Many of us know that Rabi Ray, a contemporary of Biju Patnaik, went on to become the speaker of ninth Lok Sabha in the year 1989. But little is known about his student life and his contribution to socialistic political ideology. As the student union president of Ravenshaw College, he burnt the Union Jack and unfurled the Tricolour in the campus. In 1960, he was one of the founding members of the socialist movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali and Ram Manohar Lohia and was the general secretary of the new Socialist Party. He worked incessantly for achieving a casteless, secular, democratic and equity-based society based on the seven revolutions propounded by Dr Lohia, the visionary and philosopher of socialism.
My first interaction with Ray was in 1963, when he asked me to accompany him to a meeting organised to condemn the 1962 Chinese aggression. Lohia addressed the meeting, the reason the venue was jam-packed. Ray’s equation with Lohia was visible and gave students like me the impetus to work towards achieving Lohia’s dream under Ray’s leadership. In 1964, on my return from Allahabad University to Cuttack as a law student, I worked along with him.
In 1967, Ray spearheaded the Congress Hatao Abhiyan along with socialist ideologue N K Choudhury, the CM of Odisha from 1950-56. In 1967, Ray got elected to the Lok Sabha and Lohia chose him as leader of Socialist Party in the House. As a parliamentarian, he is credited with using his mother tongue Odia to deliver his maiden speech, which made N Sanjiva Reddy, the then speaker, scramble for references where the provision of using constitutionally-recognised languages for making a speech in Parliament was mentioned.
He joined his other mentor JP by voicing dissent against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi and was jailed for 19 months. As Janata Party secretary general, he led the 1977 campaign. As health minister under Janata rule, he brought about revolutionary changes. As Speaker in 1989, his rulings on anti-defection law and recommendations against a sitting Supreme Court judge made history.
In 1991, he refused to take the speaker’s post with the BJP’s support. After 1996, he bade goodbye to parliamentary politics and formed “Lok Abhiyan” to tackle the country’s problems till he fell seriously ill. His death has marked the end of an era. With Ray’s heavenly departure, the light of socialism has been extinguished. May his soul rest in peace, but be engaged to usher in a socialist society wherever it has reached.