B.N. Mandal: The politician who lived socialism

Mandal held the view that the country’s fortunes would not change if only a handful of people continued ruling it; there would be real democracy only when the Backwards, Dalits and women got their due representation in government. He sought 60 per cent representation of these classes, besides Backward Muslims and Christians, in government

B.N. Mandal

Bihar has almost forgotten B.N. Mandal – a fighter, a passionate leader and a man who was deeply concerned about society. His remembrance has become an annual ritual, confined to the Yadavs of Madhepura. Neither the Savarna community of the state nor the OBCs and Dalits remember him. Swami Sahjanand Saraswati, Sacchidanand Sinha and Bhikhari Thakur, too, are only remembered by their respective communities – the Bhumihars, Kayasthas and Hajjams. What an irony that the memories of the social reformers who battled religious, caste-based, gender and economic inequalities all their lives remain within their their castes – as if they are the exclusive property of their respective communities. This tendency is obvious in north India, especially in political parties that have entrenched lobbies of different castes. Only the people of their castes celebrate the birth and death anniversaries of great personalities. This underlines the intellectual bankruptcy of the Hindi belt. It shows that no matter how much we talk about renaissance the bitter truth is that, unlike Maharashtra, we – as a society – have not learnt to give due respect to our sources of inspiration. We have outsourced the job of remembering these personalities to their respective communities.

Feudal background to socialist ideals

B.N. Mandal was born into a landowning Vaishnavite family in the village Ranipatti, Madhepura district, Bihar, in 1904. His father Jainarayan Mandal and mother Dana Devi were traumatized by the death of his two elder brothers. Thus, they were very protective towards him. It is a matter of coincidence that both at the time of his birth and death, Indian democracy was passing through a dark phase. When he was born, voices demanding freedom were getting stronger in different parts of the country and within the Congress; the “Naram Dal” (Moderates) was calling the shots. At the time of his death in 1975, Indira Gandhi had imposed the Emergency on the people of the country. It was not without reason that Mandal devoted his entire life to opposing imperialism, foreign rogue capitalism, landlordism, religious superstitions and inequality of all types. He raised his voice effectively – right from the villages of Madhepura, to the Bihar Assembly, to Parliament, to the judiciary.

Mandal with the Indian delegation on a foreign tour

He completed his BA from TNJ College, Bhagalpur. Thereafter, he studied law and practised in Madhepura for 12 years. But he was meant for bigger things. In 1937, he took the membership of Triveni Sangh but soon joined the Justice Party led by Ramsamy Naickar (popularly known as Periyar). He wholeheartedly participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942 and was jailed. Subsequently, he quit the Congress and became a full-time worker of the Socialist Party, founded by the leftist dissidents of the Congress. He bid goodbye to the legal profession and immersed himself in social service. Due to his commitment to social service and his disciplined intellectualism, he soon carved out a place for himself in the Socialist Party. In 1954, he was elected secretary of the Praja Socialist Party. In 1957, he became the first and the only MLA of the party from Bihar. In 1959, he became the national president of the Samajwadi Party.

No money needed for election

Despite being born into an aristocratic family, Mandal was the epitome of simple living and high thinking. Lohia was so impressed by his lifestyle that he once said, “I mould Socialism, Bhupendra Babu lives it.”

In 1962, Lohia gave Rs6,000 to Mandal to cover his poll campaign expenses. Mandal handed over the entire amount to Vinayak Prasad Yadav and it was used to purchase land for the Saharsa office of the party. Of course, Mandal won without spending the money. The loser was veteran Congress leader Lalit Narain Mishra. But Mishra was not ready to accept the people’s verdict. He filed an election petition, fabricated evidence, propped up false witnesses and using all sorts of tricks managed to get a rerun. In the by-election that followed, the Dwij leadership of the Congress fielded Lahtan Chaudhary. The objective was to take advantage of the solidarity of the Backwards. And the strategy worked. At that time, in Bihar, the Congress had unparalleled muscle and money power. It was flush with funds and could commandeer a fleet of motor cars anytime. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, was dependent on bullock carts and contributions from the Bahujans. Despite having been elected as MLA and MP, Mandal preferred the bullock cart and the Bahujans.

It was Mandal who built the base of the Samajwadi Party in Bihar. In that era, it was a disciplined life, adeptness at intellectual reasoning, simple living and straightforwardness that were considered the prime qualities of a leader. It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But neither did power make Mandal lose his head nor did it arouse in him a lust for money or material things. In 1957, he was offered the chief minister’s post in the Samvid government but he declined the offer. He continued to work for the expansion and the consolidation of the party. This great sacrifice was proof of his commitment to society. His politics was always society-centric; it had no place for individuals. He was first elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1966 and then again in 1972. As a true people’s representative he not only raised issues pertaining to his area and state but also dwelt on wider issues like land reforms, price rise and condition of the agricultural workers. He talked about these issues with great passion and zeal.

Life and times of Bhupendra Narayan Mandal 
Birth1 February 1904 in Ranipatti village,  Madhepura district,  Bihar
EducationMA, LLB
1942Jailed for participation in Quit India Movement
1957Elected MLA from the Madhepura constituency as a Samajwadi Party candidate
1959Elected national president of the Samajwadi Party
1962Defeated Lalit Narain Mishra from Saharsa Lok Sabha constituency
1966Elected to Rajya Sabha
1972Re-elected to Rajya Sabha
1975Suffered a heart attack and passed away at Tengraha, Madhepura, on 29 May

From his childhood itself, he could not tolerate inequality. At that time, the roots of casteist discrimination were so deep in Madhepura that people of lower castes were not allowed to set foot in temples. His family members were not allowed by the Brahmins to enter the Ugratara temple of Mahishi. Mandal staged a satyagraha at the temple in protest. Notably, all his agitations were peaceful and in keeping with the principles of Gandhian satyagraha. However, on the question of caste, he was not entirely in agreement with Gandhiji’s view. His dream was to forge a joint front of the Dalits and the Backwards.

Caste, language and prices

Mandal held the view that the country’s fortunes would not change if only a handful of people continued ruling it; there would be real democracy only when the Backwards, Dalits and women got their due representation in government. He sought 60 per cent representation of these classes, besides Backward Muslims and Christians, in government. As regards language, he believed that the British promoted English to serve their own interests. In independent India, he wanted the local languages to be declared official languages so that the people could understand what their governments were saying and doing. He took up the cause of the farmers, demanding that they should get a fair price for their produce. He used to say that the finished industrial products should not be allowed to be sold at more than 1.5 times the cost of the raw materials.

In today’s Bihar, socialism has been reduced to an ideology of the past. Against this backdrop, remembering Mandal would be like reliving those heady, idealistic times.

Malaviya ji gave land to RSS: B.N. Mandal

An excerpt of Bhupendra Narayan Mandal’s speech in the Rajya Sabha on 20 August 1969 goes like this:

Two years ago, during a debate on a UGC report, I had mentioned that the RSS has an office on the premises of the Banaras Hindu University and it is polluting the atmosphere there. Hence, it should be removed from there. At that time, a Janasangh member had contradicted me. But the experience of the past two years has amply demonstrated that whenever trouble erupted on the campus, the RSS office was at its root.

Prior to Independence, there were three universities in north India – Calcutta, Banaras and Aligarh. The situation in all the three universities has deteriorated after Independence. Corrective measures must be taken to improve the situation. Some attempts are already being made. An attempt has been made to solve the problems of Aligarh University. The endeavour has met with success. I don’t know what happened in Calcutta University. But as far as I know, a communal atmosphere was the root cause of what happened in the universities of Banaras and Aligarh.

Madan Mohan Malaviya ji had played a key role in the establishment of Banaras University. Madan Mohan Malaviya ji was a patriot – there is doubt about it. But Mahamana Malaviya ji was a person of his times, when religion used to have a strong influence on the minds of the people. The slogan of secularism was not as clear before Independence as it became after. That is why, naturally, Hindu culture was predominant in Banaras, which was considered a centre of Sanskrit and Hindu religion. That is the reason, at that time, RSS was not seen as a mischief-maker and that is why Malavija ji must have given it the space. This is possible. But later, the kind of devilish things the RSS did in the country came to light. We all know about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. We all know about the role the RSS played in the recent communal riots in the country. The presence of an organization that spews venom called communalism is neither good for the university nor for clean politics in the nation. Therefore what is necessary is that the government and the university authorities should use their minds in such a way that communal atmosphere is not created there. If such an atmosphere has already been created, it should be dispelled. The RSS office should be removed from there. This should be definitely done. Whether there is evidence or not does not matter.

There may be cases in which officers feel that some things have happened due to communalism but there is no evidence for it. Still, the officers have the right – because secularism is one of the foundations of the Constitution of the country – to ignore all other things and punish those who need to be punished, throw out those who need to be thrown out. They should have every freedom to do it. But our minister is trying to banish communalism from there without any bitterness. I appreciate this effort.
I agree that the draft law which he has presented is not one that would satisfy everyone because it has major scope for nominations. But, as he has assured, a comprehensive law is on the anvil, which will do away with these shortcomings. That is why I would again request the minister to see to it that the communal atmosphere there is not be allowed to grow.

 

Published in the February 2015 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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