Friday, January 14, 2011

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.)

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