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'Today Is Worse Than British Times'

Last updated on: December 30, 2023 13:03 IST
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'Today, the BJP is using power in such a manner that they not only crush the Opposition, but even their own supporters can't rebel.'

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

In the third and concluding part of the interview with Jyoti Punwani, Quit India veteran Dr G G Parikh dissects the exceptional qualities as well as the failures of the Socialists, with whom he spent his life; analyses why he considers Gandhian thought as most relevant; and talks about how to come out of the "dark night" in which the country finds itself today.

The freedom fighter -- born December 30, 1924 -- entered his 100th year on Saturday.


We spoke of communal feelings being on the rise. Even in matters of caste, people are far more intolerant today, compared to earlier? Why is that?

When Socialists started defining their doctrine, they spoke of a casteless and classless society. By then, the reality of caste had started sinking in. Those suppressed for centuries had to be uplifted; not merely the SCs and STs, but also the other so-called lower castes.

The realisation also dawned that the so-called upper castes had cornered the maximum land share, and therefore some sort of positive action was necessary. Reservations had to be extended to the OBCs.

Once this thought came into their minds, two things happened:

i. Socialists realised the danger that this kind of thinking presented to the objective of creating a casteless society. Hence (Ram Manohar) Lohia, apart from focusing on caste, said we must focus on women across castes.

ii. Gradually, movements that promoted inter-caste marriages increased. We hoped these could create a new class of citizens who would be casteless, and thereby provide a balance to the heightened caste consciousness brought in by reservations.

This work would have gone on, but then Socialists started accepting that to bring social change, power was necessary. That shifted the emphasis, resulting in a dilution in Socialist thinking and character.

All over India there were Socialist cadres with excellent character, scrupulously honest, those who never used power for personal gain. But fighting elections affected their character. The Socialist and democratic character which they were trying to develop in their cadre got short circuited.

Power became so important that all else was neglected, even Vinoba Bhave's experiment, Bhoodan, wherein he got more land freed than under the Zamindari Abolition Act. Only JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) and a few others continued that movement.

Everyone knows power corrupts, but we did not realise the extent to which it does, despite all our readings of history. We had seen the Communists in the USSR became like the czar. Yet, gaining power became so important that our ideology got diluted, and manipulating castes to get power became more important for some leaders who came from intermediate castes.

Socialists forgot that Gandhi was never in power, yet he managed to change so many.

Wasn't the Rashtra Seva Dal (the Socialists' youth wing) supposed to counter both casteism and communalism?

It was a sort of counter to the RSS. It created a cadre which promoted inter-religious and inter-caste marriages. In fact, this was the only body that did so. This had happened during the freedom movement too, but it was much more in the Dal. Almost everyone there married outside their caste.

But the split in the Socialist movement affected the Dal. Both factions tried to control it. So though the cadres remained casteless they could not focus on spreading their ideas.

The cadres are still casteless; I think the Rashtra Seva Dal cadre is far better than those of other organisations.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Later, didn't the JP movement also try to eradicate caste identity among its participants?

Yes, the movement consciously made an effort to do so, and succeeded. But many of those who joined it became interested in power, hence the idealism of the movement gave way to the opportunism of elections.

Even now, a large number of people are committed to JP's ideas. But the energy has reduced, and most of the cadre have become some sort of intellectuals promoting the ideology but not going to the masses. This is true of Communist cadre too.

Only the RSS goes to the people all the time.

You think the Rashtra Seva Dal can be revived? Or a group like it can be set up?

It can. In the early period, the objective was freedom from the British and also social evils, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi. Today, all the activists we have are either Communists or Socialists or Gandhians. With these kinds of people available, a social movement can be revived.

But now if we want to revive it, the organisation must talk of the environment. If it gets converted to a green movement, the younger generation would get attracted.

Unfortunately the Socialists are not giving that much importance to global warming. The solutions lie in Gandhian thinking, in swadeshi, in using minimum resources.

This year, you were stopped from proceeding towards August Kranti Maidan on August 9. Has this happened before?

Once, (freedom fighter and Gandhian) Ushaben Mehta, Pramila Dandavate, Mrinal Gore and I were stopped at Nana Chowk. So we simply sat down there. Later, some ministers came to persuade us to give up our dharna.

Our 1942 group (who were in jail during the Quit India movement), including (journalist) Dinkar Sakrikar, Prabhakar Kunte, Rohit Dave and I, had decided that on August 9 and January 30 every year, we'd take out a silent march (to commemorate the Quit India movement and Gandhi's assassination). Somewhere, the January 30 march was given up, but August 9 is done till today.

This time, did anyone from the government contact you to apologise for the police preventing you from the march?


Do you think today is worse than the Emergency?

Yes. Worse than British times even. The British had some conscience. Gandhi was kept alive, provided a phone, allowed to travel.

Even Indira Gandhi did not arrest (senior Socialist leaders) N G Goray, S M Joshi. That meant she always intended to bring back democracy.

Today, the BJP is using power in such a manner that they not only crush the Opposition, but even their own supporters can't rebel.

IMAGE: Dr G G Parikh at the Red Ink Awards 2023 organised by the Mumbai Press Club. Photograph: Kind courtesy Mumbai Press Club/Facebook

At the RedInk awards, you described the current time as 'a dark night'. Yet you also said you haven't lost hope, that the people still believe in the ideas of Gandhi and the freedom movement, Where's the evidence of this?

The terrible thing today is that those who never accepted the dawn of freedom, or the Preamble which says that everyone is equal, are now in power. Yet, despite all their efforts, only 40% of the people are supporting them. The rest are still resisting.

In such a situation we have to emphasise the ideas of the freedom movement and work hard to see they are accepted. While doing so, we must remember our socialist values: Free education, subsidised housing, free medical care. employment being more important than GDP...

The people's resistance can get galvanised only if we go to the masses with the issue of global warming. In Mumbai, we can easily say the city is being built for motorists alone. We will then get the support of a lot of people. Unfortunately, we're not using that kind of thinking.

Instead, parties are using soft Hindutva. In Nehru's days, there was no such thing. If you believe in a plural society, you should make it clear.

Mahatma Gandhi

IMAGE: Mahatma Gandhi arrives at Simla to discuss the international situation with local Congress leaders and the viceroy. Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images from the Rediff Archives

You interacted with all streams of the freedom movement, but finally, you remained a Gandhian. Why?

In jail, where I was probably the youngest and hence looked after very well by everyone, I got introduced to many things. I started reading Marx, Freud... Like everyone of my age, I became some sort of fan of Marx.

The Communists had concentrated their student activity in St Xavier's and I used to sell the Communist Party weekly called Imperialist War. But after the party changed its stand on the war (World War II), they changed the name of the weekly to People's War. I got confused and also disillusioned.

By then I had also started reading what was happening with the Left in Europe. I realised in quite a few ways, their actions went against Marxist thinking. The first was the characterisation of WWII as a 'people's war'.

Secondly, they didn't support the freedom movement. They opposed the Quit India movement because they wanted the Congress to support the war effort.

But that wasn't the only thing. As I started reading more and more, I came to the conclusion that the Marxist or Anglo Saxon model of relationship between employer and employee was unlikely to yield the type of world we aspired to.

I was attracted to the Gandhian trade union model. The Champaran struggle inspired me, as did the Ahmedabad textile strike.

I realised Gandhian thinking had two aspects. It encouraged people to fight for their rights, but it also tried to change the oppressor. The relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed was mediated at two levels: The oppressed had to assert themselves, but the oppressor had to change too.

Much later, I found that if you want a modern ideal world, the possibility of realising it lay more in Gandhian than Marxist or even Socialist thought, (barring a few individuals such as Acharya Narendra Dev or JP).

IMAGE: Dr G G Parikh with Rajmohan Gandhi, the thinker and author, at a felicitation ceremony in Mumbai, December 29, 2023. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani


I saw how Socialists fared after Independence: Sane Guruji committed suicide in 1950 out of disillusionment; Achyut Patwardhan whom I admired, left the movement; and JP, for many reasons, left the Socialist movement and joined Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan movement.

The Socialists were a fine group of people. Committed to changing both the system and man, they left everything for the cause. But they lacked a democratic character.

We were good Socialists, but not good democrats. Socialists, when they disagree, do not accept the majority decisions of the party. They split the party. This happened so many times.

You should be willing to accept the majority view. You can leave, but don't split the party. That's why I admire Madhu Dandavate and Rohit Dave. Though many a time they were in a minority, they accepted the majority decision.

The Socialist movement didn't create the type of leaders that Gandhi created. The irony is that all these Socialists were Gandhi's creation and all of them, at the end of their lives, went back to his ideology.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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