ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Gentle Colossus

Rabi Ray (1926–2017)

Rabi Ray, a prominent socialist leader and former speaker of the Lok Sabha, was also a public intellectual remembered for his tradition of gosti bichar.

Rabi Ray was a prominent socialist leader of India, hailing from Odisha. He was born in 1926 in a village in Puri district. He studied in a school where his brother was a teacher. After finishing schooling, he attended Ravenshaw College for graduation. After his graduation he went ahead to study law at Madhusudan Law College in Cuttack. Being a village boy, he had a lot of energy that got diverted to politics and study. He joined public life without taking a government job, dedicating his life to public activities.

There are two types of leaders in Indian politics. Some use caste and community in moderate tones and others use these identities in extremist tones. Rabi Ray belonged to the former category, of those who use these identities in a subtle manner. His family had a close kinship network in Puri district that provided political support to him, which helped him get elected to the Lok Sabha in the 1967 general election. Most political leaders in Odisha, except for leaders from the reserved constituencies, were a part of his kinship network. He belonged to a small caste, Chasa within the dominant caste of Odisha—Khandayat. This network of caste and community, unlike in other parts of India, does not work by itself. Political personalities and ideology play an important role in the mobilisation of public opinion for winning elections. As a student leader, Ray got involved in people’s movements in the princely states of Odisha. He was leading these movements with Gandhian ideals. Gandhi’s ideas and his non-cooperation method shaped Ray’s political style.

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