S. M. Joshi
One of the most eminent forbearers of the socialist movement, whose entire life was a history of ceaseless labour and selfless work, be it journalism, literature, oratory, politics, or social work
Foreign rule came to an end; the country became independent; freedom fighters were accorded the status of God by the common man. To some this was life’s ultimate achievement and they rested in their laurels while to others it was only a milestone in their everlasting journey of serving mankind. These individuals, not content with the red-light government vehicles that were pressed in service for them, continued with their mission of service, driven by the fire that burnt in their hearts. One such selfless, focused and virtuous individual was S. M. aka Sridhar Mahadeo Joshi.
S. M. Joshi was born in Junnar in the district of Pune. His ancestral village was Golap near Ratnagiri. He was part of a large joint family. His father was the only earning member and hence they were barely able to make ends meet. This situation became worse as he grew up. His father passed away in 1915 leaving the family devastated. Even in these circumstances, he was passionate about learning and schooling and this fervour enabled him to continue his education with the help of various scholarships that he earned.
A mountain of personal hardships and barely able to afford even two square meals a day did not deter him from thinking about his country right from his childhood. His concern for the welfare of the society could be seen from the support he provided the weaker sections through the strength of his principles.
An incident here is worthy of mention demonstrating S. M. Joshi’s unwavering support to the marginalized sections of society – marginalized for inappropriate and irrational reasons. The English instructor in New English School wanted only good-looking students to sit on the front benches. Thus, he sent a student who had recently recovered from small-pox to the back-benches of the class during his period. This student carried the scars of the disease on his face. S. M. Joshi vehemently objected to this act of the instructor, insisted on the return of the student to his regular seat and ensured that the student was not made a scapegoat and victimized.
Everyone in the country was fighting for the country’s independence in his own right, within his means and by his own methods. The rays of hope were beginning to be seen by the man on the street through the unwavering efforts of the fiery fighters. S. M. Joshi was in awe of these efforts and the patriotic fervour that existed at that time. His political longings were aroused when he took part in the processions – first, when Tilak returned after the Tilak-Chirol case and second, in 1920, when Tilak passed away. The severe reprimands that he got in school on account of his participation in these processions were inconsequential and did not deter his resolve and aspirations. He began his fight for the country’s independence through the formation of the students organization in Pune and the coordination of the Youth League Conference in Mumbai.
S. M. Joshi held humankind above casteism and religious differences and rejected the diktats imposed by religious fundamentalists. In 1929, amidst thousands of protesting religious advocates at Parvati (Pune), he lead a fight against the practice of preventing the then untouchables from entering places of worship. In protest of the satyagraha these religious advocates held a congregation and S. M. Joshi had to concede in the face of the anger of the congregation. However, he was prepared to face any or all consequences in his fight for the truth and against injustice.
In 1930 he participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and was sentenced to one year rigorous imprisonment. During this period he came in contact with several senior national leaders and became acquainted with Marxism and Socialism. Herein lay the foundations of his involvement in the formation and involvement with the Congress-Socialist party. S. M. Joshi is known to have been the first person to have successfully spread the Socialist ideology in India and more specifically in Maharashtra. He is acknowledged as the most dedicated and ardent supporter of the Socialist movement.
He married in the year 1939 on 19th August. However, he was unable to devote time to his personal and family life given his political and social inclinations. He had dedicated his life to the cause of the country’s independence. His imprisonment for the rebellion against war, his participation in the Quit India movement and his involvement with the Rashtra Seva Dal, however, effectively caused neglect of his filial and family responsibilities.
He took an active part in the Quit India movement in 1942 and was imprisoned for three years, moving between Sabarmati, Nashik and Yerawada prisons. During this period he was privileged to have the company of Sane Guruji. Following his release, S. M. served as the leader of the Rashtra Seva Dal. At times, he had to continue his work while remaining underground. He familiarized the youth with the Nationalist ideology through the party camps, meetings and conferences. Through the medium of street-plays, he launched a tirade against untouchability and gender equality. The Rashtra Seva Dal street-play troupe over the years has had artists the likes of Vasant Bapat, Raja Mangalvedekar, Pu. La. Deshpande, Nilu Phule, Ram Nagarkar and Smita Patil. The main inspiration was of course S. M. Joshi.
Post independence, his political and social aspirations were met through his involvement with the Socialist Party, the Praja Socialist Party and the Samyukta Socialist Party. Prior to the establishment of Samyukta Maharashtra, he served as the representative of the then Bombay Province in the State Assembly in 1957 and then became a member of the Lok Sabha from Pune in 1967. Later, during the emergency, he campaigned for democracy. He played an active role in the setting up of the Janata Party but consciously stayed away from politics after the Party came to power.
This socialist stalwart was involved in many of the movements that took place post-independence. As the General Secretary of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, he was instrumental in uniting various political parties in Maharashtra during the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement that fought for a unilingual state. He was active in the Goa Liberation Movement as well as the Maharashtra-Karnataka border row. Creating worker unions was another facet of his socialist compulsions – be it the mill workers’ union in 1934 in Mumbai, or the metal workers union in Pune, or the defence production workers union or the Bank workers union. To these unions he gave his active support through hunger strikes, holding key posts, and providing direction and mentorship. He did not waver from the ideals of Gandhiji and did not neglect his diligence to the workers even as a Lok Sabha member.
S. M. Joshi was equally renowned as a journalist and writer. He ran the LokMitra daily for a while; provided leadership to the Mazdoor and Sadhana weeklies and took over the responsibility of running the evening daily Kartavya from Sane Guruji who had gone on a hunger strike in protest of Gandhiji’s assassination. Urmi (a collection of stories), Aspects of Socialist Policy and Mi, S M (his autobiography) are some of the books he authored. His autobiography encompasses the period from pre-Independence to the time of emergency and is a narration of his thought process during the various events that dotted his illustrious life-journey.
In spite of the several distinguished roles he played in several areas – journalism, politics and social work – he regarded himself, very humbly, as ‘the common man’. Unassuming, modest and selfless, he was truly, India’s most eminent forbearers of the socialist movement; a man who regarded the pursuit of truth as his noble path and democracy and social equality his life’s purposes.