Madhu Limaye spent time in British, Portuguese and Indira Gandhi regime jails; mentored, Sharad Yadav, Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar as young socialists.
The birth centenary of Madhu Limaye, who mentored the late Sharad Yadav, the late Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and a host of young Socialists in the 1970s, is being observed on 1 May. Socialists, along with Communists, played yeoman role in India’s Opposition politics from the 1950s till their decline and the rise of right-wing parties on the national plane and mushrooming of regional and caste-based parties since the 1990s. There is no national-level Socialist outfit today—UP’s Samajwadi Party and Bihar’s JD(U) and RJD are the residues of what was once the powerful Socialist Party, whose leaders led the 1973-74 all-India Railwaymen’s agitation and held sway on the Opposition benches in Parliament and state legislatures. (Haryana’s Chautala-led INLD and UP’s RLD, led by former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh’s grandson, Jayant Chaudhary, also have umbilical links with the Socialist movement.)
Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (SYS), the Socialist youth movement, was responsible for many social changes, including the acceptance, initially of Hindi, and later regional languages, as medium of examination. The quest for reservation for Backwards began with Samyukta Socialist Party’s (SSP, referred in Hindi as “sansopa”) clarion call in the 1960s: “Sansopa ney baandhi hai gaanth, pichhdey paawen sau mein sath” (demanding 60% reservations for Backwards).
It was a Socialist, Raj Narain’s election petition which unseated Indira Gandhi in 1975. The train of events which followed saw Indira Gandhi imposing Emergency, which paved the way for the first-ever defeat of the Grand Old Party in a Lok Sabha election in 1977; which also saw Raj Narain defeating the incumbent Prime Minister at Rae Bareli. Raj Narain and Madhu Limaye acted as fulcrum for pulling down the Janata government of Morarji Desai on 28 July 1979. Socialist leaders questioned the “dual membership” of erstwhile Jan Sangh members in Janata Party, who had retained their RSS identity (Janata was a conglomerate of around ten non-Congress, non-Communist, parties which had united to defeat the GOP). The fall of the Janata regime and the subsequent “untouchability” of RSS-linked former Jan Sanghites ultimately led to the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party in April 1980. Madhu Limaye and Raj Narain thus can be credited for being midwives of the process which led to the launch of India’s present ruling party. When Limaye passed away in 1995, warmest tributes came from BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Communist titan, Jyoti Basu.
During his four terms as Lok Sabha MP elected from Bihar, Maharashtra-born Limaye was known for many exposes in Parliament. He was the first to question the licence given by Indira Gandhi’s government to the PM’s son, Sanjay, for setting up a Maruti car factory in Gurgaon (now Gurugram) in 1972, bending rules. The scam related to Dharma Teja’s Jayanti Shipping and a host of other well-researched exposes by him on the floor of Parliament put many Congress-era Union Ministers—C. Subramaniam, S.K. Patil, Manubhai Shah, Sachin Chaudhary and even Rajasthan’s legendary Chief Minister, Mohanlal Sukhadia—on the mat. If during Congress regime he spoke about Sanjay Gandhi’s business deals which had government’s “hand-holding”, in Janata days he did not spare the PM’s son, Kanti Desai. Whenever he entered the Lok Sabha carrying his load of documents and books borrowed from the Parliament library, the Treasury benches and the officers in the gallery looked worried and the Opposition benches grinned in anticipation of yet another investigative expose. He never shouted “Chowkidar chor hai”. Or infiltrated on the Well of the House. His discourse effectively proved what he wanted to prove. Till the mid-term of the Third Lok Sabha, Parliament questions were not admitted by balloting (now questions are balloted, only those picked up in ballot are starred and provided oral replies)—Limaye and a few Communist members like S.M. Banerjee thus used to hog the Question Hour. This led to the present system. In 1977, when Limaye was on the Treasury Benches and Banerjee had lost his election, the latter asked Limaye how it felt to be a ruling party MP. Limaye said the anxiety and pleasure of reading the morning newspapers to raise issues in the House had disappeared and he found it a wee boring.
Limaye spent time in the jails of two European imperial rulers—British (1940-45) and the Portuguese (19 months in 1955-57)—and for 19 months he was incarcerated by the Indira Gandhi regime during Emergency. In 1946, Socialist leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia gave the call for liberation of Goa, Daman, Diu and Dadra Nagar Haveli from Portuguese rule. The British left in 1947; the French withdrew from Chandannagore (West Bengal) and Puducherry (also Yanam, Mahe) soon thereafter. In 1955 Limaye led his comrades and entered Portuguese Goa, where he was brutally beaten up and sentenced by a military tribunal for 12 years. He spent 19 months in the Fort Aguada prison. Goa was liberated by India’s military action in December 1961. A year later, when free Goa sent its first MP to Lok Sabha, it was Socialist Peter Alvares (an important road junction in Mumbai’s upscale Worli is named after him).
Socialists Madhu Limaye, N.G. Goray, S.M. Joshi, George Fernandes, Surendra Mohan, Nath Pai, Raj Narain, Maniram Bagri, Mrinal Gore, Arjun Bhadoria (and spouse Sarla Bhadoria), Madhu Dandavate (along with spouse Pramela Dandavate), Karpoori Thakur and Kishan Patnaik, under the leadership of stalwarts Lohia, Jayprakash Narain and Acharya Narendra Dev, provided sinews to India’s Opposition politics. They agitated on the streets, mobilising mammoth gatherings. Entering the Well of the House in Parliament was not their tool of protest. Limaye once said in Lok Sabha, “Parliament is not a substitute for mass and people’s movements, but an additional instrument for public service and a platform for airing public grievances—it should be used as an instrument for reflecting the hopes of the common man”.
Socialists have receded as a force. But the relevance of their thought process was underscored on 12 June 2014, when in his maiden speech as PM in Parliament, Narendra Modi invoked his preference for the “Gandhi-Lohia-Deendayal” political tradition of “desi model” of development as opposed to the Nehru model followed in the years prior to him.