Chandrashekhar and the Demise of Indian Socialists

Chandrashekhar who passed away today at the age of 80 was a second generation leader of the socialist stream of Indian politics, following the first generation that consisted of Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan. After leaving the Socialist Party (which he had joined after leaving Praja Socialist Party), he became one of the leading critics from within of Mrs Gandhi’s policies culminating in his leaving the Congress Party in the backdrop of the Emergency. In the early seventies, he along with Mohan Dharia and a few others were termed as the young Turks, their exit from the Congress, and the latter’s own turn to the Center- Right after its return to power in 1980 did leave a space for the Left (consisting of both the socialist and communist Left) but was instead increasingly occupied by a new generation of politicians- represented by Mulayam and Laloo Yadav, who carried forward above all, Ram Manohar Lohia’s legacy that insisted on caste as a crucial determinant of social and political contradiction in the country.

The only second generation socialist who still carried any weight in national politics was George Fernandes. Chandrashekhar, despite his becoming the Prime Minister for a few months, had already become irrelevant in the aftermath of VP Singh’s Mandal politics. At least the kind of politics that people like Chandrashekhar espoused had become irrelevant.It is notable to see how the second gen socialist leaders have fared in the last two decades- George Fernandes has become practically a wheeler dealer for the Hindutva BJP, Mohan Dharia pretty much a quiet voice despite his becoming the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission for sometime following in the footsteps of fellow socialists R.K. Hegde and Madhu Dandavate and Chandrashekhar became a lonely, even if personally ambitious person championing vague, and unequivocally, lost causes.

Socialist politics, dominated now by such ‘bleeding heart socialists’ like Amar Singh and caste centered politicians like Mulayam, Laloo and BJP’s friends like Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, has now come to practically a dead end. Acharya Narendra Dev is now a forgotten man altogether. Human Rights and civil liberties organizations that grew in the days of the Emergency are the only reminders of JP. Lohia’s ghost continues to haunt in the form of caste politics (not necessarily bad, but I don’t suppose even Lohia would have conceived of caste politics as an end in itself.)

This once dynamic, if not creative, stream in Indian politics is rapidly diminishing, a part of which now accompanies its adherents as they embark on their last journeys, as Chandrashekhar does today.

Crossposted at Krishworld
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14 Replies to “Chandrashekhar and the Demise of Indian Socialists”

  1. A lament of our times – as globalization penetrates our lives and inequities multiply in the name of growth mantras, the vulgar consumerism and the promise of victimless wealth define political discourse, the ‘creative’ stream dries up..

    But will it be that simple and linear. I hope not. The old has to give way to the new…

  2. Socialist politics in India has been in marked contrast to that of the communists, and was marked by strong charismatic leaders, and as they pass away, so does a lot of their politics. I have disagreed with the anti- Nehru slant of the socialists but have to concede that they were more creative than the communists in many ways, especially in their early recognition of caste as an important determinant of Indian reality as well as their understanding and need for democracy. In contrast, the communists have always believed in something called “democratic centralism”. When I was twenty, I thought I understood what it meant. Now I don’t.

  3. From my own personal memory the image I have of chandrasekhar and other “socialists” is that of a coalition manager and a solver of caste equations. I have no idea what real socialist policies or ideas he and others of his ilk stood for other than just opposing congress, on what theoretical basis, I don’t know.

    At least communists have an intellectual tradition, it has a lot that one can disagree with but still.

  4. oh! Acharya Narendra Dev needs to be read. And though I am familiar with Lohia only via secondary literature (and am very sure will not agree with most of what he wrote), I think the CSP and those who came from there did score a couple of points over the communists (caste and democracy) – and there were attempts at a dialogue as late as the 1980s.
    But it is sadly true that they depended on individual leaders and have left a fractured legacy. After Mandalisation , Chandashekhar came out to be little more than a manipulative egotist.

  5. Very impressive analysis of undoing of Chanrashekhar. After Mandal, it seems, he became ‘thakur chandrahekhar’!
    ‘Socialism’ of socialists is proved to be more fake and insincere than ‘socialism’ of Congressmen.

    Sincere ‘socialist movment’ has almost diminished in the realm of party politics, but some small groups like samajwadi Jan Parishad (Late Kishan patnaik) are still following the path of Lohia and JP. They have also linked with movements like NBA, Bharat jan andolan( BD Sharma).
    -Ishwar.

  6. Good to see you back here, Ishwar. You are right about some of the fringe socialist groups especially in Madhya Pradesh as I realised while reading Banerjee’s book. People like Chandrasekhar, after the 1970s, as Alok points out, have indeed rendered a disservice to the socialists’ cause.

  7. If the last trickle of once a mighty stream of socialists has to be personified by a person like Chandrashekhar, coming generations, including one I belong to, will have very hard time imagining what the original stream might have looked like. A sad, real sad commentary on subcontinental politics indeed.

  8. The interesting thing is not only that, as Ishwar has pointed out, the participation in grassroots movements in MP by fringe socialist groups, but also that one of the major developments that has occurred in the last two decades- the emergence of caste as a major political fault- line was first recognised by the socialists. They continue to exist in form or the other. What has taken a backseat is their ideology which still holds possibilities within and for Indian politics.

  9. Hi its a good article on chandra shekar, do u know any source from where i get get books, letters, editorials on Dr.Lohia?

    Thanks.

  10. Chandrasekhar was a rank opportunist with no credibility in Indian politics.A turn-coat while in the PSP,a self-proclaimed noisy young turk in Mrs Gandhi’s camp and finally the proverbial Trozan horse in the Janata Dal-he hardly had scruples.He was more comfortable in the company of coal mafia than Karpoori Thakur and was forthright in defending his followers’corrupt practices.Adept at manipulative politics he brought disgrace to the memory of Narendra Deva. Though people like him and the present disgusting breed of Socialists who include touts like Amar Singh have done a great disservice to the cause of socialism,the lofty ideology will survive and the idea of equality would triumph.Lohia and JP would continue to inspire millions.

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