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.