Madhu Limaye's Life and Times Are a Reminder to Honour the Common Man

Madhu Limaye played a pivotal role in the freedom movement and later in the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese. He was a committed socialist, a distinguished parliamentarian, champion of the civil liberties and a prolific writer.

Madhu Limaye was born over 100 years ago, on May 1, 1922. He passed away on January 8, 1995.

Early life

Madhu Limaye son of Ramchandra Mahadev Limaye was born on May 1, 1922, at Poona in Maharashtra. Limaye had his middle school education from Robert Money School, Bombay ,and Saraswati Mandir, Poona.

A brilliant student, Limaye completed his Fifth, Sixth and Seventh standard in just one year. He was, however, denied permission to appear for the Matriculation examination at the age of 13. The interruption in formal schooling provided him with an opportunity to read books on history, freedom movement in various countries and biographies of great personalities.

After his school education, Madhu Limaye enrolled for higher education at the Fergusson College, Poona in 1937 and opted for world history, Indian administration, English and Sanskrit as subject ideas. It was during this period that Limaye was attracted towards the socialist ideas.

He, thus, started participating in the student movements and became an active member of the All India Students Federation. Since then Limaye’s journey to free the humanity from the bondage of colonialism, deprivation and injustice began.

Freedom Fighter

Limaye entered into politics at the very tender age when he joined a May Day procession on his 15th birthday in Poona in 1937. This procession was attacked violently by RSS volunteers. Leaders of this procession, Senapati Bapat and S.M. Joshi, were badly injured in this attack. This was Limaye’s first date with politics of struggle and resistance.

After this baptism, Madhu came in close contact of Joshi, N.G. Goray and Pandurang S. Sane alias Sane Guru ji and was attracted towards the national movement and socialist ideology along with his other contemporaries V.N. alias Anna Sane, Keshav alias (Bandu) Gorey, Gangadhar Ogle, Madhav Limaye and Vinayak Kulkarni and joined their study circle. On December 31, 1938, this group decided to enrol as full time workers of Indian National Congress and the Congress Socialist Party.

Joshi was the General Secretary of the Poona District Congress Committee as well as Secretary of the Provincial Congress Socialist Party. In 1939, Joshi appointed Limaye the district general secretary of the Poona Congress Socialist Party at the age of 17.

Young Limaye organised CSP in Poona with devotion. The same year, two renowned socialist leaders Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr Rammanohar Lohia visited Poona and were impressed with Limaye’s skills.

In 1939, when the World War II broke out, he thought that this was an opportunity to free the country from colonial rule. In October, 1940, Limaye started campaigning against war and was arrested for his anti-war speeches and put up in Dhuliya jail of Khandesh region for almost one year.

He was released in September, 1941 and undertook the task of organising the Rashtra Sewa Dal and youth camps in different parts of Maharashtra. In August 1942, the All India Congress Committee held its conference in Bombay, where Mahatma Gandhi gave the call of ‘Quit India’. This was the first time that Limaye saw Gandhiji from close quarters.

Many senior leaders of the Congress party including Gandhiji were arrested. Limaye went underground along with some of his colleagues and played a key role in the underground resistance movement along with Achuyt Patwardhan and Aruna Asif Ali. He established a printing press and started ‘Krantikari’ a Marathi journal edited by Patwardhan and Joshi.

At that time he was staying at the ’Mushak Mahal’ in front of Bombay Central station. It was raided by police on April 18, 1943, and Sane Guruji, N.G. Goray and Shribhau Limaye were arrested. Joshi and Limaye escaped. After the raid at Mushak Mahal, Bombay socialists changed their hideouts and shifted to a new place called ‘Huddle House’.

In September 1943, Limaye was arrested from this place along with Joshi and Vinayak Kulkarni. He was arrested under the Defence of India Rules (DIR) and was detained without trial in the jails of Worli, Yervada and Visapur till July 1945. During his detention, the British government tried its best to extract secrets of underground activities from him, but Limaye remained tight-lipped despite severe atrocities committed by the police on him. 

Socialist Movement 

Limaye was associated with the Indian National Congress, and the Congress Socialist Party almost for one decade, 1938-48. He attended the CSP’s Kanpur Conference in February, 1947, where the prefix ‘Congress’ was removed from the Socialist Party. Limaye was in the forefront of the reorganising of the Socialist Party and was given responsibility of the Khandesh region.

He successfully mobilised trade union workers and brought the peasants and the youth into the socialist fold. In 1947, he attended the Socialist International’s Antwerp (Belgium) conference as a sole delegate of Indian socialist movement. He was elected to the National Executive of the Socialist Party at Nasik Conference, 1948, and as the Joint Secretary of the Socialist Party at its Patna Conference in 1949. He was the Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Socialist Party and to the Asian Socialist Bureau, Rangoon, 1953.

Limye also got elected as Joint Secretary of Praja Socialist Party at its first Conference held at Allahabad, 1953-54.

Limaye married Professor Champa Gupte on May 15, 1952. She proved a great source of inspiration and support to him, both in his personal and public life. Gupte was strong, with an abiding faith in the principles and ideals of socialism and stood by Limaye all through in his struggles and travails. They complemented each other in all their endeavours.

Limaye with Champa and their friend Haridev Sharma.

Goa Liberation Movement

Limaye participated in the Goa Liberation Movement, in the mid fifties, which was launched by his mentor Dr Rammanohar Lohia in 1946. A staunch critic of colonialism, Limaye led a mass Satyagraha in 1955 and entered Goa. At Pedne, the Portuguese police attacked the satyagrahis violently, resulting in some deaths and injuries, on a large scale.

Limaye was beaten up brutally. He was kept in police custody for five months. In December 1955, the Portuguese Military Tribunal sentenced him to 12 years of imprisonment. But, he neither offered any defence nor appealed against the heavy sentence.

Once, he wrote, ‘It was in Goa that I have realised how profoundly Gandhiji has transformed my life, how deeply he has shaped my personality and will.’ During the Goa Liberation Movement, he spent over 19 months in Portuguese captivity. During captivity he wrote a book Goa Liberation Movement and Madhu Limaye, largely as a prison diary. The book was published in 1996 on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the launch of the Goa movement in 1946.

After his release from Portuguese custody in 1957, he continued to mobilise the masses and sought support from different sections. He urged the government of India to take firm steps towards the liberation of Goa. After this mass satyagraha, the government was compelled to take military action and liberated Goa from Portuguese rule. 

Goa was ultimately liberated in December 1961 and become an integral part of India.

A leader

As one of the most dynamic leaders of the socialist movement, Limaye strove ceaselessly to translate socialist ideals into national ethos. His contribution in shaping the destiny of modern India is indeed tremendous.

After serving the Congress Socialist Party, Socialist Party and Praja Socialist Party, Limaye was elected the Chairman of the Socialist Party at its National Conference held at Sherghati in Gaya in April, 1958. During his chairmanship, great efforts were made in strengthening the organisation by adopting specific policies and concrete action plan. His belief in socialism was not dogmatic or doctrinaire, but was a way of life.

To him, unless the hierarchical social order was destroyed, social justice would be a distant dream for a large section of the society. Limaye played a vital role at Benaras Conference in 1959, where the Socialist Party, under his Chairmanship, adopted a resolution on providing special opportunities for the backward sections of the society. After the merger of the SP-PSP in 1964, he became the Chairman of the newly formed Samyukta Socialist Party’s Parliamentary Board in 1967, and was leader of the Samyukta Socialist Party in the fourth Lok Sabha, 1967.

A parliamentarian

A parliamentarian par excellence, Limaye was elected four times to Lok Sabha from 1964 to 1979. He is known for his deep understanding of various subjects, thorough knowledge of Rules of Procedure and effective use of parliamentary devices. He was an encyclopaedia of the Indian constitution and his speeches in parliament on constitutional matters are a milestone and not only reflected erudition, maturity and understanding but also demonstrated his concern and commitment for the cause of the common man.

Whenever he rose to speak, members across the party line listened to him with rapt attention. 

According to Limye, “Parliament was not a substitute for mass and popular movements but an additional instrument of public service and a platform for airing public grievances. It should be used as an instrument for reflecting the hopes and inspirations of the common man.”

He raised important issues before the House by effectively deploying his vast knowledge. He will be remembered as an outstanding parliamentarian who enriched debates and proceedings of the house in his inimitable style.

Champion of the civil liberties

Limaye has been a fighter for civil liberties all his life. He confronted the judiciary many times and himself argued his cases from lower courts to High Courts and in the Supreme Court and was invariably successful. In 1955, when Limaye led a mass satyagrah in Goa against Portuguese authorities and was kept in police custody for five months without trial (and later the Portuguese Military Tribunal sentenced him 12 years imprisonment), he neither offered any defence nor appealed against the heavy sentence since according to him it was a liberation movement. Later on he challenged illegal detentions in free India and every time he was arrested.

In 1959, when he was chairman of the Socialist Party and the Punjab unit of his party launched a movement against price rise, he travelled to various districts of the state and on January 7, 1959, when he was sitting in the district party office of Hisar, he was arrested by the police without any warrant. 

He filed a habeas corpus plea against his arrest in the Punjab high court. The high court accepted his writ against his illegal detention and released him on February 2, 1959.

The second time he was arrested was on November 5, 1968 at Lakhisarai railway station under his parliamentary constituency in Mungeyr. This was for the violation of Section 144 and of the railway law Section 122. Limaye challenged his arrest in the Supreme Court which declared his arrest illegal and set him free on December 18, 1968. There is a long list of court cases where Limaye challenged arrests of dissenters.

He strongly disapproved of unconstitutional methods adopted by the government to curtail the civil liberties of citizens.

In the late sixties, unconstitutional controversies occupied the centre stage of national debate. Limaye protested vehemently on these issues and wrote letters to the then President V .V. Giri and a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice K.S. Hegde. He discussed these issues in his books Limits to Authority, New Constitutional amendments: Death-Knell of Popular Liberties. Parliament, Judiciary, and Parties – an Electrocardiogram of Politics in detail.

Foreign policy 

Limaye was a firm believer in the principle of non-alignment. To him, the concept of non-alignment was deep-rooted within the framework of freedom struggle, the basis of which has been anti-colonialism, freedom for all people, disarmament, protection of economic interests of the developing countries and world peace.

He wanted to inject a new content and dimension to the non-alignment movement to make it more people oriented. He felt that the movement must articulate the economic and social aspirations of downtrodden people. He held the view that India must take a firm stand in the so-called North-South confrontation, since that was an extension of the struggle of the colonial peoples against political and economic imperialism. 

The policy of non-alignment must work against the imperialistic hegemony of any of the blocs, he felt. At the same time, he felt, it should not act as a deterrent to bilateral relations between and other countries. He asserted that the independence of India’s foreign policy should be ensured at all costs and that it should aim at safeguarding our political, economic and strategic interests in the long run. He was of the opinion that along with political independence, countries must also be freed from economic exploitation.

On the nuclear issue, he always emphasised that unless all nuclear powers agree to total disarmament, including destruction of accumulated nuclear arsenals, India should make no compromise in the matter of its own nuclear development. In this respect, he believed that India must develop its own nuclear technology as early as possible, to become self-reliant.

In the event of an impending threat to India’s security due to the crisis in Bangladesh in 1971, Limaye lent his support to the then government of India. In fact, he persuaded Jayaprakash Narayan to take the lead in mobilising global opinion in favour of the liberation of Bangladesh, which was primarily the responsibility of the government of India. A true nationalist like Limaye did not sit idle in the moment of national crisis. He also toured various countries to garner international support for the liberation of Bangladesh.  

Limaye with others, during a tour of the US.

During his illustrious public life, spanning over four decades, Limaye visited a number of countries across the globe. He was also the Secretary of the Asian Socialist Bureau, with its headquarter at Rangoon. As an observer delegate, he attended a meeting of the Council of the Socialist International in Paris, in 1953. He also accompanied Dr. Lohia on several foreign tours. He attended the 50th  anniversary celebration of the Russian Revolution at Moscow in 1967 along with S.M. Joshi.

His visits to various countries provided him with immense exposure on the dynamics of international relations. His knowledge on international issues, interactions with eminent thinkers like Harold Laski and other famous personalities helped him to form a sound base of Indian foreign policy which is of immense relevance even today.

Secularism and democratic values

Limaye’s entire ideological edifice was built on secular nationalism. He had an uncompromising stance on India’s secular credentials. With a strong belief in the spirit of tolerance, which forms the essence of India’s composite and plural culture, he firmly stood for the preservation of secular foundations of the constitution. 

With a firm belief in democracy and democratic values, Limaye fought relentlessly to protect parliamentary sovereignty. Through his writings, speeches and actions he sought to protect democratic heritage in more ways than one. Being firmly committed to healthy democratic ethos and conventions, he always stood by his principles and never compromised his values during turbulent political situations. His protest from jail against the extension of the term of fifth Lok Sabha bears testimony to this.

Limaye played an active part in the JP movement and in the effort to create a united opposition party, 1974-77. He was detained under MISA from July 1975 to February 1977 in various Madhya Pradesh jails. He resigned from membership of the fifth Lok Sabha, protesting against the immoral extension of its term by Indira Gandhi through abuse of constitutional provisions about Emergency along with his young comrade, Sharad Yadav.

He was active in the formation of the Janata Party and the coalition that gained power at the Centre following the emergency. He was elected General Secretary of the Janata Party, on his 55th birthday on May 1, 1977. But he was also blamed for the collapse of the Morarji Desai-led Janata coalition government, by insisting that no member of the Janata party could simultaneously be a member of an alternative social or political organisation. This attack on dual membership was directed specifically at members of the Janata party who had been members of the Jan Sangh and continued to be members of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the Jan Sangh’s ideological parent.

The issue led to the fall of the Janata government in 1979, and the destruction of the Janata Party. Later, he joined the Charan Singh camp and became General Secretary of the Janata Party (Secular) and Lok Dal, 1979-82. In 1982 he broke away from the Lok Dal and formed the Lok Dal (K).

Limaye retired from the active politics in 1982 and wrote more than 60 books in English, Hindi and Marathi.

Prolific writer

Like his performance on the floor of Lok Sabha, his writings were logical, incisive, fearless and forthright. They were backed by facts and historical perspective. Though he remained aloof from active politics since 1982, he continued to voice his concern on issues pertaining to the social, political and economic development of the nation through his numerous writings.

His scholarly attributes are reflected in his works, which cover a varied range of subjects of constitutional and parliamentary relevance and of national importance. The national and international issues that had been raised by Limaye in his writings are bound to provide food for thought. Limaye will be remembered by Indians for his brilliant ideas, which will have great relevance for generations to come.

Some of his works include, India Polity in Transition, India and the World, Birth of Non-Congressism, Communist Party: Facts and Fiction and Evolution of Socialist Party.

For his commendable contribution in the freedom movement, Limaye was conferred an award and a pensions scheme by the government, both of which he refused.

Last phase

In retirement, through the 1980s, Limaye had continued to write. He was especially caustic on constitutional issues, where he set himself the task of defending the constitution in the media against those who would seek to modify it to centralise power, or to replace the Westminster system with a presidential one, fearing a ‘slow slide to despotism.’

Limaye passed away on January 8, 1995, in New Delhi at the age of 72 after a brief illness. He was suffering from acute bronchial asthma. Limaye will be remembered by generations to come for his relentless struggle to protect civil liberties and for championing the cause of social justice. As an astute parliamentarian, he belonged to the exclusive genre of members who always used to come to the house after doing painstaking research and homework.

A man of utmost integrity, Limaye always acted with conviction. He has set an example of highest moral and ethical norms in public life. In his passing away, the country lost a true patriot, nationalist, thinker, socialist leader and a distinguished parliamentarian.

In his time, Limaye wrote more than 100 books in English, Hindi and Marathi and contributed more than 1,000 articles in various periodicals, journals and newspapers.

Qurban Ali is a tri-lingual journalist who has covered some of modern India’s major political, social and economic developments. He has keenly followed India’s freedom struggle and is now documenting the history of the socialist movement in the country. He can be contacted at [email protected].