Relevance of MN Roy

Dr Rekha Saraswat

I write here about the revolutionary philosopher from India, Manavendra Nath Roy; founder of `New Humanism’, the Radical Humanist philosophy, and his contemporary relevance after sixty years of his death on January 25, 1954.

A philosopher is the by-product of his circumstances, his past and his present, leaving his deliberations for posterity to assess and acclaim or disgrace. M.N. Roy was no exception to it. Born on 21st March 1887 in a Brahmin family of priests in West Bengal Roy underwent a complete metamorphosis in his personality transforming from a nationalist-revolutionary into a rationalist-humanist during the final years of his life.

He followed the nationalist-revolutionary line of thought and action until he realized that independence of a nation from foreign bondage was not a necessary and natural corollary of the freedom of its citizens from servitude and exploitation.

He remained a Marxist until his disenchantment with the technique of dictatorship of the proletariat which undermined the very concept of individual freedom vis-à-vis the collective entity of a state.

He was equally apprehensive about the success of parliamentary democracy in which political parties and their leaders at the apex played a decisive role in getting candidates selected and elected to form governments; where sectarian sympathies and partisan emotions were the cunning tactics of winning elections. Roy and members of his Radical Democratic Party were not accepted by the voters because they failed to identify with the latter. He realised that it was too early for the Indian common men to understand the meaning and value of participatory democracy propagated by his party because they were seeped in the feudal tradition of monarchic hierarchy as well as in the customs of a religious patriarchal society.

Roy had envisaged a scientific, rational, democratic, egalitarian and humanist Indian society. But for the few emancipated minds, the country was not open to his cosmopolitan approach towards life. Technology and its dramatic innovations were yet to influence the lives of Indian people. Roy was much ahead of his times and refused to compromise with scientifically irrational or ethically unsound tenets of practical politics. He paid a heavy cost for this and was neglected in Indian politics. He failed to become a populist leader of the masses. Roy was too early an experiment for them.

It was only later in June 1974, twenty years after Roy’s death when his idea 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, rendering political parties useless (all described, in detail, in his Draft Constitution of Free India) was picked up by Jai Prakash Narayan in his concept of ‘Total Revolution’ and this time the youth rose to the occasion because it had become aware now of the political rights of an independent sovereign state. Yet the revolution could not fulfill its dream of a participatory party-less democracy because the voter was still not politically emancipated. They were aware of their fundamental rights but confused about their political duties. A small group of dedicated leaders could not turn the tide in ‘Total Revolution’s’ favour and traditional power-politics again took charge of the situation.

Taking the second example from the present, after sixty years of Roy’s absence from the scene, AAP wants to govern with the help of mohalla samitees, and we are again reminded of Roy’s idea of ‘People’s Committees’.

The voter is politically more mature now than in 1954 and 1974.

But has he also become morally and culturally mature enough to know the difference of a modern, democratic, civic society from a traditional, religious, feudal society? Civic maturity of the voters is the mandatory prerequisite for the success of participatory democracy. And that has to be done with the help of expert professionals, truthful administrators and selfless politicians who are culturally reformed and scientifically modern in their approach towards life; who have learnt to respect all human beings without any discrimination with an urge to make this country a cleaner and better place to live in. They are required to work amongst the voters as their `educators’.

This is what Roy had suggested. Honesty in desire is one thing but ability to fulfil it is another. Complex issues of the modern society can’t be solved merely by goodwill and consensus but by expert opinions as well, otherwise chaos and anarchy will prevail. The traditional political bosses are impatiently waiting for this turn of events to disprove the concept of participatory democracy in India challenging the ability and maturity of the voters to do so.

When our nation was basking in the glory of the Westminster model of representative democracy Roy was apprehensive of the political morality of its representatives. He had categorically said that corruption in politics and administration would be the natural byproduct of power-hungry politicians and politically immature and vulnerable citizens. He wanted a socially and culturally reformed India where ethically emancipated and politically matured voters would select politicians from among the selfless social workers at the grass-root level. He wanted dedicated humanists to help in ushering in a scientific renaissance in traditionally orthodox minds of our country-men.

We live in an age where production is sumptuous but distribution is partial; where science has conquered irrationality but religion is propagating myths and superstitions where technology has brought humanity closer but nationalism is instigating wars and terrorism. Philosophers and thinkers have contributed to the refinement of human knowledge; science and technology have given facilities of comfort and ease to human existence but frauds and deceptions have tried to spoil true human progress in all areas of the world’s living humanity. In such a situation Roy’s principle of ethical-politics and rational-social morality appears to be the only solution for the salvation of human strife.

Courtesy: The Radical Humanist