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India: Prof. Randhir Singh (1922-2016) - Tributes

4 February 2016

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Celebrating the Life and Politics of Professor Randhir Singh Marxist philosopher, Legendary teacher and Communist for life 1922-2016

India International Centre [New Delhi]

Main Auditorium

February 5, 2016 | 4 to 6 pm

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Political theorist and Marxist scholar Randhir Singh dies

On Monday evening, a group of Singh’s students, colleagues and friends gathered at Lodhi Crematorium to bid farewell to the former Professor of Political Science in Delhi University. Express News Service, Delhi, Published: Feb 2, 2016

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(SACW Special - 5 February 2016)

Prof Randhir Singh - an inspiring Marxist intellectual

by Pritam Singh

Prof Randhir Singh (born on January 11 1922), an internationally renowned Marxist scholar of political science and one of the leading nationally known Punjabi intellectual died on January 31 in Delhi a few weeks after celebrating his 94th birthday. When I was an undergraduate student of economics at Panjab University, Chandigarh and was increasingly getting interested in Marxism and the Naxalite movement, a left wing economist Amit Bhaduri visited the university. I and Harbhajan Halvarvi, an underground Naxalite activist, went to meet him to find out if he could help us in establishing contacts with Marxist intellectuals in Calcutta who could help us in conducting study circles on Marxism in Punjab, and he suggested to us that we should establish contacts with Randhir Singh and Bipan Chandra of Delhi University. That was the first time I heard about Randhir Singh. Since that time and meeting him on his 93rd birthday party in Delhi in January 2015, it has been a long history of friendship and political-intellectual relationship. When I used to look at the intellectual heritage of Punjabi communists, he was the one who inspired me the most. [. . .]

read more at:

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The Tribune, February 2, 2016

He moulded minds, touched lives

by Neera Chandhoke

A great teacher directs us to the right path. This is what Randhir was, and will be remembered for. He is perhaps the only teacher in the Department of Political Science who became a cult figure, inspiring young people to critically engage with society.

In the early 1970s, Professor Randhir Singh became the Head of the Political Science Department in Delhi University, and along with a few bright and energetic colleagues in the department and colleges, wrought a virtual revolution in the study and teaching of a “dry as dust” discipline. This was a remarkable achievement given the dismal state of the field of political science.

The subject, now taught in more than a 100 universities and thousands of colleges in the country, is of relatively recent provenance. It took birth in the 1930s by an act of secession from history, in universities of North India. The progress of the discipline was slow, and till 1938 only five universities had offered the subject. Teaching was majorly shaped by the influence of British philosophical idealists, TH Green, FH Bradly and Bernard Bosanquet. Interesting as it may be, this philosophical orientation contributed little to the understanding of social and political life in the country. Political theory was taught unimaginatively, as a philosophy that originating in alien lands had little relevance for individual and collective lives in India. After Independence, political science, particularly the study of Indian politics,became excessively formalistic and legalistic. By the 1960s, the behavioural revolution pioneered by American political science came to dominate the scene in India. Behaviouralism was apolitical and status quoist, and generations of students remained unfamiliar with the key concepts of normative political theory: justice, egalitarianism, substantive freedom, exploitation, and liberation, which are essential for substantive democracy, and particularly a "new" democracy like India. In the middle of a political science that deadened political sensibilities, Randhir Singh launched a storm of new vocabularies, new understandings, and new political judgements. We, as students and as young teachers became aware of the depredations of colonialism, exploitative ruling classes, the many inhumanities of capitalism, and possibilities of emancipation. Politics, said Randhir, to some of us, is defined as the art of the possible; it is rather the art of the impossible. As a Marxist who had taken keen part in the communist movement during his student days in Lahore, Randhir gave to us a materialist conception of history, and an agential conception of human beings. People could make their own histories, even if the histories they made were not the histories they had wanted to make in the first instance.

After Partition, Randhir Singh’s family came to Delhi. As a faculty member in what was then Delhi College, now Zakir Hussain, Randhir acquired great repute as a gifted teacher. In his professional life, Randhir faced and surmounted a number of obstacles. His passion for interpreting the texts of political theory through the prism of Marxist materialism aroused scepticism, even envy among colleagues in the postgraduate Department of political science. Resultantly, he was excluded from teaching in the department. Yet the number of political science students who thronged his classes in the history department of the university swelled. There came a time when his peers could no longer deny him a professorship in the department, and this was the time when a rather boring discipline was transformed beyond belief.

The makeover in the course content of the discipline was nothing short of dramatic. From teaching the constitutional history of India, as a series of acts drafted and implemented by the colonial government, we as young teachers came to understand and communicate the extent of damage colonialism had produced, the hold of imperialism, and the making of a neo-colonial ruling class. "Gandhi," Randhir, used to say, "wanted the peasant to inherit India", but "history decreed that the capitalist inherited India". The focus of political science changed, it acquired a historical, analytical and normative edge, and we began to speak of gender, class and caste, the nature of the state, power, domination and exploitation.

In his professional life, Randhir exhibited exemplary courage and integrity virtues that are somewhat rare even in the realms of academia. He refused to compromise, even at the risk of making some enemies, but he considered engaging with small minds below his dignity. To his friends and admirers, he was amazingly generous, sometimes sharp of tongue, but always large-hearted.

As long as he taught he published sparingly. But his work on Michael Oakeshott, Reason, Revolution and Political Theory was well received. When the time for his retirement came, some of us organised as a festschrift, a special issue of the Department journal Teaching Politics that Randhir and some colleagues had initiated. The editor of the volume asked him for his bio-data. Characteristically, Randhir gave her a short piece titled "in lieu of a bio-data". In this elegantly written piece he spoke of his participation in the communist movement, and his teaching career. The piece gives us reason to ponder on the utter irrationality of academic life. A teacher, Randhir taught us, is not expected to recommend to students a long list of books .Teaching is about instigating them to think and question inherited beliefs, making them aware of the brutalities of society, and about imparting the need to battle injustice. A great teacher directs us to the right path. This is what Randhir was, and will be remembered for. Farewell Guru, friend and comrade, you will be sadly missed.

The writer is visiting Professor at Centre for Study of Law and Governance, JNU

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The Wire, February 2, 2016

A Marxist Scholar Who Never Hesitated to Take the Unpopular View

by Pritam Singh

The late Prof Randhir Singh, scholar and political scientist who taught at Delhi University

Professor Randhir Singh, an internationally renowned Marxist scholar of political science, who died on January 31 at the age of 95 was a kind of legend among his students. Apart from a brief stint at Jawaharlal Nehru University, he spent his entire academic career at the Department of political science at the University of Delhi.

His lectures were so popular for the sheer brilliance of their content and delivered with such passion and engagement that students from as diverse disciplines as Economics, Sociology, Law, Literature, Mathematics and even Physics and Chemistry, attended in large numbers. Unlike most academics these days who pride themselves on their research publications, he was very proud of his teaching achievements. And, of course, among his students are now very successful academics who have proud publication records and many of them attribute their fascination with the subject of political science to Prof Randhir Singh’s lectures they attended at Delhi University.

Prof Singh attracted critical acclaim in the world of political science with the publication of his book Reason, Revolution and Political Theory (1967) which is a powerful and widely reviewed Marxist critique of the work of the conservative political theorist Michael Oakeshott. The late Mohit Sen, the CPI theorist, reviewing Randhir Singh’s book in Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) had remarked that with this book, Indian political scientists could claim an equal status in the world of international scholarship on political theory.

Critical of state repression in Punjab

In 1987, Randhir Singh wrote a very influential article that was entitled ‘Marxists and the Sikh Extremist Movement in Punjab’ that was published in the EPW, which was an example of his intellectual and political integrity where he overcame personal considerations in criticising very sharply his lifelong friend the historian Bipan Chandra. He criticised what he called ‘the Ribeiro-Girilal Jain-Bipan Chandra line’ for its advocacy of resolving the Punjab crisis by using the repressive apparatus of the state in liquidating the Sikh extremists. He also ridiculed the CPI and CPM for indirectly endorsing this line by joining the BJP in ‘united all-party rallies’ against Sikh extremism under the name of ‘unity and integrity of the country’. He argued that this line not only reinforced the class rule of the Indian state, it also fed aggressive Hindu chauvinist nationalism. The robustness of his criticism of this line has been proved by the subsequent events that have shown that the main beneficiaries have been the BJP-led political tendencies and forces.

He was far away from being an armchair theoretician. Not only was he a leading light of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association for a long period of time and especially in its formative stage, but he was also an active supporter of the trade unions, Kisan Sabhas, human rights groups and the campaigning organisations of women, Dalits, tribal communities and the minority nationalities in the country.

A remarkable quality of Prof Singh was that he was constantly refreshing his ideas and perspectives. He was one of the very few among the Indian academics who understood the importance of the vision of eco-socialism in its critique of capitalism’s environmentally destructive character. In terms of moral and intellectual qualities, Randhir Singh was one of the tallest public intellectuals India has produced in the last few decades, and the Punjabis can be genuinely proud of him.

Pritam Singh is a professor at Oxford Brookes University

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Randhir Singh obituary by Pritam Singh (The Guardian, 24 February 2016)

Randhir Singh: Farewell Teacher, Comrade, and Friend by Jyotsna Kapur

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Links to some writings by Prof Randhir Singh

Marxism, Socialism, Indian Politics: A View from the Left by Randhir Singh