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Thinking With and Against Lohia: Beyond Discursive Commentary

Thinking With and Against Lohia: Beyond Discursive Commentary

An extended reflection and comments on the articles in the special issue on Lohia ("Politics and Ideas of Rammanohar Lohia", EPW, 2 October 2010).

Thinking With and Against Lohia: Beyond Discursive Commentary

Sasheej Hegde

questioning that a culture (or a history) always needed to perform on i tself, and which have kept recurring in India’s effective history (its birth into nationhood and beyond)?1 But then in that case the “moments” of the modern were to be thought of as exemplary, which could be

An extended reflection and comments on the articles in the special issue on Lohia (“Politics and Ideas of Rammanohar Lohia”, EPW, 2 October 2010).

Sasheej Hegde (sasheej@gmail.com) is at the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.

I do not know whether God exists or does not, but this I know that the feeling that makes one kin of all life and things exists a lthough as a rare emotion yet. To make of this feeling a background for all activity even of strife born out of a too one-sided a cceptance of appearance and India is dying of stagnation resulting from an equally one-sided acceptance of the reality behind things. I have no doubt that I would prefer to die of strife than of stagnation. But are these the only two courses of thinking and conduct open to man? Is it not possible to adjust the scientific spirit of enquiry with the emotive spirit of oneness without subordinating the one to the other and in full equality as two processes of like merit.

– Rammanohar Lohia

But, one is always, for as long as one lives, both judge and judged.

– Georges Canguilhem

A
s I found myself deeply motivated and pressed to comment on a special issue of the EPW containing essays on the “Politics and Ideas of Rammanohar Lohia” (2 October 2010, pp 46-107), I also found myself increasingly pushed to make some observations about modes of doing a history of political thought in the contemporary mode and also about the long Indian 20th century. I am not too sure I can accomplish all this in this short note, but must affirm that I have been interested in the history of political thought as a form or genre in India for some time, without being able to discern the outlines of a model or the crystallisation of a theory. I did venture a framework meant to capture the “modern” of modern Indian political thought – working off such canonical figures in the tradition as Rammohun Roy, Phule, Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru, Ambedkar and Savarkar – without it being clear (either to me or to my readers) how the concept of the “modern” was meant to function: was it to be a temporal pointer, about a period of momentous and intense

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discerned in other national contexts with corresponding histories and replicated for other historical periods and other kinds of historical content as well. Leaving aside the question of whether the “modern” of modern Indian political thought should really be thought of in that way as a temporal pointer at all, I have also come to wonder whether the contours of political thought in India needed such narrative framings exactly, even if it should prove possible to reproduce, both synchronically and diachronically, the moments of the modern in the trajectory of modern Indian political thought. I have since come to r e-look at the idea of unique historical c onjunctures, as well as come to terms with the idea that texts/languages are not to be classified in individual generic categories – like items dropped in a box – but rather that each text/language is to be treated as an individuality presided over by a generic constellation, namely (in the context of modern Indian political thought) “nationalism”.

Lohia as an Idea

Pardon me for this somewhat personalised introduction and clarification. It is important for the lines of appraisal that I am going to bring on the special number devoted to discussing the “politics and ideas” of Rammanohar Lohia; while also, in this context, venturing some observations on this somewhat energetic figure for any assessment of the causes and consequences of India’s political history.2 Of course, I am not going to be treating each contributor individually (even though a l lusions to each of them will be made in the appropriate context) and I will also be taking note of some further pieces on Lohia that both antedate the special issue and those which have followed in its wake (the appropriate references will be specified in course). It is important that the pieces are all writing about Lohia’s ideas and not

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only about the character of his politics in general. This is not merely because Lohia is by far the decisive work given to the theme of an “Indian socialism” (although there are specific local works delivering on the theme as well); it is also because the work is in various ways problematical and raises in a challenging way the question of what the figure of “Indian” socialism means as a radical politics of equality. While I may not be able to do full justice to this formulation here, my exercise could yet throw up some weighty considerations both on Lohia and on the constellation that is modern Indian political thought.

To be sure, the idea that Lohia is the h istorical starting-point of many modern thoughts on the subject of Indian socialism and that some of those thoughts lead directly back to the problem of understanding socialism itself has been anticipated by others. But the significance that the EPW collection gives to this idea, and the consequences of it for articulating the character and power of Lohia today, are what make it (I mean the special issue’s treatment) more than a sketchy extension of the customary scheme. Y ogendra Yadav writes:

Reading Lohia is like looking at a large M F Husain canvas, strong and bold lines, bright colours, an unsettling blend of diverse elements, profound without being forbidding, accessible yet enigmatic. Lohia does not offer a master key to his theoretical oeuvre. He does not draw a blueprint of his doctrinal architecture that shows how the various aspects of his thinking are interconnected. What he offers, almost deliberately, is large collage with somewhat carelessly pasted fragments and lots of blanks. The fragments he presents are neither at the same level of abstraction nor do they avoid overlapping. The content of these fragments

– it would be a philosophic hypothesis or a grand historical generalisation, a concrete charter of demands or a programme of a ction – is so powerful that one could forget to notice that this is at best an outline (p 93).

Doubtless, the idea that Lohia is a political activist/intellectual in pursuit of an ideal is an important element in the representation of his aims, although in strictly procedural terms the framing has a good deal of history as a means of contending with figures central to traditions of political thought.3 It is one way of trying to express the conviction that Lohia, in and through his writing, is more than Lohia, in

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his character as something of a “loose cannon” (p 47), could actually manage to be. But it does that in the wrong way. It betrays Lohia’s politics of ideas by still resting firmly in the terms of an overtly r ationalised conception, which, while germane to him and the entire reinterpretation that he offers (say) of the Marxian s ocialist tradition, still fails to get the measure of him, namely, Lohia as idea. To be sure, the world imagined (and lived) from the perspective of the will – as separate from reason – still appears as an object in the commentaries attending to Lohia’s intellectual and political horizon (glimpses of which can be had from the various contributions representing the EPW collection), even though it is idealised

– perhaps all the more so because it is idealised.4 That result cannot be adequate to Lohia’s work and thought.

I must hasten to clarify that the world imagined from the perspective of the will does not end with an account of rational deliberation and its breakdown, or of r ationally justifiable principles and enlightened institutional design (or their failure). Rather, it includes ideas (if you will) of the macrocosm in and through the microcosm, of spheres of activity characterised by irreducible conflict, of self-transcendence and temporal simultaneity, and the imperative largely and consequentially of political representation.

I am inclined to think that this configuration of thought – often impenetrable to the Enlightened mind, but still of a piece with the whole movement of modern r ationalism as it articulates itself in the domain of politics – has to be kept in mind in negotiating the space of Lohia’s intellectual and political sociology. His disagreements with Nehru (even, the elements of the Nehruvian modern), his self-confessed “programmatic extremism”, his anti-Congressism, as indeed his negotiation of the caste question as a whole emanate from this “metaphysics”, a certain politics of immediacy, if you will. I will have more to say on these aspects in due course, but let me still stay with the trail of thought that I am grafting onto this space. It has implications, I think, for the enterprise of theorising India’s political pasts and its presents.5

The romantic airlessness of idealisation (any idealisation?) suffocates both the

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i ndividuality and the desires/aspirations of the figure in question. This is as true of Lohia as of any other figure taken to represent the contours of modern Indian political thought. Equally this is true of any procedure given over to discursive commentary, whether critical of an oeuvre or seeking to recuperate it. Indeed, the French historian and political scientist, Pierre Rosanvallon, has in another context suggested a “philosophical history of the political”, taking this to imply “the notion that relations between human beings and the world are generated by a principle or body of principles”; and that the political has to be approached as “the set of procedures that institute the social”.6

‘Socialist Ideal’

If we are to give Lohia his full stature, the political with which he is identified needs to be taken in some sense which is more general, and at the same time more honestly realistic, than the strong-willed and somewhat dodgy pursuit of the “socialist ideal”. The contributors each seem to realise this, for in laying claim to Lohia’s e ffort to provide a doctrinal foundation to socialist practice in India, each associates him with more generally with an ethically and culturally anchored vision. Even as Lohia is placed alongside other thinkers or ideological strands in a space of normative political discourse, all the other characters/strains are seen to have, compared with Lohia, something of a derived existence: Lohia being seen as a principle of v itality within Indian politics and normative political discourse.7

Some idea of Lohia as embodying a kind of “life force” is of course also what Rustom Bharucha offers in an earlier contribution featured in EPW; but in that enactment the seductive power and attractiveness of politics has been replaced by an alertness to time as an “interval during politics”, and the life force is doused among disquisitions on thought, pain and experienced existence.8 Lohia’s politics of immediacy is only too peripherally subscribed.

Reframing Left Political Horizons

Now that Lohia has come to be identified with something as general as a politics of vitality, a difficulty arises and – since that identification has something right about it, expressing convincingly Lohia’s relation to the rest of the normative political field – it is a real difficulty, which everyone has to face. Has Lohia any longer a r elation to either the social order of Indian politics and society or an order of political judgment? When he was a presence and a particular kind of political intellectual, there was no mystery in the idea that he had to be contended with; but when he has taken on this larger and more abstract significance, is there anything left to the idea of an order against which he is to be judged? In particular, what do we make of this end? There is no clear or adequate answer to this question in the EPW collection, or in other papers featured in the journal off and on. Yadav indeed notably plays down aspects of Lohia’s “cultural politics” – “By and large, however, Lohia’s analysis of Indian society could not live up to the promise of his approach.

The one big lacuna was a careful causal analysis of the structure of Indian society and change in it. This gap was often filled by an excessively subjective reading of historical change, over-attentive to the story of individual motives and betrayals, or n ational character and the ruling elites” (p 97) – even as his position on Indian languages and English is seen to raise “difficult” questions.9 When Lohia becomes idealised as this, the question of the order that condemns him becomes a pressing one.

Yadav is absolutely right in telling us that “(i)f Lohia’s admirers have been v oluble and unimaginative, his critics have largely deployed silence as an effective weapon of ridicule”; adding, in this context, that the “(t)wo most powerful orientations in the institutionalised world of ideas in post-independent India – Nehruvian and Marxist – came together to design a wall of silence around Lohia” (p 47). That hardly says enough though, if Lohia indeed represents a living principle of I ndia’s post-independent political and a esthetic culture. Yadav himself perhaps escapes this criticism because he offers us in his extended foray into what is “living” and what is “dead” in Lohia an idea of what is “new” in the thinker. He sees L ohia as gesturing towards a synthesis of two strands of radical thought in India of the 20th century, namely, a politics of egalitarianism of largely “Euro-normal” vintage [which “appears to be exhausted, just when it ought to have gained a fresh lease of life” (p 104)] and an “indigenous” radicalism issuing off a “deeper critique of the civilisational, cultural and epistemic domination of the modern west” (p 103) and whose symptoms of paralysis today “follows from the absence of a politics d istinctively its own” (p 104).

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Lohia’s relevance is thus tacked on to a “forward-looking modernism”, which, while rejecting “the simplistic options of going back to a pristine past or replicating someone else’s history” (ibid), is seen to point “to a difficult and uncharted path of political action where no precedents reigned, where each action had to be justified on its own terms” (ibid). But the appreciation and recognition of this “integral form of radicalism” will have to be got into closer relation to Lohia than this, if the latter is everything that Yadav says that he is.10

In distinguishing Lohia’s political horizon along these lines, it is quite evident that it is set apart from strands of organised Marxist thought in India. The latter is driven – if a recent assessment is to be our guide – by a massive error of judgment (particularly at the level of analysis, but

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with implications for practice as well) yielding a contorted mode of historical and sociological appraisal “transposing class for caste” and translating into a “traditional form of truly esoteric scholarship”. Accordingly, even as it is conceded that “(a)mong the various political groups active in Indian society, the Marxists were undoubtedly the most seriously committed to the reduction and eventual abolition of social inequality”, it is reiterated that “their misleading sociology directed them to abolish entirely the wrong form of inequality”.11 Furthermore, this line of a ppraisal addressing Marxist thought in India contrasts “Communist radicalism” and “Nehruvian reformism” – forwarded as “the two major strands comprising the drive towards egalitarianism in recent I ndian history” and each seen as squaring up to the “serious challenge of having to figure out how to translate an abstract principle of equality into the language of Indian history” – while noting with reference to the latter (namely, Nehruvian reformism, of course laced with Ambedkar’s foregrounding of the caste question) that “in the shorter term…their translation of the modern ideal of political equality into Indian history appears to have been remarkably successful”.12

Two Forms of Radical Thought

Formally there is a parallel here with Y adav’s attempt to situate Lohia in a stream synthesising two forms of radical thought in the 20th century India which he (Yadav) has posited (alluded to above in the immediately preceding paragraph), but there is also a basic differentiation. It is not only that in Kaviraj’s rendering there is no place for Lohia in the Indian Marxist frame (although his – namely, L ohia’s – translational practices would (and did) confront the contortions of

o rganised Marxist thought in India), whereas Yadav’s is a more schematic and simpler characterisation. Still less is it that Lohia is no Marxist (albeit socialist) while organised Marxist thought has seriously caricatured Lohia – that oversimplifies our (any) relation to both Marxism and L ohia.13 Lohia is quite certainly not a h eroic space we enter into (whereas, very strikingly, the point at which we are given an interesting and sympathetic insight

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into the very form of Indian society and politics is in that oeuvre). The difference of oeuvre is that Lohia and Marxist thought (either in its European vintage or its sublated form in the context of India) totally belong to the social world in which they are presented, and their motivations are naturally related to that world – although, of course, as Joachim Oester held in his contribution to the EPW collection (pp 85-91) examining Lohia as a doctoral student in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s intimates, the world’s did cross. Lohia certainly lives off that encounter, even as he (in his inimitable ways) historicises that encounter in a style somewhat reflective and mostly adventurist.

Lohia certainly lives off strands of European radicalism and Indian reformism, but does so in an individual way that firmly refuses any deep-seated historical (or even cognitive) question, even as it yields another perspective on the trajectories of the political in independent India. That Lohia’s framework of politicisation exploits the ethical space of Gandhi is not an incongruity, besides – the incessant politics of the will that is the space of Lohia always calls for a rediscovery of ordinary politics, conceived in terms that are at once simple, radical and profound (although the long course of this politics in the trajectory of modern India tended to negate the terms of this call). I am afraid I cannot get into the details of these antinomies and paradoxical denouements here, but this is certainly a ground to be traversed if the p olitical horizon of the left in India is to be restored. I must emphasise, though, that situating Lohiaite radicalism in a history of 20th century radicalism and set apart from organised Marxist thought in India might not yield into this problematic of r estoring the political horizon of the left either (as hopefully my foregoing traversal has demonstrated).

Of course, my suggestion thereon is not that Lohia be brought back into the framework of Marxist thought in India. That is an impossibility, given the current state of the organised left, and perhaps also insufficient – although strictly, if one were to confront some of the features of this left in India as detailed by Kaviraj, namely, its tendency to transpose class for caste and its strange esotericism, Lohia could offer a

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way out of these translational deadlocks. But surely if the project is to galvanise the political horizon of the left in India – and I take it that it is an imperative for the

o rganised left as well – then this must i ssue from a conception of political activity as (if you will) “the continuous action of society on itself and not simply as a series of episodic interventions”.14 Quite certainly yet, this line of appraisal leads us back to the question about Lohia’s end. Has Lohia any longer a relation to either the social order of Indian politics and society or an order of political judgment? As already mentioned, there is no clear or adequate answer to this question in the EPW collection; and, in what follows, I venture a further answer (or, at least, the suggestions of an answer).

The Politics of Immediacy and Beyond

In his contribution to the special issue, Sachchidanand Sinha (pp 51-55) speaks of a critical time (in the 1950s) for the socialist movement in India and that Lohia’s e fforts, in trying to fill the void “were made all the more difficult as Jawaharlal Nehru tried to monopolise the political arena” (p 53). That monopolisation, of course, has its own trajectory to tell,15 although Sinha gently reminds us that “Lohia’s efforts to fend off Nehru’s influence made him look disproportionately harsh” and that this “had to be so if the identity of the socialist movement was to be preserved” (p 53). This certainly lends a kind of situational edge to Lohia’s disagreements with Nehru, even posits his proverbial anti-Congressism as (in Yadav’s words) “a temporary shift in political tactics, which in no way was central to his [Lohia] thinking” (p 102).16

Be that as it may, in coming to terms with Lohia, it may be imperative to translate these admissions back into what they are signifying, namely, what I formulated earlier as crucial to Lohia’s intellectual and political sociology – the world imagined and lived from the perspective of the will (as separate from reason) and translating into a certain politics of immediacy. Let me try to elaborate. If Lohia’s wilful defiance of the ground of the political in post-independent India has a significance, then what he is defying and in the process instituting has a claim to our attention. It must be admitted though – and perhaps that is the thought behind the EPW collection – that such a politics of immediacy would find it natural that it should be r esisted; it is the rule of the game. And that it is convertible – as the long course of Indian socialist politics through the 20th century has demonstrated – into a sort of currency for post-Hindutva politics and embracing as such a Mandalised polity (incorporating both the Congress and the BJP) is a mark of its potability, of having entirely accepted the rule of the game. Nonetheless, an inevitability is not yet the same thing as a possibility.

If Lohia’s intellectual and political sociology were to be a form of hubris or Promethean defiance, as some writers have formulated,17 it would have to be something that he had come to after consideration. The political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot speaks of Lohia’s position in the politics of north India (Uttar Pradesh, in particular) as considered. He calls attention to Lohia’s championing of the peasant cause (largely in the spirit of Acharya Narendra Dev), gradually mutating into a politics of caste and the abolition of caste inequality: “Many socialists honestly but wrongly think that it is sufficient to strive for economic equality and caste inequality will vanish of itself as a consequence. They fail to comprehend economic inequality and caste inequality as twin d emons, which have both to be killed.”18 Likewise, in his extended treatment of L ohia’s political sociology (also an important contribution to the EPW collection, pp 64-70), Anand Kumar speaks of it as issuing from a complex and intersectional matrix of power incorporating, at once, caste, class, gender and language [a variation on this point, although explicitly given over to articulating Lohia’s reflections on gender, is also obtaining in Kumkum Yadav (EPW, 27 November-3 December 2010, pp 107-12)]. Kumar, in fact, details the evolution in Lohia’s approach to identifying and eliminating the sources of inequality in Indian society through the 1950s and 1960s “during the course of various political movements and ideological debates” (p 65). The context, clearly, is one of representative politics, and even as Lohia is forging strategies on a pragmatic organisational/electoral front (with shifting and vary degrees of success), he is also concerned to deliver on a certain cognitive-historical matrix of immediacy, at once millennial and prophetic.

‘Wheel of History’

One need only traverse Lohia’s Wheel of History for a sense of this intensity: “When [the present moment] is flux, it belongs to the realm of history, the realm where driving forces may be sought and helped or checked. When it is eternity, it belongs to the realm of fable and myth, art and literature, religion and philosophy”.19 Lohia’s politics of immediacy, it seems to me then, is as much a wilful defiance contingently articulated as issuing from a considered position of intellectual and political sociology. One is therefore hard pressed to come to terms with the suggestion, in Yadav, that “we uncouple [Lohia’s] theory of political action from the course of political action that he himself followed or recommended” (p 100).20 Indeed, while the uncoupling is warranted on the ground that the courses of action that Lohia followed/recommended – what is also mandated as the latter’s “programmatic extremism”, namely, his “overdrawn political differences, sharp personal attacks on

o pponents, exaggerated policy statements, and theatrical gestures” (ibid) – were part of the contingency of political strategy, I am imploring that we resist this move; in other words, view Lohia theory of political action and the courses of action that he followed/recommended as of a piece with his politics on immediacy in the terms rendered above.

There is a common refrain that runs through Lohia’s politics of immediacy in the unitary sense we have been emphasising, and which is as much a source of hope as of despair for activist- and reflectivepublics alike who may all be clued into a transformative politics of the present. It is that some sorts of decisions or actions – or disputes, or expressions of value – are best considered as primarily “political”, where this in most cases means not “moral” or not based on “moral principles”.21 The key difference concerns the nature of disagreements, where, for one, the uniqueness of moral discussions derives from the n ature of the reasons adduced in such disagreements (a moral argument thus seeks to classify an action or practice as permissible, forbidden, or obligatory) unlike in political contexts where disagreements are meant to have special types of consequences: actions by authorities, governments and institutions that possess a certain monopoly of force, and these always occur in particular circumstances that resist generalisation. For another, the “loser” (sic) in a moral argument is judged to be morally wrong or immoral; in a political dispute, he/she has simply lost a contest, one of many that will arise and pass away.

Lohia of course realises that moral considerations play a role in politics; his politics of immediacy cannot (and does not) want them playing the leading or trumping role. This is partly warranted by the strictures and structures of modern political representation and partly by the e ndemic role of groups and group-based mobilisation within that structure (which, incidentally, also fits in with the segmented aspects of Indian society and Lohia’s privileging of the caste question in the intersectional matrix of power). The fact that people are suffering or are alienated from the structures of governance is certainly a moral consideration in political discussions – and, to be sure, Lohia uses these to proper effect (and, Yadav’s extended

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treat ment in the EPW collection bears ample testimony to this) – but the challenge of Lohia’s oppositional politics is that we need to understand how the bearing of that or any other moral concern (say, of the multi-pronged quota politics that Lohia espoused) changes a very great deal when it is introduced as a reason for some government to do something. This is the key, I think, to his anti-Congressism as also his opposition to N ehru (indeed the elements of the Nehruvian modern), the specific contingencies alluded to notwithstanding.

Furthermore, I am also inclined to posit that an important aspect of Lohia’s politics of immediacy is that any attempt to distinguish the mere exercise of power from genuinely political claims is not itself a moral requirement, or at least not one prior to politics; it is rather inherent in there being such a things as politics: “This principle of immediacy ordains that each single act contains its own justification and there is no need to call upon the succeeding act in order to justify what is done here and now”.22 Clearly, for Lohia’s intellectual and political sociology the political cannot be contained within a rigid moralism, but must issue from its historically inflected nature. In fact, politics on this register comes through as a form of modus vivendi, with political disputes distinctly operating under constraints about what is historically acceptable and so possible at a time.

Lohia’s self-confessed “programmatic extremism” is but a concomitant of this political “metaphysics” – the world imagined (and lived) from the perspective of the will (as separate from reason), to r ecall our earlier turn of phrase. One of the profound weaknesses of this politics on immediacy is that it has no account of the cognitive status of its own history, even though its basic superiority consists in its unique compatibility with prevailing and current historical conditions. I must assert, yet, that the claim to go beyond “Euro-normality” – as a decisive aspect of Lohia’s oeuvre (foregrounded by almost all the contributors to the EPW collection)

– is neither here nor there. And, in fact, if I may venture a further thought here, each of our contributors has something unsatisfactory or problematic about this end. None of them perfectly solves the problem

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raised by its own depth – the problem of relating to the defining normality of Lohia’s politics and ideas the intensity that the work of this figure has given to the politics of ideas and ideas of politics. My note has been a preliminary effort in this direction, of course stimulated by the EPW collection

Finally, then, every commentator is a nswerable to his/her own call as Lohia is to his; and, where these intersect, that’s the space in which to render a contemporary history of modern Indian political thought. Curiously therefore, we may all have to think with Lohia as an individuality presided over by a generic constellation, even as his admirers and critics alike might still have to come to terms with his reality theoretically. I hope to have more to say on this generic constellation in the near future.

Notes and References

1 The analysis in question is my piece entitled “The ‘Modern’ of Modern Indian Political Thought: Outline of a Framework of Appraisal”, Social Scientist, Vol 35 (5-6), 2007, pp 19-38.

2 In fact, the schema configuring my understanding of the “modern” of modern Indian political thought had no place for a figure like Lohia, which is a pity really; and, when viewed against the backdrop of an assessment that I had always held on to – namely, that Lohia and the strand of Indian socialism he represented has not quite been seriously addressed by scholarship in India – it was also sheer intellectual sloppiness on my part. Hopefully this note makes amends for that deficit, while also pushing forward the EPW collection’s number’s call for a more meticulous engagement with the politics and ideas of Lohia. The latter’s birth centenary is but an occasion to cross paths. All paginations in the text and in the notes, unless otherwise specified, refer to the EPW collection.

3 In fact, the idea of articulating “what is living and what is dead” in a political figure/tradition – to enlist a formal motif of Yadav’s framing (pp 92107) – is a familiar representation, which I am sure has an interesting history. I remember my more youthful days when we would engage this motif as part of an ideological training/indoctrination (as indeed political/philosophical reflection). See also n7 and n20 below.

4 Thus the contention, for instance, by Yadav: “The disjunction between Lohia the thinker and Lohia the leader was more a matter of difference in t emper and style. Lohia the thinker was a selfconscious “philosophical liberal”; Lohia the leader was a “programmatic extremist” and deliberately so. The thinker could be exceedingly tolerant of intellectual disagreements, always looking to synthesise opposite viewpoints; the leader was often seen to be intolerant, partisan and a divisive influence” (p 48). For the critical re-reading that Lohia represents of the Marxian socialist tradition, see Sachchidanand Sinha (pp 51-55) and S unil (pp 56-63) in the EPW collection, as also Amit Basole (“The Technology Question in Lohia”, EPW, 30 October-5 November 2010, pp 106-11).

5 The enterprise represented in the recent work of Ramachandra Guha – I have in mind his India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

vol xlvI no 36

(London: Macmillan, 2007), as well as his Makers of Modern India (New Delhi: Penguin Viking, 2010)

– is a blip in a larger reflective graph. I must clarify that I do not mean this in criticism of enterprises in contemporary history; Guha is clearly the pioneer here in India, as far as I am concerned, and I have learnt much from his work. See also my “The Demands of Contemporary History: A Comment”, (EPW, 4-10 October 2008: 77-80).

6 Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), p 60. As Rosanvallon further mentions here: “Interpreted in this way, the political and the social are indissociable, since the latter (the social) is given sense, is set up, and is staged by means of the former” (ibid).

7 This is true not just of our contributors here as they theorise Lohia’s relevance for extant modes of cultural, political and academic practice, but, as Chandan Gowda’s paper (pp 78-84) alludes in the context of Karnataka, Lohia was a major influence on social and literary movements in the state. See also Anand Kumar (pp 64-70) who calls attention to the novelty of Lohia’s political sociology; I will have more to say on this axis, and therefore reserve further comment. Gowda also throws in a methodological point in seeking out the many appropriations of Lohia in the Karnataka context: “While it is truism that a thinker is read in multiple ways, an active methodological attention to the institutional realities that regulate the modes of appropriating political discourse is imperative for the sociology of modern political thought in the country” (p 82). He speaks, astutely of the need to place Lohia alongside other major thinkers “in the same space of normative political discourse” (ibid); also, that “Lohia’s relevance or irrelevance was explained and re-explained with the arrival of other political discourses” and that such a “methodological stance discourages isolated focus on a particular political discourse” (p 83). These are fertile suggestions, to be taken note of in any history of political thought as well as inscribing every effort to get beyond discursive commentary. And yet I am not too sure about pursuing a history of political thought purely in this mode. Sensitivity to context need not always produce contextsensitive results; and this is true not just of forms of practice – indeed, also of forms given over to theorising practice. Yadav’s procedure of asking ‘What is Living and What is Dead?” in the politics and ideas of a figure – albeit formulaic, as already stated (vide n 4 above) – is a more demanding task, I would think. Genealogies, to be sure, complicate rather than simplify the historical problem of explaining political normativities, but warding off the tendency to confuse “effective histories” with the “history of ideas” is a challenge for any genealogy (whether long or short) answering to the claims of political thought/discourse.

8 The contribution in question is entitled “Enigmas of Time: Reflections on Culture, History and Politics” (EPW, 25-31 March 2000, pp 1094-1100). In fact, it is significant that in offering the reflections that he does, Bharucha fixes on Lohia, specifically the latter’s tract Interval during Politics and even more poignantly the essay contained therein “An Episode in Yoga”. The essay records the ‘enigmas of time’ that Bharucha is interested to formulate in a provisional mode – something of a millennial muse – and, to be sure, there is more to Lohia’s tract than that mournfully parochial essay about the predatoriness of time (recall the essay relates to his moment of incarceration and physical/ mental torture in the Lahore fort prison during 1943-44). Quite pertinently, Yadav reads, into this moment of Lohia (and as borne out by the essay “An Episode in Yoga”), a “distinctiveness of Lohia’s insight on time and how the imperative of political action can help resolve apparently irresolvable

philosophic dilemmas” (n 10, p 105). He notes that i nequality, and a historical judgment that this 19 Rammanohar Lohia, Wheel of History (Hydera
political movements often suffer from an “error” – needed to be tackled by the state” (ibid). I shall bad: Rammanohar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Nyas,
“their actions in the present are performed in the return to this latter point later on in the main text. 1955), p 75. Yadav too alludes to the fascination
hope of achieving some objective in the distant fu- In all this, note, I am glossing for the moment the with history – even as it is seen to depart from
ture” – and that a recognition of this “error” “led point that in Kaviraj’s framework of appraisal classical philosophies of history of German vin-
Lohia to forge a normative yardstick as well as an there is no mention of Lohia in the Indian Marxist tage by refusing teleology and inscribing the ne
9 10 11 12 analytical tool”, in the sense that “(l)iving in the present would mean that each action should have an ethical justification intrinsic to itself and not with reference to some future” (p 94). As Yadav records, Lohia named it “the principle of immediacy”, while also noting that “Lohia did not formulate the analytic part of this insight as clearly as the normative principle” (ibid). See also the exchange between Yogendra Yadav (“Was Lohia Parochial and Monolingual?”, EPW, 24-30 October 2009, pp 70-71) and Sud hanva Deshpande (“Lohia and Language”, EPW, 28 November-4 December 2009, pp 76-78) on the question. The positions obtaining in this exchange leave no room for the abstract question of the human good of articulateness, of having the words one needs, to be posed. While the programmatic thrust of Lohia’s position on English and Indian languages is certainly to be queried – and, to be sure, Deshpande does this quite effectively, notwithstanding Yadav’s disclaimers – the analytic thrust of Lohia’s privileging of the “language” question is at once empirically certain and cognitively valid. A parallel argument locating Lohia’s radical pursuit squarely in the context of socialist thought in 20th century India obtains in Rajaram Tolpadi’s paper (pp 71-77) of the EPW collection. For Yadav, it is important to point out here, “(a) rupture in the history of modern Indian political thought has led to a sharp decline in the conceptual resources of politics and an atrophy in political judgment in contemporary India” (p 104). I shall return to this formulation later on in this discussion, although for the moment it is sufficient to note that, for him (Yadav), it is in this context that “we can appreciate the relevance and the limits of Lohia’s ideas” (ibid). I am also reminded of Sudipta Kaviraj’s rather erudite appraisal of Marxist thought and practice in India, which confronts the paucity of conceptual resources available to the organised left in India without of course yielding to a pronouncement (apropos Yadav) about a sharp decline in the conceptual resources of politics and an atrophy in p olitical judgment in contemporary India. More later in the text, as also n 11 and 12 below. The Kaviraj reference follows in the next note. Sudipta Kaviraj, “Marxism in Translation: Critical Reflections on Indian Radical Thought” (in Richard Bourke and Raymond Geuss (ed.), Political Judgment: Essays for John Dunn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p 186. The phrases cited in the previous sentence are also from the same source (pp 189 and 191). Kaviraj is categorical that while Indian Marxists were alert in the abstract to the methodological requirement that one needs to get the “social geography of groups right” in order to gain “a correct picture of the form of society in question”, they yet “proceeded to advance their analysis in a highly peculiar fashion” (p 180) – wholly “indifferent to the primary form in which Indians actually experienced inequality in social life” (p 186). I am afraid I cannot query this form of appraisal here. See also the note that follows. Sudipta Kaviraj, ibid, pp 196 and 198-99. Of course, Kaviraj maintains that although liberal reformist politics in independent India through the work of Nehru and Ambedkar offered a different translation of the ideal of equality “this rendering of the principle of equality was less radical than the communist version: it acquiesced in restricting the principle of equality only to the political sphere, and abandoned, at least for a time, the more morally ambitious goal of eliminating in 13 14 15 16 17 18 frame (and whose translational practices, in a manner of speaking, confront the alleged contortions of organised Marxist thought in India). But see the contentions that follows in the text. To be sure – and as Yadav appropriately remarks (p 98) – Lohia’s usage of the term “socialism” did not conform with the received tradition of socialist thought in the west and also in India. Interestingly, and again this is recalled by Yadav in a note (p 106, n 23), by around the mid-1950s Lohia was singularly placed to redefine the idea of socialism within the socialist movement in India. It is to be noted that the parent formation (namely, the Congress Socialist Party) had its beginnings in 1934 within a Marxist-Leninist framework, and its leadership continued to remain Marxist (even while critical of Indian communists) until the Quit India movement. The Socialist Party moved out of the Congress after independence, and took on a democratic socialist mantle under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan. The latter figure (along with Ashok Mehta) had renounced Marxism, while affirming democratic socialism, and led the Socialist Party till the first general election in 1952. Acharya Narendra Dev, another s talwart of the Indian socialist tradition, remained a Marxist till the very end. See also T olpadi (especially pp 71-73 of the EPW collection) who speaks of the hotbed of ideological contestations that was the Socialist Party, even as Lohia is served up as seeking autonomy for the socialist project in India. Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, op cit, pp 249-50. See Dipesh Chakrabarty, “In the Name of Politics: Sovereignty, Democracy and the Multitude in India” (EPW, 23 July 2005, pp 3293-01) for some interesting thoughts on the transition, as indeed the Nehruvian interlude, although a methodological note bearing on this (that is, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s) critical oeuvre is formulated in my “Debugging Sovereignty” (EPW, 17 December 2005, pp 5433-35). Yadav also pertinently notes that “(t)hrough the 1950s, Lohia opposed socialists taking part in the politics of alliances” and that it was “only after the third general election that Lohia began to s eriously look at the possibility of forming a coalition” (p 103). Yadav also adds that Lohia turned to the latter possibility for largely “non-ideological” reasons, namely, electoral reverses suffered by the socialists that had demoralised specifically “middle-level workers”, as also the “steep degeneration in the Congress, especially after Nehru’s death” and the prospect that “an unaccountable and unresponsive ruling party posed more of a danger than a small and ineffective communal party like the Jan Sangh, especially if it could be checked by the presence of other parties, including the communists” (ibid). I think these observations are important, for they lend a certain currency to what I am formulating as Lohia’s politics of immediacy. Yadav’s introductory remarks in the special issue (pp 46-50) lays privy to some of these writers, although I must confess this image is corroborated by some of his associates and middle-level workers who I have off and on had conversations with. Rammanohar Lohia, The Caste System (Hyderabad: Rammanohar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Nyas, 1964), p 20. The Christophe Jaffrelot work alluded to is his India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the 20 21 22 cessity of human agency (pp 94, 96-97). But I have some reservations, which I shall presently turn to. I think there is a deep-seated methodological point in the reservation I am expressing here, which has implication for any practice of the history of modern Indian political thought. To be sure, Yadav is alert to the question, within intellectual history, “[whether] there is any point in asking (-) contemporary questions about past thinkers such as Lohia” (p 92); and his essay is structured accordingly at excavating what is “living” and what is “dead” in the figure. My historical vantage point is somewhat different, taking off from (in the words of the intellectual historian, J G A Pocock) “a cardinal rule of the historiography which defines itself as the recovery of languages that we must reconstitute the languages we find and follow the implications of their discourse wherever these may lead” [“A Discourse of Sovereignty: Observations on the Work in Progress” in Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner (ed.), Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1993, p 394]. I realise there is a particular force in substituting the word “political languages” for “political thought”. The lessons I take from extant modes of doing intellectual history is precisely undermining the thought/language and practice equation, for viewing language/thought itself as a form of practice and not quite only to be seen as either issuing from or delivering into contingency. The problem with this line perhaps is that it renders a figure more systematic and total than he or she is or ever aspired to be. I hope to formalise this thought is a more elaborate methodological vein elsewhere, and therefore I am still persisting with the “political thought” expression. It remains for me, in fact, a fact to reconcile L ohia’s politics of the will with its ethical underbelly (namely, Gandhi) – an axis of truth that was for him a given, even as his politics of immediacy meant giving up on some of the Gandhian aura. At a more theoretical level, it also means coming to terms with the moral and political fervour of electoral caste politics and caste-based mobilisations in the political sociology of modern India, with all its limitations and possibilities (prior to the 1960s and post-1970s). Note also the arguments that follow in the text. I am also reminded of some fascinating (albeit truncated) thoughts on the question of caste politics and subaltern assertions by the late D R Nagaraj in his The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: The Dalit Movement in India (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010). It is one of my profound regrets that his sudden passing away in 1998 cut short the beginnings of a conversation. Realism and moralism in everyday politics and political argument might presuppose a theory, after all. In crafting the thoughts that I do here, and in the subsequent paragraphs, I am also responding to this urge. Besides, to the extent that there is, in our time – as indeed, more generically, the time of representative democracy – a return to the politics of immediacy (and not quite only of a Lohiaite vintage) the thoughts that I o ffer here could have a certain intellectual and political currency. I look forward to conversations with EPW readers on this score, though. Lohia, Wheel of History, op cit, p 75. Yadav also cites these lines, adding that “Lohia did not formulate the analytical part of this insight as clearly as the normative principle” (p 94). My locutions here (and in the immediately preceding paragraphs) may be seen as formulating aspects
equality altogether” (p 198). According to Kaviraj: Low Castes in North Indian Politics (Delhi: Perma of this analytical part, inflecting at once Lohia’s
“Two crucial judgments were involved in this nent Black, 2003). Chapter 8 of this work (espe ethics and politics. Cf also Bharucha (pp 1099
translation – a sociological judgment that caste cially pp 256-65) has a consideration that bears 100) on aspects of Lohia’s affirmation of the
was the primary experiential form of social on the point being made. p olitical.
72 september 3, 2011 vol xlvI no 36 Economic Political Weekly
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