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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part One

[For Dr.DMR Sekhar]

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts

Part One

Introduction and Overview

M N Roy, Communist leader with signatures, in New Delhi on September 30, 1967

 

Several years back, I posted an article about   Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana (1893–1963) one of the stormy petrels of India’s recent past; the restless drifter who from the Vedic Arya Samaj moved into Buddhism, then leaped on to communism and back again to Buddhism. I had written, in fair detail, about his travels in Tibet collecting copies of ancient texts; his association with the Communism and setting up the Communist Party of Bihar ; his Party work in Russia; his expulsion from the Communist Party and the USSR following his differences with Josef Stalin; and on his eventual disillusionment with Communism. On his return to India, he resumed his Buddhist work. He again took to travel ; and, visited Sri Lanka (where he taught Sanskrit), Japan, Korea, China, and Manchuria. He saw a fire temple in Baku and discovered an inscription in Devanagari script. From there he went to Tehran, Shiraz and Baluchistan and finally returned to India. During his life-time Sankrityayana wrote about one-hundred-and-fifty books and dissertations covering a variety of subjects. Apart from travelogues, he wrote extensively on a range  of subjects such as sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics. He also produced two huge dictionaries, one Tibetan – Sanskrit; and the other Russian – Sanskrit. He prepared a glossary of Hindi terms for administrative use. He also collected and wrote about the ecstatic songs (Doha) in Apabramsha dialect spoken by the eccentric Siddha saints of Bihar and Bengal.

In that context, I had mentioned, in passing, his similarities with MN Roy, another stormy petrel of India, the son of a village teacher who meteoroed into an intellectual at the international level ; who traveled across the globe ; participated in , as also  influenced the growth and spread of communism in various parts of the world; and, who wrote a large number of books on politics, political philosophy, sociology, history etc.

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In many ways; the life-events of Sankrityayana and Roy were similar. Both were brilliant intellectuals, great travelers, versatile linguists and voracious writers. Both coming from orthodox middle class families, started as ardent Nationalists with a burning zeal to secure India’s freedom; both came into contact with Marxist principles rather incidentally; both grew into ardent communists working actively along with eminent leaders of the party in USSR; later, both were disillusioned with Communist regimes in USSR;  both incurred the displeasure of Stalin; and predictably, both  were promptly expelled from the party. Both, in their later years, grew into philosophers and thinkers.  Both married western women, settled down in India; and, died while in India.

[Although Sankrityayana and Roy both incurred the wrath of Joseph Stalin they could, yet, said to be fortunate. While Sankrityayana was exiled, Roy lingered on the outer fringe of the Central Party for sometime, before he was expelled. He eventually returned to India.

But, the other Indian Left intellectuals –Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of the well known freedom fighter and poetess Sarojani Naidu) and Abaninath Mukherjee one of the co-founders (along with Roy and Evelyn Trent) of the Indian Communist Party launched from Tashkent in 1921 — were not so lucky. Their disagreement with Joseph Stalin made them victims of the Great Purge. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was arrested on in July 1937; and , was executed on 2 September 1937. And, Abaninath Mukherjee was arrested in June 1937 ; and, was executed by the firing squad on 28 October 1937.]

I share with DR. DMR Sekhar, a special fascination for the life and thoughts of MN Roy. He, undoubtedly, is without a peer in the present era. There is hardly anyone comparable to Roy. His approach to politics, philosophy and life was much different. He led an adventurous and eventful life; and, his experience was vast. Roy’s intellectual odyssey took him from militant Hindu nationalist to communist and then on to radical democrat and humanist. MN Roy could be described as a global Indian and an international communist positioned between  the German Opposition communist fringe and Soviet orthodoxy; and, between the Indian National Congress and Radical Socialism; and , a sustained critique of Gandhian  notions of Brahmacharya, ascetic ideals  and food-culture. His thoughts were quite original. He adopted unorthodox means of separating religion from philosophy for realizing his ideals.

And yet he was not a mass-leader. Towards the end of his life, he was a lonely person.  He was a sort of romantic who envisioned, with hope, that ‘Man has created something great and is destined to create something greater’. He had the courage of conviction and honesty of ideas to stand alone amidst hostile criticism.

I wondered; it is strange that such fiery figures- like Roy and Sankrityayana – have almost disappeared from scenes of the present-day-world. No longer do you come across, either in India or anywhere else, such colorful, rebellious, brilliant and larger-than life intellectual personalities, passionate about their beliefs, living and spreading their influence in various parts of the globe at an enormous risk to their person and to their acceptance in organized groups.

The rarity of such intellectual odysseys  bordering on adventurism  in the present times  may perhaps have a lot to do with the ephemeral nature of things and the depleted sense of values of the world we live in, dominated by faceless corporations chasing after virtual curves on electronic screens, week after week . Even the leaders of the so-called revolutionary parties, bereft of commitment to their original principles, have gone soft, corrupt and rotting from within.

Dr. DMR Sekhar, the Scholar Scientist, had then inquired whether I had written about MN Roy. I had by then written, briefly, some pages about MN Roy’s views on political structures, economic theories as also about his views on  religion, philosophy, science and their inter relations. But, I had not written much either about his life-events or about his intellectual life; especially,  about the later part of his life. However, the thoughts about MN Roy had been floating around in my mind whenever questions on history, religion, democracy etc; and, particularly those about Humanism came up in one context or the other.

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I was drawn to MN Roy as he was a multifaceted personality: a revolutionary, political activist and theoretician and a philosopher-thinker whose sphere of influence spread beyond India into far distant lands. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the relationships, as he saw, between philosophy and religion; philosophy and science.

The task of philosophy , according to him is not merely “to know things as they are and to find the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature and, nature itself; to understand Man and his Universe…To explain existence as a whole”; “but, more importantly, it is its power or the force to change  and  reform  the world we live in, for a much better place where  all  can live with  freedom and dignity”.

This was in contrast to the Indian perception of philosophy as a means to attain  liberation  from the earthly coils which hold back Man from his true destiny .

As regards Religion, Roy thought that “Faith in the super-natural does not permit true understanding of the nature of the Universe. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is an essential precondition for philosophy”. He was highly appreciative of democratic and egalitarian character of Islam and Islamic teachings. However, when he lauded the role of Islam, I wonder, had been alive today whether he would have continued to hold such views.

Roy grasped the intimate relationship between science and philosophy. With the ascendancy of science, he said, philosophy can now exist only as ‘the science of sciences — a systematic coordination, a synthesis of all positive knowledge’.

I realize I do not have much time left ahead of me. Before it is too late, let me dwell briefly on one of our forgotten heroes who I wish had lived a little longer and been little more active in his later life. Perhaps his active and involved presence could have brought sanity, in some measure, into the course of events that overtook India and Bengal in particular. On Roy’s death (Jan 25, 1954), the Socialist Leader Jayaprakash Narayan (11 October 1902 – 8 October 1979) wrote: Roy was perhaps never more needed than just when he died.

I propose to write a series of articles touching , in main, upon his early life adventurous events, his  busy career in Mexico , USSR and China as a Marxist  intellect and theoretician ; his contacts with the other leftist intellectuals while wandering adrift in the west;  his association with the western women engaged in  Leftist movement and the freedom movement of India; his involvement in developing and guiding the communist , trade union and peasant movements in India;  his attempts to indirectly influence the Freedom movement in India  and the economic programs of  the Indian National Congress; and,  his prison years followed by  his political  career in Indian National Congress.  I would also try to discuss his ideas on politics, philosophy, religion, history and science, as reflected in the vast body of his works.

[ I have tried to use the life-story of MN Roy as a sort of thread to talk about the series of changes or developments that overtook India, ranging over diverse phases of extreme nationalism; socialism; colonial rule; and parliamentary democracy. Roy’s life-events also help to chronicle the national movement for freedom of India, sphere-headed by the Indian National Congress but involving number of other parties and groups operating from within and outside India; as also   the birth, development and decay of communism in India . Roy’s concern for the Post-Independence India away from the steamrolling Communist dictatorship and away from the corrupt parliamentary system of party politics ; and, his Plans  for  Economic  Development  of  India and the Draft  Constitution  of  Free  India ; his vision for a party-less , country-wide network of Peoples’ Committees having wide powers such as initiating legislation, expressing opinions on pending Bills, recalling representatives and referendum on important national issues etc are truly interesting and very relevant to the times we live-in. They indeed could serve as pointers to our future world-view. ]

I trust this will find at least a handful of avid readers.

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Compared to Sankrityayana, Roy led a more varied and a more adventurous life. He started as a starry-eyed nationalist revolutionary believing in violence (in the present-day terms, ‘a terrorist’) wandering across the Far East in search of German arms and fund to fight the British in India. That search for German arms led Roy on to the West coast of the United States of America where he came in contact with Socialists and also the theories of Karl Marx.

But, it was in Mexico that Roy underwent a thorough transformation from a conservative nationalist to cosmopolitan Communist believing staunchly in the Marxist doctrine. Roy soon emerged as an acknowledged authority on Marxian doctrine. And, he worked closely with the esteemed international leaders of the Bolshevik movement and Communist Party at its highest level , such as Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky , Bukharin , Borodin and  others , who later became legendary figures. While in the company of the elite of the International communist movement, Roy was closely associated in drafting its policies and its working.

Roy became the founder member of the Communist Party of India in 1920 at Tashkent; and, was also the Chief Adviser of the Communist Party of China. He, earlier to that, had come in contact with Dr. Sun Yat Sen , Chiang Kai Shek  and Ho Chin min (who was , at one time, a student of Roy at Moscow)  and later with  Mao Tse-tung.

After the exit of his mentor, Lenin, Roy was sidelined in the Communist party following his disagreements with Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the USSR. Roy was further distraught and dismayed as Stalin went on to systematically liquidate the old-guards of the Bolshevik movement and his comrades in the Party, one after the other. He was particularly saddened by the expulsion and execution of Bukharin,  considered as the brain behind Lenin. Roy wrote articles in the German Communist–Opposition-leader Thalheimer‘s journal criticizing Russia’s foreign policy, which angered the Stalin group. And, Roy was promptly expelled from the Party.

Roy returned to India in 1930 (after about fifteen years) knowing full well of the grave risks it involved. He was arrested and thrown into prison for six years on the charges that were framed against him in 1924, while he was away from India.  After release from Jail, Roy became a member of the Indian National Congress; and worked closely with Nehru, Subash Bose, JP Narayan and other leaders. And, he also had differences with Gandhi and the right-wing of Congress. 

During those four years in Congress, Roy tried to radicalize the Congress; and, turn it into a United Front or a common platform for all shades and sections of the Indian politics, coming together in the struggle for attaining political and economic Independence of India. He, of course, failed thoroughly. And, finally, he was asked to resign from Congress. Disillusioned with traditional politics, Roy turned into a political philosopher.

The later years of his life brought about his transition from one who believed in Marxism to the one who advocated ‘integral scientific humanism’ ; and , then he went on to formulate Radical Democracy, which he put forth as the guiding philosophy of decentralized ‘radical democracy’ that could serve as an alternative to parliamentary democracy, after rejecting both communism and capitalism .

The Radical Democracy as conceived by Roy is a highly decentralized system of democracy based on net-work of groups of people through which citizens wield an effective democratic control over the State.

And then came his New Humanism or Radical Humanism; it is radical because it rejected many of the traditional political and philosophical assumptions, and its ‘humanism’ is because of its focus entirely on the needs and situation of human beings. The Radical Humanism which is neither materialism, nor idealism, but a scientific philosophy, insisting upon the freedom of the individual brought in a new dimension to political philosophy.

As Kanta Katatia explains in  M N Roy’s  conception of New Humanism :

Humanism is derived from the Latin word Humanus, meaning a system of thought concerned with human affairs in general . Humanism is an attitude which attaches primary importance to Man and his faculties, affairs and aspirations . Humanism had to pass through a process of development and change , but its main idea was that Man must remain the supreme being. Humanism means respect for man as Man and not only because of his individual achievements. The essence of Humanism is the importance placed on human being , the individual as the center of all aspirations of  human activities. And, there should no dogmatic authority over life and thought.

Humanism must be an ethical philosophy. It must insist that Man alone is responsible for what he is. Human values in the last analysis must be human; and must keep pace with the growth of Man , his knowledge about nature and  himself .

The critics of Humanism maintain that it is a kind of Utopia. But, Roy insists it is not an abstract philosophy or theory;  but,  is a set of principles which are relevant to all aspects of human life  including the social existence. It is not a closed system; but it grows and evolves with development of human knowledge and with Man’s experiences in life.

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Roy’s ideas , just as the traditions of India, are a series of changes with continuity. India had always prominently figured in every phase of Roy’s revolutionary, political and intellectual life, no matter whether he was in India or outside of it or even in prison. In order to understand Roy’s mature phase of thought concerning humanism etc., it might be necessary to learn of the nature and evolution of his earlier ideas.

At least four phases of Roy’s life and thoughts may be seen distinctly.

The first of these began at the turn of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, with Roy as a young terrorist inspired by patriotic zeal under the guidance of his hero Jatin Mukherjee. That phase ended with his conversion to Marxism in 1919 under the tutelage of Mikhail Markovich Borodin when the two came together in Mexico.

The second phase of his life and thinking covers his eminent career in the Communist Party (1919-1929) . That phase began in Mexico and ended with his expulsion from the Communist Party in December 1929.

The third phase began with his return to India in 1930 and his imprisonment for six years commencing from 1931; his brief flirtation with Indian National Congress for four years ( 1936-1940) ; and his subsequent formation of the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) as an alternative to Congress and the Communist Parties.

The final phase of his life, till his death in 1954, was that of a philosopher expounding principles of Humanism and launching the Humanist Movement.

Ellen Roy (MN Roy’s wife) explained:

It should not be thought that the phases mentioned above were sharply separated from one another or that there were any violent mutations in life.  Rather, they led logically and naturally from one to another; and were but stages in a process of organic growth and development. Roy never disowned his past; and to the end he acknowledged Jatin Mukherjee and Karl Marx as his guides and mentors – next in importance only to the greatest mentor of all, life itself

Ever testing his thoughts in the light of his experiences and chastening his experiences in the crucible of reason ,  he moved from terrorism to virulent Nationalism to Marxism and Communism , then on to Radical Humanism ; he moved from formal democracy to humanist democracy in action; from internationalism to cosmopolitanism . He blazed a new trial for those yet to tread the long path.

Freedom for Roy was a huge concept. He did not equate freedom either with national Independence or with cession of oppression. It was a progressive disappearance of all that binds an individual and restricts his innate immense potential as a human being”.

In the wealth of experiences that went into shaping his thoughts and outlook later in his life, he was truly unique; and, in one lifetime he lived the lives of many, spread across three continents and a dozen countries. Although these stages are distinctly marked, they run along a continuum like a thread, in the organic growth of his thought process.

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Throughout his life Roy had pursued the quest for human freedom. He wrote:

“when as a schoolboy of about fourteen I began my political life, which may end in nothing. I always wanted to be free. In those days we had not read of Marx; we did not know the meaning of proletariat; we were not aware of class struggle; nor were we intent on realizing an ism. And still, there was a vague desire or hunger for freedom; and an urge to revolt against the intolerable conditions of life. We did not know exactly how the conditions could be changed. I began my life with that dream and spirit; and I still draw my inspiration from that spirit, in search of that elusive freedom many spent years in jail and went to gallows,  than from the three volumes Capital or the three hundred volumes of the Marxists”( New Orientation, 1946 , p.183)

Roy took to Marxism because it appeared to be the right philosophy that could change the world for better.  To Roy, Marxism appealed as a more convincing explanation for his innate desire for freedom. The driving force of his Marxism was his Humanism. Freedom for him was not an abstract ideal but something that has to be lived and experienced by each individual.

While in the Comintern, Roy learnt and witnessed that Marxism in theory was quite different from Marxism in practice. Roy could not agree with a system that survives and thrives on oppression, under a dictatorship in the grab of democracy – as was the case in Russia under Stalin. He could not compromise with the new developments in the Stalin era, which degenerated into an instrument of enslavement of Man. And, that marked his breakaway from Communism as it was then practiced in Russia.

Roy returned to India, to participate , directly , in the Indian National movement. Soon after he landed in India, Roy was imprisoned for almost six years. The prison experience had a most profound impact upon his thoughts. Just as Aurobindo, Nehru and Philip Spratt;  during his isolation in the prison , Roy also had ’ all his sensitivity in a continuous state of tension’ ; and, experienced the effect of a ‘psychological hothouse’,  where one tends to overwhelmingly brood , leading to ‘  concentration of emotion upon itself’. Roy’s deep introspection led him to different modes and forms of thoughts.

Roy did not experience a ‘mystical revelation’’ as did Sri Aurobindo; yet, he was a different person after release from prison. There was a marked change in Roy’s thought, personality and general approach to life.

After his release, he began to discover the limitations of Marxism; and, the needs to ‘revise certain fundamental conceptions of classical Materialism’. He began to ponder over application of Marxism with special reference to India: ‘the modern Marxist cannot literally follow the line predicted by Marx. We cannot say that developments in India must necessarily follow the same line as Marx predicted for European developments’.

Roy came to believe that India needs a philosophical revolution; and, that without a philosophical revolution, no social revolution is possible. That was a clear departure from Marxism. He recognized the present predicament of modern society as a moral crisis that desperately needs a complete reorientation of social philosophy and political theories. He was convinced what India needed for its full and healthy development was a Party-less system with abiding values of humanity; and, moved by the ideal of human freedom.  Freedom , according to him, was the ultimate reality in human life; it defines and qualifies every other human experience.  “Call this an idealistic deviation, if you please” he said “I would plead guilty to the charge”.

In the subsequent elaboration of his idea of freedom, he projected it as a sort of spiritual freedom — the ultimate value of radical humanism and the key motivating force of human actions.

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When he was in the Indian National Congress, he was disappointed to discover that it  hardly was a democratic body. The right-wing of the Congress led by Gandhi throttled every other shade of view and opinion. Roy disagreed with Gandhi on several fundamental issues. Gandhi advised his followers to completely ignore Roy as if he did not exist politically; for, Roy appeared to him too dangerous a man even to be criticized. And, when Roy tried to push through his radical ideas, Gandhi bitingly advised him to stay out of Indian politics, and just “render mute service to the cause of Indian freedom.” Roy’s views were turned down every time; and, eventually he was asked to resign from the Party.

Roy’s main critique of Gandhi , as a leader of Congress  , was that he and his inner circle imposed their tactics from above on the rank and file; and, that they had turned Congress Working Committee  into  an “authoritarian dictatorial” ‘High-Command’ of Gandhi’s handpicked followers . Roy found it akin to the inner working coterie of the Comintern. Roy kept asking: Why is it that Gandhi did not like to consult people outside his circle, even when intellectuals including his friends advised him to do so?  Why did Gandhi summarily reject such advice?

Roy also could not appreciate Gandhi’s views on celibacy (Brahmacharya), shunning alcohol, and advocating total non-violence.  Gandhi’s stand on un-touchability, according to Roy, was also suspect (this was also the view of Dr. Ambedkar). Roy remarked that sermons might have some propaganda value; but beyond that they hardy were of any use. Roy pointed out that Gandhi’s programs of similar nature were, basically, verbal, couched in sentiments rather than effective programs involving masses and appealing to their immediate interests.

As regards untouchability, what was required, he said, was ‘constant campaign coupled with modes and changes in personal relationships by challenging unhealthy prejudices’.

He was also against Gandhi’s insistence of compulsory Charka (home-spun) movement. Roy pointed out that ‘sentiments can keep a movement going for a certain limited length of time, but it cannot last longer unless fed with more substantial factors’. Gandhi’s Charka movement, Roy observed, was based on hollow economic logic; it was not economically viable; and , therefore Charka’s fate was sealed.  

Roy also did not agree with Gandhi’s theory of ‘Trusteeship’; he said, it was neither realistic nor practical. Capitalism, he said, will not collapse because of the sentiments; but, will fall because of its own contradictions.

He attached greater importance to individual and his liberty. He envisaged a system of governance in which the individual citizen would exercise effective control over the people‘s representatives controlling the machinery of the state.

Roy rejected both Communism and capitalism; and, put forth a philosophy of decentralized Radical Democracy as an alternative to Parliamentary Democracy. He also rejected both the state ownership as well as unbridled capitalism, as being destructive to democracy. He believed that economic democracy would be suffocated if there is no political democracy. The truly democratic economic order can only be built around the principle of co-operation where there is also the participation of workers as co-owners

He said: “the defects of a parliamentary democracy result from uncontrolled delegation of power. To make the democracy effective and functional , the real power must always vest in the people ; and there must be ways and means for the people to wield their power not once in a five years or periodically but on a day to basis” (New Humanism p.55)

Roy’s most important prediction was that the Parliamentary form of Democracy in India would breed corruption. His lecture to the University Institute in Calcutta on February 5, 1950 warned of this.

“The future of Indian democracy is not very bright, and that is not due to the evil intentions on the part of politicians, but rather the system of party politics. Perhaps in another Ten years, demagogy will vitiate political practice. The scramble for power will continue, breeding corruption, caste-ism and inefficiency. People engaged in politics cannot take a long view. Laying foundations is a long process for them; they want a short-cut. The short-cut to power is always to make greater promises than others, to promise things without the competence or even the intention to implement them.”

In another lecture on January 30, 1947, also at Calcutta, Roy had said:

“When political power is concentrated in the hands of a small community, you may have a facade of parliamentary democracy, but for all political purposes it will be a dictatorship, even if it may be paternal and benevolent.”

“To make democracy effective power must always remain invested in the people – not periodically, but from day to day. Atomized individuals are powerless for all practical purposes”

At the same time , he was cautious and conceded that  it was too early for the Indian common men to understand the meaning and value of participatory democracy propagated by him  because they were  ’ seeped in the feudal tradition of monarchic hierarchy as well as in the customs of a religious patriarchal society’.

Roy advanced the idea of a new social order based on direct participation of the people through People’s Committees and Gram Sabhas. Its culture would be based in minimum control and maximum scope for scientific and creative activities. The new society of India that Roy envisioned was a democratic, political, economic, as well as cultural, entity with the freedom of the individual as its core.

Roy, thus, envisaged formation of people’s local cooperative organizations as the nuclei of a new system of economy. He was convinced of the innate goodness and dignity of man.

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MN Roy was perhaps among the earliest few to realize the dangers of Marxism on one side and the inadequacies of Parliamentary Democracy on the other. He recognized the need for a new kind of socio-economic philosophy, a practical-theory of life (not speculation) that is guided by humanism which would re-organize social life. By humanism he meant respect for man as Man; and, essentially, where the individual is at the center of all spheres of human activities (unlike in Marxism). 

Marx had said that a good society is necessary to have good individuals. Roy, on the other hand, asserted ’it is important to have good individuals to have a good society’.  His main concern, as he said, was freedom for himself and for all others. His dream was’ to make every Indian realize her/his human dignity and make her/his own destiny’.   And for that, he said, they will have to give up many of the traditional beliefs that tie them down; but, to develop a ‘liberating philosophy of life’.

MN Roy maintained that a philosophical revolution must precede a social revolution. Although his critics pointed out that his New Humanism was ethereal and Utopian, he asserted that it was a flexible philosophical structure that has relevance to all branches of human life and existence.

In 1944, Roy and his associates had drafted, with great dedication and hard work , two basic documents, namely, People’ s  Plan  for  Economic  Development  of  India and the Draft  Constitution  of  Free  India. These documents contained Roy’s original contributions to the solution of the country’s economic and political problems.

In the Draft Constitution that Roy proposed, the Indian State was to be organized on the basis of country-wide network of Peoples’ Committees having wide powers such as initiating legislations, expressing opinions on pending Bills, recalling representatives and referendum on important national issues.

He strongly believed that the greatest good of the greatest number can be attained only when members of the government are accountable in the first place to their respective conscience . He , therefore, urged for direct elections for the post of State Governors. He advocated election to be held on non-party basis to form Constituent Assembly, which would frame the constitution of Independent India on a federal basis.  He had also built in safety measures , like fixing accountability on the elected representatives; and the power to re-call the erring such elected members. But, his Draft Constitution for Free India was conveniently assigned to the dustbin.

He paid a heavy price, without regret or rancor, for his uncompromising stand on various social,   national and international problems. He remained something of an enigma even in the Leftist political history. Although he had fought for India’s independence, in his own manner, his contribution was never recognized. He was sidelined even by his former colleagues and mates.  He came to be viewed more as a critic than as a constructive partner. It was pointed out that he analyzed various elements of thought in great detail; but, at the end, failed to come up with an integrated system or plan that would work.

The sort of Independence that India gained and the truncated look of ‘free-India’ , sliced into pieces based on religion, sorely disappointed Roy. He was hurt disillusioned and isolated. His political activity came to an end as India crawled towards freedom in the dead of a dark night.

Roy is said to have remarked: I am not quite satisfied any longer with political activities. I can now do other work according to my inclinations…I feel my leaving the party will be good for me and to the party.

His later years were spent in writing series of Books on various political and social issues as also on the events in Marxist history.  These writings show that Roy was not satisfied with a primarily economic explanation of historical processes. He studied and tried to assess the role of cultural and ideological factors in traditional and contemporary India. Roy tried to reformulate materialism in the light of latest developments in the physical and biological sciences. He was convinced that without the growth and development of a materialist and rationalist outlook in India, neither a renaissance nor a democratic revolution would be possible. He attempted his Memoir; but , could not complete it. He became engaged in educating the young and in spreading the message of New Humanism across the world.

And, towards the end of his life, Roy  grew rather indifferent to either fame or success. The long years of self-exile stretching over fifteen years followed by incarceration for six years had distanced him from the ground realities of the volatile India, which  through its varied conflicting ways was struggling to assert itself. He was isolated in more than one sense.

The reasons for his isolation could be many. He was away from India for about fifteen years; and, thereafter , was behind bars for six years. During these long years, Roy had lost direct contact with the ordinary people of India. He communicated with his followers through his writings.  And, in the political circumstances of his period, his ideas went beyond a certain class of people and did not percolate to the masses. The language of his ideas and theories was such that it would not appeal to common man.

Another reason could be that, in India, he did not enjoy the benefit of support from any major political party or group. Though he was in the Indian National Congress for a period of four years, he could not get on well with its leaders (Gandhi in particular); and, could not agree with  its approach to major problems and issues ( such as the support or otherwise to the British during the second War). As regards the Communist Party with which he was associated closely for a considerable period, he no longer had any association with it after he was expelled from the Party in 1929. And, the Indian communist party under the aegis of Joseph Stalin was markedly hostile to him. As regards the other socialist groups they were scattered and ill organized; and, had no effective leadership.

In the later years, MN Roy did not remain a man of action. He was  engaged in writing and developing streams of thoughts on politics, history, social development,  modern crisis in human affairs, science, economics , schemes for world peace and organization and such other subjects.

He also did not get an opportunity to put his ideas into practice. Since his later theories of humanism and individual freedom seemed to be tinged with idealism, many including the political activists took it as rather utopian or simply daydreaming.

Ho Chi Minh , who was at one time Roy’s student in Moscow, successfully put into practice Roy’s theory of turning the national struggle into a social revolution, with the Communist Party in the lead. And, that was exactly the kind of movement in India , and the kind relationship between the Indian National movement and the Indian National Congress that Roy had been advocating all along. Ho Chi Minh got the opportunity and Roy did not. And , that made all the difference ]

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M N Roy the person who always looked ahead did not fail to foresee his own bleak future. He had admitted long before, that he was practically doomed to fail, because he was ‘politically isolated’ in India. He had, however, the conviction that his isolation was indeed the isolation of pioneers, which might not be pleasant but ‘historically necessary’. Roy exhorted his followers to have ‘the courage of pioneering’. Like Sri Aurobindo who was an extremist in politics and later chose to be a philosopher; Roy too seemed to have lost interest in traditional politics; and , with the dawn of Independence he emerged wholly as a political philosopher.

While Roy and his wife Ellen were resting in the hill station of Mussoorie, Roy met with a serious accident on June 11 1952. He fell fifty feet down while walking along a hill track. He was moved to Dehra Dun for treatment. On the 25th of August, he had an attack of cerebral thrombosis resulting in a partial paralysis of the right side. The accident prevented the Roys’ from attending the inaugural congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) , which was held in August 1952 at Amsterdam. The congress, however, elected M.N. Roy, in absentia, as one of its Vice-Presidents and made the Indian Radical Humanist Movement one of the founder members of the IHEU.

On August 15 1953, Roy had the second attack of cerebral thrombosis, which paralyzed the left side of his body. Roy’s last article dictated to Ellen Roy for the periodical Radical Humanist was about the nature and organization of the Radical Humanist Movement. This article was published in the Radical Humanist on 24 January 1954. On January 25 1954, ten minutes before midnight, M.N. Roy died of a heart attack. He was nearly 67 at that time.

The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in its obituary described him as the ‘lonely lion who roamed about the wilderness called the world’.

Roy was not a successful person in the ordinary sense of the term, as Samaren Roy writes, by the time he died in January 1954, he was a forgotten man , sitting alone at the edge ; and , looking into the unknown.

Brink

About twenty years after the demise of M N Roy, that is in 1974, the Socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan tried to revive ideas outlined in Roy’s Draft Constitution of Free India . Narayan  in his program of ‘Total Revolution’   talked of forming ‘People’s Committees’ at the grass-root level, giving them power to legislate, opine and vote on issues of personal and national importance as well as to recall the erring members of legislatures, thus, tempering political parties. Though he could arouse the curiosity of the youth and generate some debate, Narayan could not win the Election. The power politics of Congress took charge again.

Roy and Narayan had somewhat similar political background. Both had at one time affinity with Communism; and both had later rejected Communism and Nationalism. For them, Marxism remained an ideal; but, one that was not practiced in its purity anywhere in the world.  Both tried to overcome in their revised programs the noteworthy defects of Marxism in theory and in practice. Following that, both had a short association with the Indian National Congress. And, both were sorely  disappointed with its lack of internal democracy and a broad vision for the future ;  and, when they tried to put forward their views , they were virtually driven out of the party. 

Both Roy and Narayan placed the individual and his freedom at the core of their programs. But, the emphasis of each differed.

While Narayan’s concept of Radical Democracy revolved around popular movements of the Communities at the grass-roots level, Roy’s concept rested on individuals at grass-roots politics.

The experts point out that each of those programs, by itself, is incomplete. And, both their programs do not give adequate credit to the crucial and un-avoidable role of the State. And both placed undue or excessive faith in the persuasive force of moral and intellectual elite; and, therefore, have an amorphous or nebulous unrealistic air about them.  Both seemed to have taken for granted the liberal notions of equality and liberty.

Though the Radical Humanism and Total Revolution were well meant, rising idealistic visions of the importance of the individual , they could not stand up to the challenges of the powerful Party  politics of the Present-day India. Total Revolution and Radical Humanism were very quickly cast aside. That is very sad.

jp

[Jayaprakash Narayan (1902-1979) returned to India from the US, in late 1929 as a Marxist. And soon after that, he joined the Indian National Congress at the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru. Mahatma Gandhi became his mentor in the Congress. During the Indian independence movement he was arrested and jailed several times, particularly during the Quit India movement of 1942. Upon release, he took a leading part in the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, a left-wing group within the Congress Party. In 1946, he tried to persuade the Congress leaders to adopt a more militant policy against British rule.

After independence, Pundit Nehru offered Jayaprakash Narayan the post of a minister in the Union Cabinet; but, he refused the offer preferring to walk along the socialist path of nation-building.

In 1948, Jayaprakash Narayan, together with most of the Congress Socialists, left the Congress Party; and, in 1952 formed the Praja Socialist Party (PSP). But again, he became dissatisfied with party politics; and, announced in 1954 that he would thenceforth devote his life exclusively to the Bhoodan Yajna Movement, founded by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, which aimed to distribute land gifted by the rich among the landless.

In 1959, Jayaprakash Narayan, following the idealism of M N Roy, in an attempt to find an alternative to the modem state, argued for a ‘reconstruction of Indian polity’ as a ‘party-less democracy,’ with decentralization of power, village autonomy and a more representative legislature, by means of a four-tier hierarchy of village, district, state, and union councils. He advocated a program of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna kraanti,’ total revolution’.

In the mid1970s, he led a student -movement   against government corruption in Bihar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promptly branded Narayan a reactionary fascist. And, after the Allahabad High Court found Indira Gandhi guilty of violating electoral laws, Narayan called upon her to resign. Instead, Gandhi, immediately, proclaimed a National Emergency on the midnight of 25 June 1975. Narayan, the 600 other opposition leaders, and dissenting members of her own party (the ‘Young Turks’) were arrested that day.

Narayan was detained at Chandigarh Jail even after he asked for one month parole to mobilise relief in flooded parts of Bihar. After five months in prison, his health broke down; and, suddenly deteriorated on 24 October 1975, and he was released on 12 November 1975.  The diagnosis at Jaslok Hospital, Bombay, revealed kidney failure; he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life. He never regained his health.

In 1977, Narayan led united opposition forces; and, Indira Gandhi was defeated in that very crucial election. Then, Narayan advised the victorious Janata party in its choice of leaders to head the new administration.

Jayaprakash Narayan popularly referred to as JP or Lok Nayak succumbed to the ill effects of diabetes and of heart ailments; and, died   in Patna, Bihar, on 8 October 1979, three days before his 78th birthday.]

design star

Beginning with the Next Part, let’s look into the life-events of M N Roy; and at the end let’s get to learn about his philosophical thoughts.

Let’s start with his Early Years, in Part Two.

17th MySt MN Roy (1)

 

Continued

In

Part Two

Sources and References

  1. M N Roy by V B Karnik
  2. M N Roy – A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
  3. The Political Thoughts of M N Roy by KS Bharathi
  4. Marxism and Beyond in Indian political thought: J. P. Narayan and m. N. Roy’s concepts of radical democracy by Eva-Maria Nag

http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/1709/1/U183143.pdf

  1. M N Roy’s New Humanism and Materialism by Ramendra Nath
  2. M N Roy’s conception of New Humanism by Kanta Katatia
  3. Many pages of Wikipedia

Illustrations are taken from Internet

 
11 Comments

Posted by on January 11, 2016 in M N Roy

 

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The scholar …the drifter

Rahula

Rahula Sankrityayana (1893 – 1963)

In my article on Tibetan Buddhism, which I posted quite sometime back, I made a brief reference to the efforts of Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana in bringing back from Tibet, precious books and ancient manuscripts that were no longer available in India. In that context, I wrote a few lines about the scholar and his life. One of the readers exclaimed “Wow..! He seems to have been quite a cool guy: a one-time Arya Samaji turned Tibet-travelling, Scripture-collecting, travelogue writing, Soviet-loving former Brahmin turned Buddhist founder of the Communist Party of Bihar.” And said” You have been too short on him. Why don’t you write more about him?”

I am not sure if the Mahapandita ever regarded himself a cool-guy. I wonder, despite his scholarship, whether the term cool-guy meant anything to him. His time was much before the slang entered into books. Even in case he was wise to the term, I suspect, he could not have cared less.

I had no opportunity to meet the Mahapandita. I did, of course, send him a few letters. He replied in Hindi to my letters in English. That was during 1960 – 61, my hard times, the years of great stress and total confusion. He was, at that time, teaching in Vidyalankara Pirivena, a Buddhist Institution in Sri Lanka. He advised me to dig into Pali texts if I have to understand the Buddha and his teachings. I later came to know that soon after that he returned to India; and died of caner, in the year 1963, at Darjeeling. I could not pursue Pali studies. I had other priorities; I had to earn a living. That took me to the wilderness called Bombay. (Please see my earlier years in Bombay and  Dorabjee )

I was initially attracted to Rahula Sankrityayana through his books on travel, especially his fascinating experiences in that land of mystery, Tibet. The other book of his that I liked was “Volga to Ganga”, a literary adventure spread over 22 short stories. It attempts to reconstruct early human history from pre-Vedic times to the then modern India (1944). It focuses on various stages in the civilizations that flourished in the regions between the basins of the two great rivers the Volga in Russia and the Ganga in India. The remarkable thing about the book is the way it presents history as a series of stories of imaginary characters. That was very fascinating. During those days I regarded the books of Will Durant and Sankrityayana, among a few others, as   self-learning tools, since my formal education  had snapped at that stage.

He was born as Kedarnath Pande in an orthodox Brahmin family in a small village in Azamgarh district of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. He lost his mother Kulawanti at a very early age; and, his father Govardhan Pande, with the aid of the boy’s grandmother brought him up . His basic education was in Urdu and Sanskrit at the village school.

In his autobiography titled “Meri Jivan Yatra’, he writes that while learning Urdu , the lines : “Sair kar duniya ki gaafil zindgani phir kahan / zindagi gar kuchh rahi tau naujavani phir kahan?” ( Oh !ignorant, go and travel all over the world .You will not get this life again . Even if you live long, youth will never return) gripped his attention ; and , he was much fascinated by its import. He was bitten by the travel-bug quite early in life. Travel or Wanderlust  became almost the theme song of his life. 

His education , of course ,  did not last long. Restless by nature, he ran away from home at the age of nine, to ‘take a look at the world”. He survived by doing odd jobs; and serving the groups of wandering mendicants, sadhus. Some say; he learnt Devi Upasana during this period. After staying with the sadhus for nearly a year, he returned home for a brief period ; and, then again left for Varanasi to study Sanskrit under a Vaishnav pundit, Baba Ram-udar Das. He also taught himself some Indian languages and English. He learned photography as well.

He again left Varanasi on a long pilgrimage of South India. On return, he settled down at the Arya Samaj, Lahore; and pursued Vedic studies. He , at that time, was in his twenties; and, his writing career started here. He wrote for Sanskrit and Hindi periodicals. The massacre at Jillian wallah Baugh (1919) shook him rudely; and , he decided to plunge into the national movement.

He was imprisoned for three years, during 1925-27. It was while he was serving his term in the prison, Kedarnath got acquainted with the Buddha and his teachings. It had a profound impact on him.  He, later in his life, wrote “I had given my heart and mind to Arya Samaj. But, I had to take them back when I discovered the Buddha”.

Soon after his release from prison , he traveled to Sri Lanka (1928) and got admitted to the renowned Buddhist monastic college, Vidyalankara Pirivena. He learnt Pali and Sinhalese languages; and studied the Buddhist texts – the Tipitakas – in the original. He assumed the name Rahula (after the Buddha’s son) Sankrityayana (the assimilator).

After a stay of about three years, he left Sri Lanka and joined Dr. Rajendra Prasad (who later became the first president of the Indian Republic) in social constructive activities. He also became the president of the Azamgarh unit of the Indian National congress.

Bitten by the travel bug, he quickly left for the forbidden land of Tibet. The India – Tibet border, during the British Raj, was virtually sealed; and, it was extremely difficult to enter Tibet from India. Sankrityayana, therefore, took a circuitous and a very hazardous route to Tibet, which was hardly traveled. He entered Tibet through Kashmir. Ladakh and Kargil and traveled on foot in company of petty thieves, smugglers and petty merchants desperate for trade and a small profit.

While in Tibet , he traveled extensively, in company of a Tibetan monk, Gendun Choephel, searching for copies of ancient Sanskrit texts that were destroyed in India, centuries earlier; but had survived , hidden away in the thousand-year old libraries in remote monasteries in Tibet. Gendun Choephel was Rahula’s translator and guide  as well as his mediator for Tibetan culture. The two  visited many monasteries and discussed with many Lamas. Some say; he even got secret initiations. Sankrityayana’s main purpose was to collect and bring back to India the ancient Sanskrit texts or their translations that were no longer available in India. For Rahula, historical research was a part of his political fight; for him researching  and understanding history was the key to the present. He did succeed in this , to a certain extent.  Appreciating Gendun Chopel’s  help and learning, Rahula invited him to join his entourage;  to visit the Buddhist holy sites in India . It is said; Rahula returned to India after fifteen month’s stay in Tibet with  twenty-two mules loaded with Sanskrit  and Tibetan manuscripts; and Thanka paintings  obtained from Tibetan monasteries.

Gendun_Chophel

Incidentally, his friend and guide Amdo Gendun Chopel (1903-1951) was no less a colorful person. He too lived an interesting and an adventurous life. Gendun Choephel visited India and was thoroughly taken up by the turbulence of the freedom movement. It is said, in India he experienced the most creative phase of his life. He traveled across the country as a Buddhist pilgrim, lived in the crowded city of Calcutta, saw the ocean, visited brothels and libraries, wrote his first newspaper articles and translated the Kamasutra in to Tibetan, enriching it with notes based on his newly gained experiences.

Gendun Choephel returned to Tibet in 1946. Rahula’s leftist ideology obviously seemed to have rubbed off on him. He got associated with the Tibetan Revolutionary Party ; and, designed its logo: a sickle crossed by a sword. The Tibetan Revolutionary Party’s goal was to overthrow the tyrannical regime in Lhasa. He began to write the political history of Tibet ; but this attempt was abruptly stopped by his arrest.

He was accused of insurrection and thrown in jail for three years. In 1949 , he was freed. But his heart was broken ; and, he promptly drowned his desperation in alcohol. Soon afterwards, in 1951, the Chinese army overran the Tibetan troops in Eastern Tibet.  Shortly after the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese army, Gendun Choephel died , in the middle of October, 1951.

His, often quoted, famous last words were “Now, we are fucked.” Though the remark , in his characteristic blunt manner, sounds rather obtuse ; in retrospect, few would argue against it.

During his last years, Gendun Choephel  gained reputation as a scholar , a revolutionary thinker and a radical intellect. And, he became a role model for many young Tibetans in Chinese-occupied Tibet; as also  for those in exile in India; particularly,  for the members of the ill-fated Tibet Improvement Party in the Kalimpong region .

A film titled “Angry Monk – Reflections on Tibet“, based on Gendun Choephel’s life , was made, in 2005, by Luc Schaedier, a filmmaker from Zurich.

The following are some quotes attributed to Gendun Choephel :

“In olden days, even in Europe, the world was thought to be flat. And when some intelligent people claimed the opposite, they were exposed to various difficulties, such as being burnt alive. Today, even in Buddhist countries everybody knows that the world is round. However in Tibet, we still stubbornly state that the world is flat.”… Newspaper article, Tibet Mirror, Kalimpong, 1938

*

In Tibet, everything that is old
Is a work of Buddha
And everything that is new
Is a work of the Devil
This is the sad tradition of our country… Poem, Tibet 1946

*

“As for me — I have little shame I love women. Every man has a woman. Every woman has a man. Both in their mind desire sexual union. What chance is the for clean behavior? If natural passions are openly banned, unnatural passions will grow in secrecy. No law of religion — no law of morality can suppress the natural passion of mankind  ‘… Foreword of a Kama sutra- translation, Calcutta 1939

Please check: http://www.angrymonkthefilm.ch/en/gendun_choephel/

**

[It is said; the Mahapandita Rahula Sankrityayana visited Tibet – the land of the Lamas –  four times during 1929, 1934, 1936, and 1938 , spending fifteen months in the first; and six months in each of the subsequent journeys; discovering, examining, copying and photographing   rare texts that were lost to India. He succeeded in bringing back to India, in all, photographs of more than eighty works which , later, were deposited with the Bihar Research Society at Patna, Bihar]

On his return, Rahula Sankrityayana  with the help of his friend Kasi Prasad Jayaswal, the reputed Indologist,  arranged and classified the manuscripts; and , also identified some of the manuscripts, the originals of which were lost. Most of the books and manuscripts he brought back from Tibet had been lost in India; but preserved in Tibet. What he had brought back was a literary treasure. All his later writings revolved around this collection, in one way or the other.

He settled down in Patna for a while, researching into the Sanskrit and Tibetan manuscripts he brought back from Tibet. He even toyed with the idea of setting up a Buddhist University in Nalanda.

[His dream was fulfilled years later when his disciple Dr. Jagdish Kashyap founded the Nava-Nalanda Maha Vihara, during 1970.]

While working on the Buddhist manuscripts in Patna, he was asked by the Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta to go to England to spread the message of the Buddha. Sankrityayana accompanied by Ananda Kausalayana, a Buddhist monk and scholar, left for Europe and England during the year 1932.They traveled together in Europe for nearly one year.

While in England, the celebrated Indologist Theodor Stcherbatsky was greatly impressed by the scholarship of Sankrityayana ; and , invited him to Russia. He stayed in Russia for more than ten years, until 1948. Sankrityayana did not have formal education and degrees; yet, in consideration of his learning and scholarship, he was appointed professor of Indology (1937-8) at the University of Leningrad. At the University , he taught Indology , Sanskrit and Bengali. He published about ten books in Bengali while he was there.

He became a member of the Communist Party, around 1938. By about this time , he gave up his monastic status.

There at the University, he came in contact with a Mongolian scholar Lola (Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya). She could speak French, English, and Russian;  and could write in Sanskrit. She helped him in his work on Tibetan – Sanskrit dictionary. They got married; and had a son, Igor. This was Sankrityayana’s second marriage. He   was married when very young; but, nothing much is mentioned of his child-wife or what became of her.

He traveled to Tibet again, in 1944, for an extended stay of three years. He also visited India to participate in the peasant’s movement. He was now a full-fledged member of the Communist Party. He wrote books and pamphlets on communist ideology. “It was easier” , he later wrote, “for a student of Buddhist philosophy to understand Marxist philosophy.”

Despite such bonhomie, the communist party found it hard to tolerate his radical views and behavior. He was promptly expelled from the communist party and USSR, after about a decade of his life as a communist. His Russian wife and son were not allowed to accompany Rahul to India. Stalin was then in control of the Soviet Union.

On his return to India, he resumed his Buddhist work. He again took to travel and visited Sri Lanka (where he taught Sanskrit), Japan, Korea, China, and Manchuria. He saw a fire temple in Baku ; and , discovered an inscription in Devanagari script. From there, he went to Tehran, Shiraz and Baluchistan ; and, finally returned to India. It is said that during his lifetime he visited Tibet four times.

Sankrityayana  was a multilingual linguist, well versed in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, French and Russian. He was also an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician  and a creative writer.

As regards his physical appearance, it is said Rahula was a very handsome person, standing over six feet tall , with wide forehead, broad shoulders and chest. He had a pleasant and a winsome disposition.

Rahula2

He started writing during his twenties ; and , wrote , in all, around 150 books and dissertations, covering a variety of subjects. Apart from travelogues he wrote extensively on a verity of subjects such as sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics, He also produced two huge dictionaries, one Tibetan – Sanskrit; and the other Russian-Sanskrit. He also prepared a glossary of Hindi terms for administrative use. He also collected and wrote about the ecstatic songs (Doha) in Apabramsha dialect spoken by the eccentric Siddha saints of Bihar and Bengal. In honour of him, Patna Museum, Patna, has a special section, where a number of rare manuscripts, paintings and other items collected by him are displayed.[many however fear that Sankrithyayana’s manuscripts are allowed to be stolen from India.

[Please checkhttp://www.birgitkellner.org/index.php?id=171]

rajam_symbols_10

The publication of Rahula Sankrityayana’s two-volume History of Central Asia in 1956-57 in Hindi was a benchmark in historical writing in India. The book however appears rather incomplete; because , he could not finish it in the way he wanted. Rahula wished to document the transition in Central Asia from Tsarists exploitation to the socialist epoch, giving a clear picture of the economic, cultural and educational achievements of the Soviet period. He envisaged that as the ‘most important’ part of the book.

In a representation dated 30-04-1946 addressed to “Our dear teacher Comrade Stalin”, Sankrityayana requested “I am writing this letter to you, our greatest leader, with the request that I may be allowed and granted facilities for six months (or whatever times) trip for the central Asia to collect the necessary materials.–With the best regards, I am one of your millions of followers”

But he was not allowed to visit the region and collect field data. Because , the Central Committee of the CPSU considered his visits to Central Asian Regions of USSR was ‘inadvisable’.  That decision was conveyed to Sankrityayana through a letter dated 4th Oct 1946 signed by M. Suslov  :  In the secretariat of Comrade Zhdanov A.A.—  In connection with the letter of Rahula Sankrityayana addressed to Comrade I.V. Stalin we inform you that this question was discussed in April this year in the Secretariat of the CC of the A-UCP(b). The journey of R.  Sankrityayana to the Central Asian Republics then was considered to be inadvisable”.

[  Please check http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv6n1/sankrit.htm ]

No reasons were assigned in the letter of Suslov as to why Sankrityayana’s visit to Central Asia was considered inadvisable. Sankrityayana was , of course, mystified and bitterly upset about the decision handed down.

With the permission to visit central Asia being denied ,  he was unable to collect further materials he needed: the planned three-volume history was  reduced to two volumes.

He later  wrote that if there was any major fault of the Soviet administration it was  the extent of suspicion which had reached its highest point there.

chapter_end

He wrote his diaries in Sanskrit. But his passion was Hindi. He wrote almost all his books in Hindi. He wrote forcefully, elegantly and charmingly. His prose was magnificent. He strove hard for the cause of Hindi. He was , for several years, actively associated with All India Hindi Sahithya Sammelan. He was a major figure in the field of Hindi literature. One of the reasons for his expulsion from the communist party was perhaps his strong emotional attachment to Hindi.

The well known historian Kashi Prasad Jaiswal wrote:

“A perusal of his remarkable works does not only make dead history return to life and comprehension of Indian history easy, but it also helps unravel many a historical knots. The great compiler and interpreter of his limitless data, which from their unbounded range in quantity make their handling extremely difficult, deserves unqualified gratitude of the reading public. The world of Hindi may take this achievement for a piece of pride, for no language either in the east or west has produced such a work.”

Explaining his association with Buddhism, Sankrityayana said he was attracted to the personality and the teaching of the Buddha ; and, was impressed by the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas: “Do not accept my words only because they come from me. Reflect on them and accept them only in case you find them acceptable.” Later, Sankrityayana, in turn, advised his students “Do not accept scripture or tradition. Accept only what you learn with your own mind and agree with that.”

His favorite line from the Buddha was: “I’ve used ideas as boats to cross the river with, not to carry them around upon my head.” It was this attitude that made him embrace Arya Samaja, Buddhism, Theravada, Mahayana, monasticism, communism, and lay life in turn. He was ready to accept change; he refused to be tied sown to a fixed idea or to an ideal.

He was convinced that Buddhism, far from being different from or antagonistic to, Vedic ideas and ideals, was in fact a part and an extension of Vedic tradition and its  way of thinking. Buddhism , he said, was very much a voice from within the Hindu fold. Sankrityayana argued that his conversion to Buddhism was for him, not a change from one religion to another, but just a change in emphasis on certain things.

He explained, the Buddha himself said what he taught was the Veda and Upanishads (esa vedopanisado). The principles were there; but , the method of reaching those principles was what the Buddha discovered. This was the original contribution of the Buddha to human weal and welfare.

He quoted , in his support, the great Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta (c.620 AD) “The Buddhist denominations and other faiths are all derived from the Upanishads. And inasmuch as they advocate the withdrawal of one’s excessive attachment to objects of sense-pleasure, they are all authentic and praiseworthy.”

For some reason, Sankrityayana did not seem to think highly of Yoga or meditation. He called them “indulgence of old men.” That, coming from a former monk truly queered the pitch among the orthodox Buddhists.

He was not free from controversies in other areas too. He was accused of using history as a vehicle to carry his Marxist ideologies. For instance, the Gupta era is regarded the golden age; a very prosperous era during which the arts, literature,   culture and economy in general flourished. But , Sankritiyayana tried to project it as an age of tyranny and oppression. He seemed to argue that “suppression was the foundation of economic progress in history. How could an Empire be prosperous unless its common people are exploited? ”. In a way, he was the forerunner of historians like Romilla Thapar, RS Sharma and a few others.

Kamala_Sankrityayan Late in life, Sankrityayana married, for the third time. He married Dr. Kamala (1920-2009) , a Nepali lady of Indian origin. She, in her own right , was a highly regarded and  a well known Nepali  and Hindi writer, Scholar and Translator . They had a daughter (Jaya) and a son (Jeta).

For a stretch of time he settled down to a quiet married life with Kamala and their two children – Jaya and Jeta – in the   placid and cool Hill-town of Mussoorie , often described as the Queen of  Hills . They resided in a house (Hern Lee Cottage) in  the picturesque Happy Valley that was provided by one of his admirers – Smt. , Kamlendu Mati Shah, who belonged to the royal family of Tehri. These were ,  perhaps, some his happiest years of his life.

Thereafter, Sankrityayana  accepted a teaching job (as a professor of Buddhism)  at Vidyalankara Pirivena, in Sri Lanka, (which eventually emerged in to the University of Kelaniya in 1978), where he fell seriously ill. Memory loss, diabetes, high blood pressure and a mild stroke struck him down .

Rahula Sankrityayana (1893-1963), the stormy petrel of Indian intellectual world, described as a ‘polyglot and world traveler’; ‘a lover of Himalayas who went beyond Himalayas and became one with those ranges’ ; and, ‘a liberal humanist ever in search of knowledge  and an insatiable quest for freedom’ , was  one of the most widely traveled scholars, who spent forty-five years of his life on travel and away from home, searching for India’s soul and a meaning to his existence; died , at the age of seventy , in Darjeeling, in 1963.

-Rahul-Sankrityayan-Stamp

[ Please also check the opening paragraphs of MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part One]

Pipal

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahapandit_Rahul_Sankrityayan

http://www.kamat.com/jyotsna/blog/rahul_sankrityayan.htm

http://www.frif.com/new2006/angr.html

http://www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv6n1/index.htm

 
13 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Rahula Sankrityayana

 

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