Dr Raghu Vira: A Forgotten Founding Father of India

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Dr. Raghu Vira was regarded as perhaps the most erudite figure in the Constituent Assembly of India. He was a great Sanskrit scholar plus a polyglot who could not just speak and write in nine Indian and seven European languages, but also deliver learned oration and conduct debates in them. He went on a study tour of China and came back convinced that the ‘Hindi- Chini bhai bhai’ policy was based on an illusion and that China was going to emerge as India’s biggest problem as it has hegemonic intentions. Nehru strongly disagreed which ultimately lead to him leaving the Congress, in 1961, a year before the Chinese attack. Because of his towering stature, he was invited to join the Jana Sangh (the forerunner of the BJP) and made its president. But, today he is a forgotten hero, says, Ashoka, in a befitting tribute to the great man, exclusively in Different Truths.

Last week, on December 30, there was an anniversary of a truly remarkable human being. He has almost been forgotten to the extent that even his name would appear unfamiliar to the present generation. He was not commemorated and the day passed without any reference to his amazing life and astounding contributions.

About two years ago, I had penned a column on him that had appeared in the Daily Pioneer1.  However, his name still strikes a note of unfamiliarity among most.

Meet Dr. Raghu Vira. He was regarded as perhaps the most erudite figure in the Constituent Assembly of India. And when we begin to look at the names of those, who adorned that august gathering (Radhakrishnan, Bhimrao Ambedkar, K.T.Shah, K.M.Munshi, Minoo Masani, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, Maulana Azad, Seth Govind Das, Sir Homi Modi, Bhimrao Ambedkar and of course its President, Dr.Rajendra Prasad), the appellation would take some beating!

Raghu Vira was born on December 30, 1902, that same year as his close friend Jayaprakash Narayan. At an amazingly young age, he acquired two doctorates, one of them from the Netherlands. And by that time, he had acquired a reputation of being a great Sanskrit scholar plus a polyglot who could not just speak and write in nine Indian and seven European languages, but also deliver learned orations and conduct debates on them.

Simultaneously, with his scholarly activities, he was a very active participant in the freedom struggle. His commentary on the Mahabharata is still the foremost reference text on the subject. He was all for acquiring erudition in English but one of his earliest battles with Nehru was over his insistence that the medium of instruction in India should be the vernacular.

He travelled to several countries and brought back several learned texts on Sanskrit from Mongolia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia, which established the philological links between the countries of Southeast Asia and India. The then President of Indonesia, Ahmed Soekarno became his ardent admirer along with Zhu en Lai.

He produced the first volume of the Constitution in Hindi, which he presented to the Constituent Assembly, where he was one of the most regular debaters and enjoyed an excellent equation with its President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. However, Nehru and the South Indian representatives found the Hindi too chaste and it was not adopted.  He was though very warmly complimented for his efforts by Radhakrishnan, K.M.Munshi, and Gopalaswami Ayyangar.

Following independence, he continued with his scholarly work and established an institute to attempt a translation of all the English words in Hindi and vice versa. He also completed a volume in which he translated all the scientific terminology into Hindi along with his junior aide and friend Dr. Vishwanath Prasad. The text is still regarded as the most authentic exercise on the subject. He also published several volumes in Persian and Arabic.

A loyal Congressman, he was elected to the Lok Sabha, in 1952 and 1957. He went on a study tour of China and came back convinced that the ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai policy was based on an illusion and that China was going to emerge as India’s biggest problem as it has hegemonic intentions. Nehru strongly disagreed which ultimately lead to him leaving the Congress, in 1961, a year before the Chinese attack.

Because of his towering stature, he was invited to join the Jana Sangh (the forerunner of the BJP) and made its president. Despite his affiliation with a supposedly right-wing party, his closest friends were Ram Manohar Lohia, a socialist, EMS Namboodiripad, A.K.Gopalan and Hiren Mookerjee – all of them ardent communists. At an earlier stage. he enjoyed excellent equation with Maulana Azad, another scholar!

I recall his death when it was reported in The Leader, Allahabad, on the 15th of May, 1963. He was on his way to seek votes for his very close friend Lohia in a by-election when his car rammed into a tree in Kanpur. The whole country was shocked. The most moving eulogies came from Jayaprakash Narayan, Radhakrishnan, A.K. Gopalan, Humayun Kabir, EMS Namboodiripad, Hiren Mookerjee, and his friend-turned- favourite pin cushion Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and K Kamaraj.

A scholar of his eminence has been forgotten by us. There is no major institution 0f higher learning named after him. He has not even been honoured with a postage stamp.

His predecessor as the Jana Sangh chief, Syamaprasad Mookerjee, and his successor, Deendayal Upadhyaya, are national figures, now. I feel we owe this to this forgotten titan as well.

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©Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Photos from the internet.

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