People in India and outside know Dr Lohia more as a zealous freedom fighter, a founder-leader of socialist movement in Asia, and a fearless politician, always ready to fight for fundamental human rights. However, few people know Dr Lohia as a deep scholar, philosopher, champion of Indian tradition, and a visionary-imaginative power and the ability to inspire others.
S.R. Nene has brought facous on Dr Lohia’s prescience for human possibilities- human coexistence, our common genealogy, and the need to tame ourselves for saving the mankind from disaster due to human profligacy, leading, e.g., to unacceptable climate change, the tyranny of arms, religious dogma, despotism, etc. This book discusses contemporary issues from Dr Lohia’s perspective, and it will be a fitting tribute to this great son of India in his birth centenary year, 2010.
S.R. Nene is a biologist by profession. He has worked for a British MNC for 31 years in various senior positions. He was a Vice- President of Pesticides Association of India, and has participated in several national and international seminars and conferences on the bioefficacy and environmental effects of biochemicals used in public-health and agriculture.
The present book is his second literary work.
Shri S.R. Nene has provided an excellent exposition of the basic thought of the inimitable thinker and activist Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. In the Birth centenary year of the great leader, a scholarly treatment of his basic philosophic concepts would certainly prove to be of inestimable service to all socialists the world over.
Nene is a product of the Rashtra Sewa Dal, the socialist youth organization set up in 1941, with S.M. Joshi as its first Dal Pramukh, in order to train young people for the struggle for independence and socialism. Nene joined it quite early, in 1943. But, he admits that he became a confirmed socialist much later, when he had turned 50. He expresses his disappointment that socialist leaders distanced themselves from the best part of the Indian tradition.
In the chapter on the ‘Wheel of History’, Nene points out that Dr Lohia rejected the purely cyclic view of history, including the theory of Oswald Spengler, the German sociologist, for they make people fatalistic. Lohia also rejected all theories of unilinear progression of history, advocating the superiority of western civilization as the standard for comparison with other civilisations. Referring to the Marxist view of the history, Dr Lohia felt that it might apply, at best, only to one or two countries of Europe. Lohia dismissed Marx’s view that all history is the history of class struggle, though he accepts Marx’s view that there is some force of history that brings about social transformation.
Nene refers to Dr Lohia’s assertion that most historians have failed to fully assess the interaction between spiritual and rational elements in the composition of a culture. Nene adds his understanding of the Indian culture, which accepts the unity of matter and spirit in the concept of Brahman, as opposed to the western view of their dichotomy. Europe’s monistic loyalty to science and technology, which led also to the invention of weapons of mass destruction, was disparaged by Dr Lohia. He warned that history cannot condone, for long, the dissipation of either the spiritual or the rational disposition of humanity. Dr Lohia concluded this discussion by saying, ‘But the stage is set for willed approximation in which no one group need be subjugated by another and by which all the people of the world might try to achieve multi hued harmony of the human race.’
Nene then discusses Dr Lohia’s theory of economic and general aims, saying that spiritual and ethical values, culture, literature and art belong to general aims, while the economic aims refer to the material needs of man. This classification reminds one of the Marxist ‘structures’, which relates to means and relations of production, and ‘super structure’, which refers to all that which Lohia includes in the general aims. Yet, the differences between the Marxist stress on the structure deeply influencing, if not determining, the superstructure and Lohia’s view of the interdependence of the two, is a fundamental one. Dr Lohia introduced a new element: efficiency. He said that if a society achieves maximum efficiency in one set of aims, then it would face a backlash from the set of aims. Each society must decide to achieve maximum efficiency in both, so that it secures total social efficiency. This state alone, said Dr Lohia, would enable it to think of the welfare of the entire humanity. However, when the social efficiency of a society declines, it suffers a setback in its history, as it happened, for example, to Indian society with the decline of Buddhism.
Dr Lohia had called India’s assimilation of various foreign elements with indigenous elements as a ‘breath-taking drama of human adjustment guided by the spirit of liberalism, live and let live and co-sharing attitude.’ Nene contrasts this achievement with the internecine battles in western countries among desperate racial or cultural groups. However, Dr Lohia found that, in India, continued emphasis on general aims which made economic aims subsidiary had resulted in stagnation in the quagmire of caste-born weaknesses. He pointed to three weaknesses in the Indian society which have hindered internal approximation: the caste system, the doctrine of rebirth and the theory of Karma, and held that even thought the Buddha, Kabir and other saints preached against caste, their belief in the transmigration of the soul and the doctrine of Karma led to the continuance of the caste system. India went through a period of internal approximation during the freedom struggle between 1910-1945, according to Dr Lohia, though he lamented that it could not make a dent in the caste system.
Then, Nene discusses, Dr Lohia’s theory relating to the oscillation of societies, between caste and class. Caste, said Lohia, is ossified class and the class is a molten caste. Economic progress and education help a caste-bound society to move towards becoming a class society. The discussion in the German sociology relating to gemeinschaft and gesselschaft coult, possibly, complement Dr Lohia’s description of caste-class relationship. He had strong words to deprecate the hierarchal caste-system prevalent in India, and fervently pleaded its transformation into an egalitarian system. Lohia described the oscillation between caste and class in other societies and discussed the history of mankind from that point of view, pointing to the wreckage that humanity experienced in that long journey. Lohia ended by striking an optimistic note, as Nene quotes him: ‘The stage is set for willed approximation in which no one group need be subjugated by another and by which all peoples of the world might, through intelligent design, try to achieve a multi-hued harmony of the human race.’
Once in a while, we get a study which, while focusing on the main theme, maintains a holistic attitude so that the theme is seen as an ex tension of the whole. Similarly, if the theme happens to be the study of a personality, that personality is perceived as grounded in the total heritage of the nation. In short, even if that person is known by his/her individual stances, they are also placed in the broader streams of nourishment so that, that person is an extension of the individual talent as shaped by traditions. It is this dynamic interplay of tradition and a sharp individuality which Sri Nene creates as the underlying structure of his extremely readable, subtly interpretative study of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia.
In many ways, this is an innovative study. Few can command a grasp of the currents of thought of various forces and forms which are both continuous and discontinuous. Dr Lohia’s political discourse, Sri Nene Sees, it draws its structure and substance from the hinterland of social, economic and cultural forces which are mainly sourced from the spiritual. For many, even the academics, this often-ignored interrelationship is rarely seen as shaping the psyche of a person who resisted the temptation to fragment and specialize. As Sri Nene rightly affirms, Dr Lohia saw that ‘man has two basic orientations, rational and spiritual.’ Not only perception of the two but the intricate interplay is what Sri Nene traces in this finely honed study of Dr Lohia
For Dr Lohia, spirituality has no mystique about it. As Sri Nene succinctly puts it, Dr Lohia ‘relates the rational orientation to material concerns and spiritual orientation with human worth, dignity and honour. He likens them to two shrines in one body, the goddess of spirituality and the goddess of rationality.’ Much before the debate about the ‘two cultures’ paradigm of C.P. Snow became (or is slowly becoming) integrated, Dr Lohia foresaw the fatal consequences of their divisive tendencies. Sri Nene traces these implications not only persuasively but also as indispensable to reconciling the known and seen paradoxes of a globalised world.
Indumati Kelkar, in her weighty and comprehensive biography, says that ‘A biography of Lohia is synonymous with the history of the struggle of Indian socialism.’ Sri Nene, it seems to me, maintains a remarkable balance between Dr Lohia’s ‘Indian’ roots and the socialist ethos. For instance, Dr Lohia’s views on that much contested, rarely objectively seen, structure of the caste and class complex is vividly portrayed by Sri Nene in both their global pervasiveness and local configurations. Sri Nene’s weaving of Dr Lohia’s own perceptions in this regard need, in my view, a very close scrutiny. Sri Nene calls them ‘the fateful spiritual factors underlying India’s specific caste system.’ These factors are seen as ‘oscillations’ and, Sri Nene says that Indian social and cultural traditions, as Dr Lohia perceives, should not be pigeon-holed into diametrical opposites, privileging one at the expense of another.
Dr Lohia’s views in this regard, as analysed from primary sources, by Sri Nene deserve the closest attention. Dr Lohia, says Sri Nene, contested the widely held notion that Indian ethos reflects ‘a reluctance to seize what belongs to other peoples and also the absence of an ambition for the high role of power, riches and abundance.’ And, that is seen as ‘life-pessimism or life-negation.’ (a la Albert Schwitzer). But Dr Lohia’s views of the spiritual dimension are not he woolly kind of ‘world-as-illusion’ but of world as built on the bricks of dualism. The subtlety of this perception is cogently articulated by Sri Nene: ‘As envisaged by Dr Lohia, continued emphasis on general aims which made economic aims subsidiary to it created a history of the subjugation of a society in the quagmire of caste-born weakness, the principal weakness being the socioeconomic structure in India.’ Lacking social mobility (allegedly?), smothering freedom, Indian social structures became breeding grounds for the distorted views of karma, etc.
In this regard, Dr Lohia’s views on icons such as Sankara and, our own day, Gandhiji, need cautious and delicate scrutiny, for even as social mobility can be guaranteed, cupidity for the two values of kama and artha can result in economic recessions and new avatars of imperialist economic agendas. As Kwame Anthony Appaiah has argued in his book Cosmopolitanism, world-views which are not much exposed to the onslaught of scientific redrawing maps of consciousness, have still an opportunity to resist the erosion of ‘values’ which are essentially ethical. In this respect, the section on human consciousness of Sri Nene is refreshingly insightful.
‘Dr Lohia,’ says the author, ‘was a restless seeker of progress ever seeking towards better condition better than the existing best- and a wayfarer in search of shreyas, the most beneficial at all times.’ In elucidating this, the chapter on ‘Dr Lohia’s optimism and scholarship’ is both fascinating and fruitful (specially, on Dr Lohia’s experiences of ethnic tensions).
These are my random reflections on a book, which reflects on every page a rigorous adherence to primary sources, and a restrained interpretive range which balances admiration for the subject- Dr Lohia’s humanistic outlook in the context of a speedily globalizing milieu- and personal integrity of response.
It reflects, I feel, Sri Nene’s absorption of the Indian cultural roots, as envisaged in that monumental study Development of Indian Culture: Vedas to Gandhi by Tarkateertha Lakshmanshastri Joshi which Sri Nene translated from Marathi. That Sri Nene has transfigured not merely translated, some of those insights in the present study is, in my view, evident but not intrusive.
In short, Sri Nene’s study of Dr Lohia has the rigour of a scientist-turned-writer, and the deep concern of a humanist for an inclusive global order which if it cannot terminate totally, tame some of the imbalances of the existing scenarios. It has a topicality and relevance in terms of both the Birth Centenary of Dr Lohia and the perils and prospects of Indian democracy, existing at its most crucial stages today. For those who knew Dr Lohia, it is a fascinating re-discovery of a familiar but not much-noticed figure. For the young, it shows a residue of great relevance ably analysed.
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