It is an undeniable fact that today’s corporate India is intoxicated with the idea of the digital. It is on the fast track to transforming all things into digital. In such an environment, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh — Raghuvansh Babu in friendly circles — sent his resignation to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad on September 10, hand-written on paper. Lalu Prasad too responded on paper, by hand.
This particular exchange of hand-written letters is revealing at a time when politics has been corporatised and politicians give crores of rupees to advertising firms to print glossy publicity material. The letters exchanged between two down-to-earth leaders suggest that thrift and simplicity in politics and governance should be the only option acceptable in a country burdened by poverty and unemployment.
Lalu Prasad wrote back to Raghuvansh Babu that he (Raghuvansh Babu) is not going anywhere, that is, the RJD will not let him leave. But preparations were already made to go by Raghuvansh Babu. Everyone has to depart from this mundane world. Raghuvansh Babu’s family, friends and loved ones will regret that he was frustrated and hurt at the time of leaving. At the end of his life, his conduct once again illuminated the political personality he had carved out through a long political struggle.
India’s socialist movement, in which Raghuvansh Babu was groomed, ended politically with the merger of the Socialist Party with the Janata Party in 1977. Since then, some pieces of that movement have been floating in mainstream politics. The RJD happens to be one of them. Raghuvansh Babu was in the RJD since its formation. He always supported Lalu Prasad. Some people wonder how Raghuvansh Babu, coming from a privileged caste and with a PhD in Mathematics, fitted in with the backward castes politics Lalu Prasad pursued in a blunt manner.
The reason can be found in the socialist movement itself. Rammanohar Lohia used to tell forward castes in the socialist movement that they would have to work to build a leadership of people born in backward castes. Raghuvansh Babu, who was associated with the legendary Karpoori Thakur, worked to further the leadership of Lalu Prasad. He did not promote his children in politics, nor did he make politics a means of accumulation. People close to him say that feudal arrogance had not even touched his personality. It is ironic that almost all backward caste and Dalit leaders, including Lalu Prasad, cultivated a feudal arrogance and conduct as soon as they get power and eventually, became its prey.
Although Raghuvansh Babu was active in electoral politics throughout his career, he was well aware that a group of socialists were engaged in the struggle of building an alternative politics against the onslaught of neo-liberalism. After socialist leader Kishan Patnaik (1930-2004), the theorist of that political stream, passed away in Bhubaneswar, a condolence meeting was held in Delhi. The meeting was attended by political activists and intellectuals in large numbers. Raghuvansh Babu attended the condolence meeting and paid his tribute to Kishanji in a sober and quiet manner. He was the only leader from mainstream socialist politics to do so.
Besides the resignation from the RJD, Raghuvansh Babu wrote three more letters — one to the general reader, and two to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on the same day. In his letter written for the common public, Raghuvansh Babu cited one of Lohia’s ideas — “politics means fighting evil, religion means doing good”. One of the issues mentioned in the letter was that the RJD posters, which once had the pictures of five inspiring leaders — Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Lohia, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Karpoori Thakur — now carried the photographs of five members of the Lalu family. This remark was a sort of confession that there was no point in continuing with the RJD’s current avatar of socialism! Raghuvansh Babu was committed to the version of socialism, as he mentioned in the letter, that was against “feudalism, casteism, dynasty-rule, family rule and communalism”.
Raghuvansh Babu, you worked with utmost honesty, devotion and commitment. Even while pursuing power politics, there was an aura of socialism in your persona. While working with a prime minister committed to neoliberal ideas, you crafted the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the benefit of poor masses in rural India. The scheme is helping them in the troubling times of pandemic to some extent. You, being a true inheritor of JP, Lohia and Karpoori Thakur, upheld socialist values and ideals at a time a neo-liberal-communal nexus has gained ground. My deep respects and humble tribute to your memory.
(The author teaches Hindi at the University of Delhi)