relationship with youngsters. But Surendra Mohanji never betrayed this quality. That’s the beauty of his life as a democrat who showed immense strength and conviction to love and be loved by all the marginalized, oppressed, discriminated and mistreated to survive as a silver lining yet being the most marginalized social activist amidst the elitist civil rights activists of the day.
The Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) expresses its deepest condolences on the demise of Surendra Mohan. To fill the deep void that he has left is a challenge to all people’s movements. In his death we have lost a great civil libertarian. In his death he has given us one final opportunity to live up to the standards that he had set in public and private life and his undying love for the people.

In Solidarity,

Gurusharan Singh Amit Bhattacharyya SAR Geelani
President Secretary General Working President

Rona Wilson
Secretary Public Relations

Surendra Mohan passes away

Veteran socialist leader and thinker Surendra Mohan passed away in Delhi this morning.

A prolific author and a leader widely respected for his simple life and political integrity, Surendra Mohan was a member of Rajya Sabha (1978-84) and the Chairman of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (1996-98). He was 84 and is survived by his wife, Ms Manju Mohan, a son and a daughter.

Born in Ambala, Haryana, on December 4, 1926, Surendra Mohan joined the socialist movement in 1946 when he was still a student. After teaching Sociology at Kashi Vidyapeeth for two years, he opted to be a full-time political worker.

He proved his mettle in the Socialist Party and rose to become its General Secretary from 1973-77. He was one of the founding General Secretaries of the Janata Party in 1977 and played a vital role in its historic victory. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha for a term from 1978-84.

He remained with the Janata Party, Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Secular) and was finally the President of the recently formed Socialist Janata Party. He was a conscience keeper for the various factions and parties that emerged from Janata family.

A political leader who believed in the power of ideas, Surendra Mohan was a prolific reader and regular columnist in Hindi and English for many newspapers. He was also the co-editor of the socialist journal Janata. Four collections of his essays in Hindi were published besides three books authored by him.

He was associated with Peoples Union for Civil Liberties ever since its foundation and was very active in promoting human rights. During the last three decades of his life, he spent much of his energy with youth, social movements and peoples organizations like the National Alliance for Peoples Movements, Socialist Front, Rashtra Seva Dal.

An internationalist at heart, he was active with Socialist International and supported Nepal’s democratic struggle. A friend of all the pro-people initiatives in the country, he would be missed by a wide range of followers and admirers across the political spectrum, socialist workers, pro-people intellectuals and peoples movements across the country.

Yogendra Yadav,Senior Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110054 IndiaOffice Phone: 23981012 (telefax Lokniti, CSDS), 23942199 (PBX, CSDS)