26. Lohia: Democracy Sanjay Kumar – Indian Political Thought, 2nd Edition


Lohia: Democracy

Sanjay Kumar

Ram Manohar Lohia believed that self-realization or self-development or complete development of personality was possible in an atmosphere of freedom. So, liberty was the necessary condition for the attainment of human awareness or self-realization. Further, the enjoyment of freedom was possible only in an atmosphere of equality. Therefore, liberty was inseparable from equality. Liberty and equality were the two sides of the same coin. The existence of one was impossible without the other. A society in which men were given an equal opportunity of self-realization was also a society where there was liberty. Moreover, the fulfilment of equality was possible only under the state. So the present study is an attempt to critically draw together Lohia’s ideas regarding freedom, equality and state.

The Concept of Freedom

Lohia divided freedom into two parts: the first part was connected with non-property matters and the second one connected with property. He gave full freedom to individuals in non-property matters. He asserted:


Rights of privacy and freedom must be recognized in all those spheres, which are not directly connected with property.1


However, Lohia did not give us a comprehensive list of non-property matters or those matters which concerned the private life of individuals. He simply mentioned that there were certain spheres of life that had to be free from the control of the state, government, organizations and groups. Individuals should be free from all sorts of control in the sphere of housekeeping, entertainment, marriage, livelihood, etc. Every individual should enjoy full liberty in choosing the membership of any political party. Lohia strongly supported every individual’s right to commit suicide. So he was a through individualist in non-property matters.

Lohia further argued that ‘Rights of privacy in the sphere of housekeeping or entertainment, for instance, may have indirect effects on the institution of property. What is then to be done? One must be ready to take risks. It should for instance not be permissible to encroach on privacy on the ground that sentiments rather than the institution of property would be encouraged’.2

The second part of Lohia’s freedom was basically connected with property. Lohia did not allow full freedom to individuals in those spheres which were directly connected with property, because, ‘… no direct connection between property and privacy seems logically to be necessary’.3 But, democrats and capitalists insist that recognition of the rights of privacy must necessarily permit property and its rewards in some form. It means that they believe in the right of privacy in the field of property also. Lohia disagreed with this view. He also rejected the communist ownership of property because it ‘has led to encroachment on privacy on all kinds of relationships from child-bearing to making of speeches’.4 Therefore, both the communist and capitalist systems have failed to give us a correct or balanced concept of individual freedom which involves individual good and social good as well. Lohia tried to reconcile individual good and social good by allowing full freedom to individuals in non-property matters and by permitting state or government control over the sphere of property. But, how far did he succeed in this direction? It needs proper evaluation and thorough discussion.

However, the line of distinction between property and non-property matters is extremely hard to draw. Moreover, he gave the right of committing suicide to every man and woman and even to children, which cannot be defended because an individual’s life is related to his or her relatives. Sudden loss of his or her life may relieve him or her of all worries for ever but at the same time it creates many social problems. His or her dependents become a social liability. Therefore, at no cost, can the right to commit suicide be granted to any one, if he or she is a social animal.

Lohia supported full freedom in the sphere of non-property matters. Such unlimited freedom cannot be justified because it would create chaos and anarchy in the society. And in absence of a comprehensive list of non-property matters and an authority, every individual would interpret and claim his freedom or privacy with regard to non-property matters, in different ways, which would finally result incomplete lawlessness. Therefore, some restraints of the state or organizations or groups, in the sphere of non-property matters also, should be allowed in the interests of individual and society both. It was not necessary that all individuals would always act wisely, honestly and selflessly. At the same time state control in the spheres which were directly connected with property should be relaxed as the social good may remain a dream in absence of individual interest in the growth of national economy.

Lohia’s argument rested upon a negative conception of liberty. He was convinced that human personality could develop and expand only in an atmosphere of freedom. From this it naturally followed that for him liberty consisted of the absence of external restraint; the best thing for the individual was that he be left alone to do what he deemed best, at least in the spheres of non-property matters.

Furthermore, Lohia believed in the maxim that the individual was not responsible to society for his action in so far as they concerned the interest of no person but himself. This clearly involved the view of society as a collection or aggregate of self-seeking individuals, and of the social good as nothing more than the sum total of their separate satisfactions. Therefore, Lohia considered an individual as an end in the sphere of freedom of non-property matters. And, ultimately society became a means to an end. Moreover, in the second part of freedom, an individual was regarded as a means and the society as an end.

For Lohia, freedom was for the development of individuality, and individuality was both a personal and social good. Individual development must have a social value. The freedom of the individual good in itself should also be a means to the happiness of society as a whole.

Lohia wanted to give the backward peoples or races the benefit of liberty. He was a staunch supporter of liberty to backward peoples. He wanted to give preferential opportunity to them for a certain period.

Lohia considered individual initiative from the viewpoint of social progress, and hence he saw the need for proper checks upon the individual freedom. He reacted against the over-centralization of government administration. He believed that an organization should be much more flexible, more relieved by local autonomy, and less oppressive to the individual. Although, he seemed to be a socialist when he opposed capitalism and showed his concern for economic equality to the individual, he did not like the idea of too much state control. As he was primarily an individualist, he retained the idea of individual initiative and freedom.

To Lohia, individuals were the rational beings, and hence they had to work for themselves. They had to be granted proper opportunities for the development of their life. Freedom was freedom not for animal wishes and desires, but for social good. The freedom of the individual was confined to the realization of self-consciousness. Man attained moral freedom when he remained aware of others while considering his own interests. Thus Lohia discussed individual liberty in the context of other individuals in society. For him, individual good was necessarily a social good. There was no difference between moral action and a social action. A moral action, he argued, was always an action based on reason. And our action was reasonable when it was performed with reference to other individuals.

Limitations on Freedom

Lohia asserted that we could not escape state planning or socialization. Even in extreme capitalist societies, some types of sickness insurance or unemployment relief have become obligatory. ‘State investment in regions and industries which do not attract private capital, is becoming fairly general. Planning to do good may therefore be expected to increase, more so in lands of poverty and scarce capital. With that will increase encroachment on privacy’.5 However, he was against state planning the basis of which lay in compulsion of any planning and involved freedom of individual. Therefore, top priority had to be given to the preservation of individual freedom and initiative.

It is difficult to make a demarcation between individual good and social good. What is the due proportion between the liberty of each individual and the liberty of all? How can one man enjoy freedom without subtracting from the freedom of another, and how much should each surrender to the other in order to create the ‘Greatest Common Measure’ for the totality? In one form or another, this is the riddle of the Sphinx which runs through all political theory. And a solution has not yet evolved.

Moreover, it is impossible to define with precision the spheres of personal liberty and collective control, and it has been implied that the demarcation of those spheres may and does vary from age to age. Furthermore, it is unquestionable that in the delicate balance between individual good and social good or moral personality and civic responsibility, there is a constant danger that either the one or the other may be exaggerated.

Resistance Against the State

Lohia permitted individuals the right of resistance against authority. He permitted it wherever and whenever an individual’s freedom was in danger; or excessive state interference created an obstacle in the path of the development of individual personality on the one hand and social progress on the other.

This right of resistance against authority creates many problems which remain unsolved. Firstly, it is difficult to draw a line between legitimate and illegitimate state interference in the individual freedom. Secondly, the question arises as to who is competent enough to draw this line, the individual, society, state or government. Thirdly, the right of resistance of every individual may create chaos and anarchy in the society; because someone may misuse the power. Fourthly, in the absence of a clear demarcation between legitimate and illegitimate state interference every individual may claim himself to be right and declare society to be wrong. As a result, the individual and society will both be in constant struggle for the right claim. Therefore, his right of resistance is vague.

The Concept of Equality

The popular meaning of the term equality is that all men are equal and all should be entitled to identical treatment and income. Those who subscribe to this meaning of equality assert that all men are born equal and nature has willed them to remain so. Lohia was against this popular meaning of the term equality. He opined:


The desire for equality in the modern world has become the desire for being similar and not equal. The effort to be equal both in the collective and individual spheres will be corrupted if it simply becomes the desire to be alike.6


Lohia said that real freedom was not possible either in capitalism or communism, because capitalism bred inequalities on the one hand and communism killed the spirit of individual freedom on the other. Therefore, both the systems are inimical to the true spirit of democracy which signifies both liberty and equality. Lohia wanted to establish a democratic-socialist society which would constantly move on the axis of liberty and equality; liberty thus implied equality. Liberty and equality are neither in conflict nor even separate, but are different facets of the same ideal. As Lohia opined:


Freedom and bread are inseparable. At least in Asia, and neither communism nor capitalism can supply these two articles to us … I would suggest that Asia can be saved from communism only if it is saved from capitalism and feudalism.7


The removal of inequality from human society was one of the seven revolutions of Lohia. He pointed out that ‘… the poorer the country, the greater is the inequality within it’.8 He further observed that ‘… conscience dies in lands where the gulf is so wide that the eye prefers to avert its gaze’.9 Lohia was firm in his thought that capitalist society bred inequality which proved antithetical to freedom. Similarly, he disliked the communistic system which was based on fear; whereas, the capitalist system worked under the temptation of profit. ‘Such systems, which depend on temptation and fear for their dynamism and growth, must inevitably breed inequality. Inequality has thus come to be regarded as a part of human nature. Capitalism, when it is not decaying, glories in what it calls the humanity of inequality’.10

Lohia was an exponent of socialism. He believed in the system of socialism. He criticised capitalism and communism on the ground that both the systems failed to prepare the soil for the germination of the seeds of liberty and equality evenly. Therefore, Lohia preferred the system of socialism which believed in the equal growth and development of liberty and equality. According to him:


If socialism is to be defined in two words then they are equality and prosperity. I do not know if this definition has been given earlier at any time. If so, I could call it the best definition given so far.11


For Lohia, ‘Equality and prosperity are twins’.12 He observed that all parts of the world all were becoming prosperous. Centuries of dirt and filth had accumulated in India. There was only one way left to make this country prosperous and that was the way of equality. ‘Here equality is the means and prosperity the end’.13 He further said that whether the system was capitalist or socialist, industrialization was not possible without capital. In a poor and diseased country like India, capital could be formed only through the way of equality. ‘Capitalism cannot perform its own functions here. Capitalism cannot create capital. Prosperity can come only through equality’.14

Lohia asserted that liberty and equality were not in conflict or even separate but different facets of the same ideal. However, if by liberty we mean unrestrained freedom for every individual to satisfy his appetite for wealth and power, it will result in degeneration of the social order by concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few to the disadvantage of the many. Great inequalities of wealth make impossible the attainment of freedom for the less fortunate. Those who are wealthy and control the government use their authority in perpetuating the inequalities. This hampers freedom as men are deprived of the opportunities they need for that adequate self-expression and self-development which goes with freedom. Equality, which aims to put an end to the glaring contrasts in wealth and power, is really the true basis of liberty. Freedom means security and security demands the disappearance of those inequalities that place the weak at the mercy of the strong.

According to Lohia, injustice and inequality were prevalent throughout the world; but the Afro-Asian states were more afflicted than the Euro-American States. He wanted to establish such a socialist society where justice and equality would become the way of life. He has mentioned repeatedly in his writings, the seven types of injustices and inequalities against which revolutions were taking place throughout the world. These revolutions are:

  1. For equality between man and woman
  2. Against political, economic and spiritual inequality based on skin colour
  3. Against inequality of backward and high groups or castes based on long tradition, and for giving special opportunities to the backward
  4. Against foreign enslavement and for freedom and democratic rule all over the world
  5. For economic equality and planned production and against the existence of an attachment for private capital
  6. Against unjust encroachments on private life and for democratic methods
  7. Against weapons and for Satyagraha15

The removal of these seven types of inequalities and injustices cannot be possible unless people know the true concept of equality. Lohia said the achievement of equality was difficult not only because of the current existence of inequality but also because of certain errors of thought. ‘Equality, for instance is not equality in food, which is difficult and unwholesome. An equal portion of food means the equality of prison, a fixed ration. This example should have no meaning beyond showing that the concept of equality must be well understood to bear fruit’.16

Equality: Abstract and Concrete

Now the fundamental question arises—what is equality? To Lohia, it was difficult to give an exact definition of equality. Lohia did not follow the academic definition of equality which meant equality of opportunity. He considered and examined equality in many forms and meanings. He interpreted equality in terms of abstract and concrete. The real meaning of equality cannot be understood, unless we know the relationship between abstract and concrete. There are two forms of equality—(i) abstract and (ii) concrete. As Lohia observed:


As an abstract concept and generalisation equality can only mean an atmosphere, an emotion, and perhaps also a wish that all arrangements, political, social, or economic, shall be equal as between one individual and another.17


It means that the general and abstract concept of equality has no meaning. It merely signifies an atmosphere, an emotion, a wish, or a dream. Lohia said that this general and abstract equality must be expressed in particular and concrete terms; and only then equality would have meaning to human beings. As he asserts:


The essential point is that equality, unless it is expressed in concrete terms, is an atmosphere, an emotion, a wish, or a dream.18


According to Lohia, the ideal appeared in the human mind in two shapes. One was abstract and the other concrete. An abstract ideal had a concrete shape although it remained an ideal still. It happened at times that a general idea failed to get a concrete shape, and then it became meaningless.

He further explained that the abstract ideal related to general desires. Democracy, justice, equality, and the ending of exploitation by man of man were such general ideals. They had powerfully motivated human minds. They were purely abstract and eternal, although the content of these abstractions has been changing from time to time. ‘It is only when the ideal appears in a concrete shape that it can influence human action’.19 It is obvious that an ideal has no meaning unless it is expressed in concrete form. The ideal in its abstract form motivates thought and its concrete form motivates action. Lohia said that both were interdependent. The one cannot survive without the other. As Lohia opined:


Thus the ideal in abstract form motivates thought and its concrete form motivates action. The one cannot live without the other and, if it does it stinks. In order to link the general ideal to the current reality, it must have a concrete image. The abstract must first be translated into be concrete in order to be standard for measuring the current reality.20


Similarly, a general and abstract equality has no meaning unless it is translated into a particular and concrete equality. As Lohia observed:


Abstract equality, for instance, must continually be brought into relationship with concrete equality, and other generalisations must be treated similarly.21


Equality is a generalised concept, universally valid. It must acquire a definite content before being practiced. ‘Socialism has tried to put a meaning into it by way of income ceilings, restricted land holdings, and the like’.22 To Lohia, the general concept of equality was an atmosphere, a wish, a dream, unless it was translated into concrete equality of one type or another with definite meaning, like equality before the law, the equality of food subsidy, a servant possessing a house, children’s allowance, unemployment allowance, old age pension and the like. These are all concrete ideas of equality, the welfare state in practice. People talking of a welfare state in India just do not know what it means.23

The abstract and the concrete should be so understood in their relationship that con-nection with reality is not lost, nor are concrete requirements stated in such low terms that the objective ever remains a distant peak. ‘Maximum and immediate attainability relevant to the current situation in relationship to the ideal is the touchstone. To realise the ideal of economic equality, state craft requires such a concrete concept as is based on maximum and immediate attainability of the cherished end’.24 Lohia further opined that the concrete must be relevant to the time and the area. It must try to approximate the general to the maximum possible extent but always in such a fashion that it appeared possible and reasonable.

Thus, equality should be studied in its both forms—abstract and concrete. The abstract equality and the concrete equality are neither identical nor independent but both are interrelated and inter–dependent. Therefore, both should constantly interact and interplay. It is their very nature makes the concept of equality more meaningful, vivid, living, practical and realistic. As Lohia opined:


Mankind has now reached the stage when its mind must naturally recognise as separate the two identities of the abstract and the concrete but most constantly enact their interaction and interplay.25


Equality: Inward and Outward, Material and Spiritual

Lohia has used the term equality in four other meanings. Equality is found to be inward and outward as well as spiritual and material. Lohia argued that the feeling of inward equality and outward equality could be developed by spiritual training or refinement of culture. Through constant training, man may acquire a state in which he will both know and see his experience of victory and defeat or pleasure and pain. He will undoubtedly feel the joy or the sorrow, as it is difficult to see how a person who is aware can make himself insensitive to outward happenings. ‘Such a man will not practice deceit neither lie nor murder and his soul shall increasingly free itself of fear or pride or urge to exploit’.26

Similarly, material equality must mean the outward approximation among nations as well as the inward approximation within the nation. Spiritual equality must mean outward kinship as much as it means inward equanimity. For the purpose of concretization of equality, material equality, spiritual equality, inward equality and outward equality should always go parallel to each other. Lohia was of the view:


Only an integrated concept of these four meanings of equanimity, kinship, material equality within the nation and among nations is worthy to become a supreme aim of life and its purpose.27


Theoretically the four meanings of equality are sound and desirable but a question may be raised that the extension of spiritual and inward equality to the whole mankind is impractical, because, it is beyond the capacity of common people to cultivate themselves the feeling of inward and spiritual equality with the help of spiritual training or refinement of culture. However, Lohia rejected the question and supported his theory:


… for such a tranquillity has ever in the past been possible to those who have prepared themselves for it. Why should it not be possible to all or almost all of mankind?28


Keeping in his mind the structure of the Indian society, Lohia advocated preferential opportunity in place of equal opportunity for women, Adivasis, Harijans, shudras, and Backwards who constitute ninety percent of the population of India. Indeed, these communities in India are socially, economically, educationally and politically backward. Even nine out of the ten percent of the so called Dvija (high caste) are also backward in all respects. So, according to Lohia, ninety-nine percent population of India needed preferential treatment. And this preferential opportunity demanded, ‘… the securing of sixty percent of leadership posts in Government, political parties, business and the armed services, by law or by convention, to the backward castes and group namely women, shudras, Harijans, Adivasis and the lower castes among religious minorities …’29

However, Lohia wanted to remove economic disparity from the society. Equality was the solution for this problem. Equality did not mean similarity or alikeness. It meant that the basic needs of human life had to be fulfilled. Lohia was of the view that total equality was neither possible nor desirable. National wealth could be distributed equally among people. Some measure of inequality is bound to exist. Equality meant approximation of wealth and income. As Lohia opined:


Some measure of inequality is indeed endemic to all people. The total national produce of a country is nowhere evenly divided among its population nor is property equally owned. Among the white people, however, there is a trend towards approximation of wealth and income.30


Lohia felt that the state had to provide the minimum standard of civilised life for all its members. He advocated ‘basic minimum’ for all men. By ‘basic minimum’ he meant, particularly, an economic minimum necessary for a decent living of the individual. Through economic minimum which he also interpreted as economic equality, he wanted to assure economic security to the individual necessary for his self-realization. Lohia wanted to maintain proportional equality in the fulfilment of the primary needs of life. Minimum food, clothes, housing, medicine and education must be provided to all men of the society. Lohia was very impressed with the civic minimum of European countries. He wanted to restore this civic minimum in India. According to him:


From the point of view of basic essentials of life, namely, minimum food, minimum clothes, and in a sense minimum housing, Europeans have thus been provided a basis of equality within the nation.31


For Lohia equality and freedom were inseparable. Freedom is a dream in absence of equality. Therefore, equality is the pre-condition of freedom. Lohia preferred maximum attainable equality between man and man. And this brings equality and freedom both. As he saw it:


We seek to establish social ownership that will strive for a maximum attainable equality between man and man, and will secure bread through freedom and freedom through bread.32


Equality: Legal, Political and Economic

Like an academician Lohia also examined different kinds of equality. Firstly, legal equality has been established throughout the world. ‘Legal equality is equality before the law. In a law court, the judge is not expected to recognise difference in social status between one individual and another, and applies a single law irrespective of their social situation. The law of the theft, for instance, operates an all men alike. The rich man may in certain situations obtain the benefit of the doubt by employing skilled counsel, although the judge may be highly scrupulous’.33

Secondly, ‘Once legal equality was established, the phase of political equality came. Political equality means the equality of the adult vote. Until recently the vote was tied up with property and educational qualifications, and the woman’s vote is comparatively recent acquisition’.34

Thirdly, economic equality is basically related to political equality. Political equality carries no meaning in the absence of economic equality. He views that domestic institutions and political equality will prove ridiculous in absence of economic equality. ‘Their parliamentary system gets poisoned with privilege and votes are too dumb or listen to make effective use of their vote’.35 It is clear from this argument that economic equality is a precondition for political equality.

Methods of Equality

Now the fundamental question arises as to how equality could be realised in different spheres. Lohia recommended three methods—‘Compulsion, persuasion and examples are the three time honoured modes of change’.36 For instance, vegetarianism must under no circumstances go beyond the mode of personal example. Non-smoking and non-drinking can be put into practice by the methods of example and persuasion. The mode of personal example appears to be universal in application, whereas, persuasion has a comparatively smaller scope. A government practices compulsion through the law, and an opposition practices compulsion through civil-disobedience. Personal example must be concerned with precept and practice in one’s own life. The example of one man cannot bring equality. Man must make efforts individually and collectively for bringing equality in society. Society is composed of individuals. Any change in the society depends upon the character of people.

Measures for the Achievement of Equality

Lohia recommended an eleven-point programme or measure which would be helpful in bringing equality in Indian society:

  1. Primary education of uniform standard type and the expenditure on schools and the salaries of the teacher should be uniform. All privileged schools for primary education should be closed down.
  2. Uneconomic holdings should be exempted from taxes and land revenue. It is quite possible that as a result land taxes and land revenue might be replaced by agricultural income tax.
  3. A five- to seven-year plan should be drawn up to provide irrigation water to all agricultural land. This water should be provided either free or at such minimum cost or credit that every peasant may use it for his land.
  4. English, as a medium, should be removed from all sectors of public life.
  5. No person should be allowed to spend more than one thousand rupees per month.
  6. There should be one class for all passengers in the railways for the coming two decades.
  7. For the coming twenty years, all the capacity of the automobile industry should be utilised for the manufacture of buses, tractors, or taxis and the manufacture of cars, for private use must stop.
  8. Price fluctuation of any one crop should not exceed more than twenty percent and the selling price of an essential industrial commodity should not be more than one and half times its cost.
  9. Sixty percent preferential opportunity should be given to the backward communities, i.e., the Adivasis, harijans, women and the backward castes among the Hindus and non-Hindus. Obviously, this principle of preferential opportunity does not apply to such vocations as require special skill, e.g., surgery, but executive or legislative functions cannot be counted as such
  10. Ownership of more than two houses should be nationalised
  11. Effective distribution of land and control over its price’37

The Concept of Four-Pillar State

According to Lohia, human awareness was possible in an atmosphere of liberty. Liberty requires equality and the fulfilment of equality is possible under the state. Lohia agreed with Aristotle that the state was inevitable for the attainment of good life. However his treatment of the state was not academic but realistic and it was based on actual functions which the state performed in society. The state worked for attaining social justice which meant, according to him, the welfare of all the individuals based on equality and freedom.

Now, the fundamental question arises-on what principle should the state be based? Lohia was a bitter critic of principles of capitalism and communism, but he liked the political aims of capitalism—individual freedom, democracy, human rights, constitutional method and world peace; and the economic aims of Marxism or Communism—socialization of all the means of production, abolition of private property and cessation of the oppression and exploitation of man by man. He also preferred the Gandhian ideas of decentralised economy and political system, and non-violent method. However Lohia interpreted these fundamental concepts in a different way and gave them a new colour. As Lohia opined,


I believe that it is silly to be a Gandhian or Marxist and it is equally so to be an anti—Gandhian or anti—Marxist. There are priceless treasures to learn from Gandhi as from Marx, but the learning can only be done when the frame of reference does not derive from an age or a person.38


Similarly, Communism basically differs from Socialism. The former believes in stateless society whereas the latter retains state. Lohia beautifully pointed out their difference, ‘Communism is equal to socialism minus democracy, plus centralization, plus civil war, plus Russia’.39

Democracy and Socialism

Lohia considered democracy and socialism as the two sides of the same coin. There could be no socialism without democracy. He evolved a theory of limited personality of individual, party, government and state. To quote him, ‘Democracy in all circumstances shall be the sheet-anchor of the ideas and programmers of socialism. Democracy means the inevitable answerability of administration to elected assembly. It also means recognition and respect of the limited personality of individual, party, government and state-four categories, which together constitute the agencies of political action’.40 He further considered democracy as not a manner of speech in regard to some values generalised beyond meaning, but a guide to action on the basis of certain concrete principles that sought to actualise the democratic ideal. Decentralization of political and economic power is the basic foundation of democracy. To him, ‘… The greatest single quality of democracy in the present age is decentralization and its meaning must be fixed both in terms of defined political power belonging to small units of direct democracy and economic arrangements and technology that would give the working man greater understanding of control over productive process’.41

Lohia believed that political democracy remained a wish in the absence of economic democracy. He further argued that democracy was not merely a question of political rights and people’s participation in government. Particularly since the First World War, democracy had come to mean more and more social and economic justice, equal opportunity, industrial democracy.

Democracy and socialism are interdependent. However, different theories of socialism and different pictures of a socialist society have been presented from time to time by socialist thinkers and workers. But all socialists accept certain common principles of socialism, at least in theory. These common principles of socialism are the following—Socialization and modernization of the means of production, maximum equality, cessation of the exploitation of man by man, abolition of private property, elimination of capitalism, individual freedom, democratic set-up, resistance by peaceful and constitutional methods and world peace.

Lohian socialism was basically meant to bring about changes and improvements in the economic and political fields of the Indian environment. Lohia defined socialism in terms of ‘equality’ and ‘prosperity’. To quote him,


If socialism is to be defined in two words then they are, equality and prosperity. I do not know if this definition has been given earlier at any time. If so, I would call it the best definition given so far. The meaning of socialism is ingrained in these two words: concrete meaning in terms of time and place, and total meaning in terms of ideals.42


On the basis of this definition of socialism, Lohia claimed his socialism as distinct from European socialism which had failed to acquire a face of its own, distinct from capitalist democracy and Russian communism. His socialism was new, regenerated and liberated from the traditional stains of socialism. Therefore, it alone would be capable of becoming, even among the least organised groups, a massive and victorious instrument of the liberation of man and masses.

The aims of Lohian socialism are the following:

  1. ‘Maximum attainable equality and justice tempered by equality
  2. A decent standard of living which, while avoiding the double impasse of capitalistic and dialectical materialism, will tend to establish complete harmony between the material and moral needs of man
  3. An industrial and agricultural technique and its judicious organization, subjected to man and conducive to his entire physical, intellectual and moral development
  4. The decentralization of political and economic power so as to make it easily available to the common man, and restriction of bureaucracy by the encouragement of cooperation in all domains particularly in the domain of production, distribution and consumption of national produce’.43

According to Lohia, his concept of democracy and socialism would germinate and flourish under the Four-Pillar state which had proved a contribution in the field of political theory. As Lohia observed,


Democracy can bring warmth to the blood of the common man only when constitutional theory starts practising the state of four limbs, the village, the district, the province, and the centre. Organically covered by the flesh and blood of equalities …, this constitutional skeleton of the four-pillar state can bring to democracy joyous fulfilment.44


Lohia expressed dissatisfaction with the then political administrative systems of India. He argued that the political and administrative institutions were not in tune with the traditional life of India. And those institutions were based on foreign elements which were detrimental to the growth of a strong and healthy India. Although borrowing has been a common means of social development, no borrowed institution can thrive unless it is properly acclimatised and integrated.

Lohia was critical of the hierarchical principle of the Indian administration, which leaned on the concentration of power. As he observed, ‘through various forms of political organization which mankind has hitherto evolved, the hierarchical principle has almost always come on top. Whether in a monarchy, a dictatorship or a democracy, power tends to get concentrated in a few centres and in a few persons and the hierarchy of less and lesser power is then built up’.45

The hierarchical principle applied to the Indian administration is against the spirit of democracy and socialism. Under a democratic state, people should get more power and the officers should be allowed to enjoy less power. It is a fact that only a negligible part of the educated middle class and even among them only those directly engaged in political activity, are involved in the working of our democracy. Therefore, the hierarchical base of the administration must be converted into a broad based one. The mere fact that every adult Indian has the right to vote does not make the administration broad-based. The millions of individual and desperate voters are like a heap of particles of sand that can never be a foundation for any structure. The particles must be united to form bricks or encased within concrete moulds to able to act as foundation stones.

Lohia stood for the division of sovereignty at many levels of administration. He rejected the concepts of omnipotent and omnicompetent state. The state must possess limited powers. The hands of common people must be strengthened. He firmly held the view that only decentralization of powers guaranteed individual freedom and strengthened the base of democracy. Lohia finally concluded,


… the dictatorial or hierarchical principle can never put life into the mass of the people, for they have sunk very low, and are utterly disorganised and are yet very numerous.46


Federal Structure

Lohia further criticised the federal structure of the Indian administrative system. He did not reject the principle of federalism, but he wanted to broaden the jurisdiction of federalism. The present federal system sets up two tier states, the centre and the federating units. Lohia disliked the two–pillar structure of the state. He argued that local self governments did not derive their powers from the state constitution, but powers had been conferred on municipalities and rural governments by the Acts of the legislature and parliament. These powers are very limited in nature. Therefore, they neither have legislative powers nor even executive powers in the real sense of the terms. As Lohia opined:


… they are a conferment from top and are not a part of the organic law of any land. They are certainly no legislative powers and not even executive in any full way.47

As a result, in such constitutional framework, it is not possible for an ordinary citizen, … to take an intelligent or effective part in the total affairs of his country.48


Local self-government is supposed to be the nursery of democracy. It is the foundation stone of democracy. If we want to make the democratic foundation strong in India, we have to make the local-self governments organic parts of the constitution. They must enjoy legislative and executive powers by the constitution of the land itself, because they are the primary institutions of the country, where common people actively participate in the administration. Lohia contended that sovereignty should be exercised at all levels of administration. The main administrative centres must be empowered with sovereign powers and be free to exercise those powers. Therefore, Lohia stood for the decentralization of political power. To him,


As to the decentralisation of political power, the principle may be laid down straight away as one of the maximum divisible powers to the village or the city consistent with the integrity and unity of the country.49


Lohia’s intention was to give more powers to villagers, so that they could realise the value of Swaraj. The transfer of powers to villagers may become the stepping stone for the realization of democratic socialism in India. Lohia firmly said,


If it is acknowledged that the individual residing in his village where he can practice democracy of the first grade will be given abundant powers so as to decide his own destiny that principle is accomplished.50


The Four-Pillar State: The Village, the District, the Province and the Centre

Now the question arises as to how to solve the problems of the Indian administration? Lohia said that decentralization of powers and active participation of people in administration could be a reality, unless some novelties were introduced. He found the solution for all the problems in changing the present two-tier administration into the Four-Pillar state. Therefore, he gave a new theory to the realm of administration. He discussed his concept of the Four-Pillar state which comprised of the village, the district, the province and the centre with sovereign powers and would be, according to him, created by the constitution itself. All these four limbs of the state would organically function interdependently. The sovereign powers must not reside alone in the centre and federating units but also with districts and villages which were the primary political institutions where a group of men and women lived and worked for the interest of the whole community. To quote Lohia,


Sovereign power must not reside alone in centre and federating units. It must be broken up and diffused over the smallest region where a group of men and women live. The next great advance in constitution making will be when a country frames its constitution on the basis of the four-pillar state, the village, the district, the province and the centre, being four pillars of equal majesty and dignity.51


Lohia explained that the Four-Pillar state was obviously not a mere executive arrangement. But all the four limbs of the state would have sovereign powers with their own jurisdiction of legislation and execution. Even the village and the district would have power of making legislation. They would also execute the laws made by the province and the centre. The present local self governments posses only executive and not legislative powers. As Lohia opined, ‘The Four-Pillar state in both a legislative and an executive arrangement’.52

He further said that the Four-Pillar state provided a structure and a way. This state was a way of life and to all spheres of human activity, for example, production, planning, education, ownership, administration and the like. It would work on the principle of community life. All its limbs would choose their own way of life. The commonalty of the state was to be so organised and sovereign power so diffused that each little community in it lived the way of life it chose. But various ways of community life would not have a completely separate existence; rather they joined one another with a sacred thread of common bond. As Lohia observed, ‘Through these various ways of life must indeed run a common bond strong enough to hand the numerous communities into a state’.53

Lohia warned that ‘… the Four-Pillar state is not to be confused with the idea of the self-sufficient village’.54 He remarked that the concept of the self-sufficient village seemed to be fantastic in the present context. The village is facing multiple problems. Human wants are multiplying day by day. Science has conquered nature, time and space. It is absurd to think of a village self-sufficient, when no part of the world can depend on its own resources in this age. Therefore, Lohia concluded that,


… the concept of self-sufficiency had better to be eliminated. The village must stay in close relationship with numerous other villages and also the world at large.55


At the same time the concept of divisible political power would have to be treated so elastically that it became capable of continual stretching consistent with the integrity of the country.

Thus, according to Lohia villages and districts would have a close relationship with one another. They would be interdependent and have numerous bonds, economic as well as cultural. And all of them would constitute a single nation, whose territorial integrity, unity and peace were to be maintained perfectly.

The Four-Pillar state would be based on the principle of division of powers. The village, the district, the province and the centre would all derive their functions and powers from the constitution of the land. Lohia enumerated certain functions of the Four-Pillar state. He himself admitted that these functions may not take practical shape but they were adequate pointers of direction and policy. He observed,


I may be permitted to indicate certain illustrations of the Four-Pillar state which may or may not turn out to be valid in practice but which are adequate pointers of direction and policy.56


He did not present a comprehensive list of functions of the Four-Pillar state but indicated certain functions which should be performed by the different limbs of the state. According to him, the armed forces of the state may be controlled by the centre, the armed police by the province but all other police may be brought under district and village control. While industries like the railways or iron and steel may be controlled by the centre, the small unit textile industry of the future may be left to district and village ownership and management. While price fixing may be a central subject, the structure of agriculture and the ratio of capital and labour in it may be left to the choice of the district and the village. Several departments through their servants, for example, those for cooperative societies, rural and agricultural development, a substantial part of irrigation, seeds, revenue collecting and the like may be transferred to the village and the district. ‘I need not add that a substantial part of state revenues should stay with the village and district’.57

Lohia in the Socialist Party’s Election Manifesto of 1962 further pointed out certain functions of the Four-Pillar state.

  1. One fourth of all governmental and plan expenditure should be through village, district and city panchayats.
  2. Police should be subordinate to village, city and district panchayats or any of their agencies.
  3. The post of Collector should be abolished and all his functions distributed among various bodies in the district. As far as possible, the principles of election should be applied in administration, instead of nominations.
  4. Agriculture, industry and other property, which is nationalised, should as far as possible, be owned and administered by village, city, and district panchayats.
  5. Economic decentralization, corresponding to political and administrative decentralization should be brought about through maximum utilization of small machines.58

Lohia said that the Four-Pillar state must possess the power of planning. Planning must not be the subject of centre alone. He preferred social ownership to mixed economy.

Lohia’s Four-Pillar state rose above the issue of regionalism. He argued that the feeling of provincial narrowness or regionalism may be subdued if the Four-Pillar state instead of the two-tier state would be established, and ‘power, including the right to choose its language of primary instruction and commerce, were given to the village community’.59 The moment the village and the district start to exercise their sovereign powers, many local problems will be automatically solved. The voices of provincial narrowness will come down.

However, Lohia considered the functioning of the Four-Pillar state in the present conditions a Herculean task. Illiteracy, fears, superstitions, castes and selfishness may create many problems on the path of the smooth functioning of the Four-Pillar state. Therefore, in the present situation, this concept may appear fantastic to many in India. However Lohia observed, ‘And yet to give him power seems the only way to deliver the people from inertia as well as an administration that is both top heavy and corrupt’.60 He expressed full faith in the proper functioning of the Four-Pillar state which would prove a panacea for all ills in the course of time. He father said, ‘… the only way to purify controls is to leave their administration to the village town and district panchayats and to take them out of the hands of legislators and government servants’.61

Under the Panchayati Raj Scheme, the village panchayats, the Panchayat Samitis and the Zila Parishads have been established as rural governments in India. However the powers of these local bodies have been tightened by administrative control and they have become servants of state governments. Village representatives have been demoralised. They act more or less like civil servants.

Lohia found inadequacies in parliamentary democracy and proletarian dictatorship as well and neither was able to prevent concentration of power and tyranny. Lohia firmly expressed the view that both the concentration of power and tyranny could be removed, only if the concept of the Four-Pillar state would be established in India. Lohia concluded:


‘By giving power to small communities of men where democracy of the first grade is possible, the four-pillar state ensures effective and intelligent democracy to the common man’.62


Lohia has not mentioned the size and population for the creation of a village and a district government. He has merely pointed out the village, the district, the province and the centre, as the four limbs of the four-pillar state. Also, he has not worked out the system of election for the four limbs of the state. He has failed to work out a detailed picture of the four-pillar state.

Similarly, he expected community life under the four-pillar state. All the four limbs of the state exercised sovereign powers. Under such a situation community life, and integrity and unity of the country seem to be doubtful. Mutual disobedience of the four limbs of the state may lead the country to the brink of ruin.

There must be a comprehensive list of functions which should distribute the different functions to the village, the district, the province and the centre under the four-pillar state. Lohia has simply mentioned functions like armed police, armed forces, railway, iron and steel and textile industries. His distribution of functions under the four limbs of the state was not clear and concrete. To quote him, ‘No precise list of federal or state or district or village or concurrent subjects can yet be drawn up’.63 He further said that ‘Experience and time and perhaps the next Constituent Assembly of India will make precise allocations’.64 Indeed the working of the four-pillar state in the absence of a precise list of functions will create many confusions and nuisances.

There is no guarantee that the four-pillar state may prove to be the Messiah in the present situation. If the two-tier system fails in India, the four-tier system may also meet the same fate. Because, as Lord Acton said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so the sovereign village and district may misuse powers. The system is not in itself bad. Its success or failure depends upon the character of man. Therefore, apart from providing a good administrative system, we should also make efforts to bring about changes in human nature.

Lohia wanted to establish village communities on the models of the ancient period. How the atomised village of today that has no collective will of its own and is completely at the mercy of selfish and exploitative interest can be integrated into a real self-governing community and made a stable foundation of Indian polity is the most important question of national reconstruction.

Lohia rejected the Western system of democracy as it does not give full scope to the people to participate in the management of their affairs and is based upon an atomised society, the state being made up of an inorganic sum of individuals. This, according to him, was both against the social nature of man and the scientific organization of society. In its place, he pleaded for a model of democracy which was based on an integrated conception of society and allowed the fullest possible scope to the individual to participate in the management of his affairs, without the intermediation of political parties.

Today, the problem is to put man in touch with man, so that they may live together in meaningful, understandable, controllable relationships. Lohia was very much impressed with the community life of the ancient Indian villages and the Greek city-states. Small size, small population, corporate life, self-sufficiency and no opposition between individual and state, were the common features of the ancient villages and the Greek city-states. He wanted to revive and organise his political systems and foundational democratic institutions on the basis of community life. Territorial contiguity of a number of families, while it is the starting point and a most important condition, does not in itself make a community. The present day Indian villages are not proper communities. They were so at one time, but now are mere territorial settlements, life in them being individualistic, rather than communal, mineral rather than organic.

He argued that caste, class, race, religion, politics all these divided men into different, often conflicting groups. But, the community brought them together, united them and harmonised their interests. In the community, agriculture, industry, capital, labour, skill, intelligence are not at loggerheads with one another but are synthesized in the service of the community.

Lohia criticized the method of planning in India. Our planning does not begin with the village and the region and go upwards, but originate from the centre, going downwards. This does not help to develop the communities, because they are not given an opportunity to plan for themselves as communities and then to coordinate their plans from level to level.

The four-pillar state stood for community life. Lohia wanted to curtail the unlimited powers of the state. He wants to give real power in the hands of common people rather than party leaders and administrators. The aim of his struggle was to decentralise the economic and political powers both, so that the foundation of democracy can become strong and people can get an opportunity to taste the fruit of swaraj.

Notes and Refrerencses

  1. Ram Manohar Lohia, Marx, Gandhi and Socialism, (Hyderabad: Nava Hind Publications, 1963,) p. Preface, XXXX.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., p. XXXIX.
  6. Ibid., p. 234.
  7. Harris Wofford, Jr: Lohia and America Meet, (Madras: Snehalata Rama Reddy, 1961), p. 81.
  8. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. XXXVII.
  9. Ibid., p. XXXVII.
  10. Ibid., p. 222.
  11. Ram Manohar Lohia, in the article ‘Equality and Prosperity’, Mankind, New Delhi, Vol. X, No.7, December 1966, p. 3.
  12. Ibid., p. 3.
  13. Ibid., p. 4.
  14. Ibid., p. 4.
  15. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 531.
  16. Ibid., pp. 232–233.
  17. Ibid., p. 227.
  18. Ibid., p. 227.
  19. Ibid., p. 212.
  20. Ibid., p. 212.
  21. Ibid., p. 218.
  22. Ibid., p. 217.
  23. Ibid., p. 229.
  24. Ibid., p. 231.
  25. Ibid., p. 232.
  26. Ibid., p. 241.
  27. Ibid., p. 241.
  28. Ibid., p. 240.
  29. Ram Manohar Lohia, The Caste System, (Hyderabad: Nava Hind Prakashan), p. 114.
  30. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. XXXVII.
  31. Ibid., p. 228.
  32. Harris Wofford, Jr: op. cit., p. 151.
  33. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 228.
  34. Ibid., p. 228.
  35. Ibid., pp. XXXVII–XXXVIII.
  36. Ibid., p. 237.
  37. Ram Manohar Lohia, ‘Equality and Prosperity’, op. cit., Vol. X, No.7, December 1966, pp. 4–5.
  38. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 1.
  39. Ram Manohar Lohia, Foreign Policy, (Aligarh: Dwadash Shrew Private Ltd., 1963), p. 49.
  40. Ram Manohar Lohia, p. 483.
  41. Ibid., p. 479.
  42. Ram Manohar Lohia, ‘Equality and Prosperity’, op. cit., Vol. X, No.7, December 1966, p. 3.
  43. Ram Manohar Lohia, Will To Power, (Hyderabad: Nava Hind Publications, 1956), pp. 91–92.
  44. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 286.
  45. Ram Manohar Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, (Calcutta: Maitrayani, 1951), p. 69.
  46. Ibid., p. 73.
  47. Ibid., p. 70.
  48. Ibid., p. 70.
  49. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 31.
  50. Ibid., p. 131.
  51. Ram Manohar Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, op. cit., p. 70.
  52. Ibid., p. 70.
  53. Ibid., p. 71.
  54. Ibid., p. 71.
  55. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., pp. 131–132.
  56. Ram Manohar Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, op. cit., p. 71.
  57. Ibid., pp. 71–72.
  58. Ram Manohar Lohia, op. cit., p. 523.
  59. Ram Manohar Lohia, Fragments of a World Mind, op. cit., p. 73.
  60. Ibid., p. 73.
  61. Ibid., p. 73.
  62. Ibid., pp. 73–74.
  63. Ibid., p. 71.
  64. Ibid., p. 71.