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Jayaprakash Narayan: Father of dissent and opposition who saved Indian democracy

Jayaprakash Narayan: Father of dissent and opposition who saved Indian democracy

The month of October is a very special month in the Indian history. It gave birth to three great Indians, viz, Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jayaprakash Narayan, the first two on the same day, i.e., the October 02.  All the three leaders were great in their own rights. But Jayaprakash Narayan lived longer than the first two leaders to see the apprehensions of Mahatma Gandhi as coming true in free India’s political process. The leaders who inherited the Congress movement after independence and formed a political party with the same name started misusing the aura and association of Congress for authoritarian politics. The Congress Party of India enjoyed the trust of the people of India after independence for a very long time because of its association with the freedom movement.

In fact for an even playing political ground for all political ideologies and parties in free India, Mahatma Gandhi wanted to dismantle the Congress Party, because he apprehended disproportionate political gains to this party due to respect and faith it generates among people due to its association with great values and leaders of freedom movement. Gandhi ji had asked all the top Congress leaders to dissolve the party and form a new organisation to serve the people. He told them that the task of INC was to fight for the freedom and liberation of India from the shackles of the British which was achieved by latter handing over power to the Indians, In a note dated January 27, 1948, three days before he was assassinated, Gandhi wrote that the Congress has “outlived its use” in its present form, should be disbanded and “flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh”. This appeared as an article in Harijan on February 2, 1948, titled ‘His Last Will and Testament’, a phrase added by his associates. Some scholars of Gandhi seem to have uncritically accepted the term ‘last will and testament’. This is also supported by   political scientists Lloyd and Susan Rudolph.

Jayaprakash Narayan witnessed this fear of Mahatma Gandhi coming true, when there was a vicious fight in the Congress Party in the late 1960s and thereafter the phase of emergency when the leaders of the Congress Party tried to suppress opposition and people by use of force who protested against corruption, price rise, and unemployment. Mrs. Gandhi not only used force and police against the opposition but also against the protesting people. She also tried to change the basic structure of the Indian constitution through the 42nd Constitutional amendment. It was during these dark times that a loud voice appeared in the Indian horizon against oppression, and today we know that man as ‘loknayak’ Jayapraksah Narayan! Some short sighted and prejudiced people dub Jayaprakash as an anarchist. Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and Lohia are also seen by many as disturbing elements. Revolutionaries may appear to some people as anarchist because they endeavour to break the staus quo and fight injustices. Jaya Praksah Narayan deserves to be called the father of “opposition” in Indian politics and also father of only anti establishment movement in post independence period in India, for reminding the establishment that it is neither any political party nor any political institution which is supreme in India, but it is in fact the people who are the sovereigns. The country belongs to people of India. The J P movement as the anti emergency movement is called   made it amply clear that nobody would be allowed to be a dictator or fascist in Indian democracy and the people of India won’t let anybody to be greater than the people and constitution of India. It was a momentous occasion for India when somebody came to guide India to its “tryst with destiny” when the ruling class led by the Congress Party had lost the values and path advocated by the freedom movement. Pakistan is still waiting for its Jayapraksh Narayan. To those who called him an anarchist, one of his popular slogans is a resounding answer- Sach Kehna agar bagawat hai, to samjho hum bhi baagi hain (If speaking the truth is being a traitor, yes then call us a traitor.)!

Born to the blessed couple of a rural area in Bihar named Harsu Dayal and Phul Rani Devi., Jayaprakash Narayan was an Indian independence activist, theorist and political leader, remembered especially for leading the mid-1970s opposition against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, for whose overthrow he called a “total revolution”. Jayprakash Narayan was born on 11 October 1902 in the village of Sitabdiara (now in Saran district of Bihar and Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, India). Sitabdiara is a large village, straddling two states and three districts—Chhapra and Arrah in Bihar and Ballia in Uttar Pradesh..His house was near the banks of the flood-prone Ghagra river in Lala Tola, Bihar. Every time the river swelled, the house would get a little bit damaged, eventually forcing the family to move a few kilometres away to a settlement which is now known as Jayaprakash Nagar and falls in Uttar Pradesh. He came from a kayastha family. In October 1920, Narayan was married to Braj Kishore Prasad’s daughter Prabhavati Devi, a freedom fighter in her own right. After their wedding, since Narayan was working in Patna and it was difficult for his wife to stay with him, on the invitation of Gandhi, Prabhavati became an inmate at the Ashram of Gandhi. Jayaprakash, along with some friends, went to listen to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad speak about the Non-co-operation movement launched by Gandhi against the passing of the Rowlatt Act of 1919. The Maulana was a brilliant orator and his call to give up English education was “like leaves before a storm: Jayaprakash was swept away and momentarily lifted up to the skies. That brief experience of soaring up with the winds of a great idea left imprints on his inner being”. Jayaprakash took the Maulana’s words to heart and left Patna College with just 20 days remaining for his examinations. Jayaprakash joined the Bihar Vidyapeeth, a college founded by Dr. Rajendra Prasad and became among the first students of Gandhian Dr. Anugraha Narayan Sinha.

Enduring adversity for higher education

Jayaprakash Narayan is remembered as a deserving son of a lower rural middle class family, who fought adversities uncomplainingly to continue highr education. He showed through his endurance and courage that no obstacle is bigger than man who is resolute and determined. After exhausting the courses at the Vidyapeeth, Jayaprakash decided to continue studies in the United States. At age 20, Jayaprakash sailed aboard the cargo ship Januswhile Prabhavati remained at Sabarmati. Jayaprakash reached California on 8 October 1922 and was admitted to Berkeley in January 1923. To pay for his education, Jayaprakash picked grapes, set them out to dry, packed fruits at a canning factory, washed dishes, worked as a mechanic at a garage and at a slaughter house, sold lotions and taught.] All these jobs gave Jayaprakash an insight into the difficulties of the working class.

Evolution of Socialist leanings

Jayaprakash was forced to transfer to The University of Iowa when fees at Berkeley were doubled. He was forced to transfer to many universities thereafter. He pursued his favourite subject, sociology, and received much help from Professor Edward Ross. In Wisconsin, Jayaprakash was introduced to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. News of the success of the Russian revolution of 1917 made Jayaprakash conclude that Marxism was the way to alleviate the suffering of the masses. He delved into books by Indian intellectual and Communist theoretician M. N. Roy. His paper on sociology, “Social Variation”, was declared the best of the year.

Participation in India’s freedom struggle and birth of socialist party of India

Freedom Narayan returned from the US to India in late 1929 as a Marxist. He joined the Indian National Congress on the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1929; Mahatma Gandhi became his mentor in the Congress. He shared a house at Kadam Kuan in Patna with his close friend and nationalist Ganga Sharan Singh (Sinha) with whom he shared the most cordial and lasting friendship. He won particular fame during the Quit India movement.

After being jailed in 1932 for civil disobedience against British rule, Narayan was imprisoned in Nasik Jail, where he met Ram Manohar Lohia, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, Ashok Mehta, Basawon Singh (Sinha), Yusuf Desai, C K Narayanaswami and other national leaders. After his release, the Congress Socialist Party, or (CSP), a left-wing group within the Congress, was formed with Acharya Narendra Deva as President and Narayan as General secretary.When Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in August 1942, Yogendra Shukla scaled the wall of Hazaribagh Central Jail along with Jayaprakash Narayan, Suraj Narayan Singh, Gulab Chand Gupta, Pandit Ramnandan Mishra, Shaligram Singh and Shyam Barthwar, with a goal to start an underground movement for freedom. As Jayaprakash Narayan was ill, Yogendra Shukla walked to Gaya with Jayaprakash Narayan on his shoulders, a distance of about 124 kilometres. He also served as the Chairman of Anugrah Smarak Nidhi (Anugrah Narayan Memorial Fund). Between 1947 and 1953, Jayaprakash Narayan was President of All India Railwaymen’s Federation, the largest labour union in the Indian Railways.

JP Movement and total revolution

Narayan returned to prominence in State politics in the late 1960s. 1974 ushered in a year of high inflation, unemployment and lack of supplies and essential commodities. Nav Nirman Andolan movement of Gujarat asked Jayaprakash to lead a peaceful agitation. On 8 April 1974, aged 72, he led a silent procession at Patna. The procession was lathi charged. On 5 June 1974, Jayaprakash addressed a large crowd at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. He declared, “This is a revolution, friends! We are not here merely to see the Vidhan Sabha dissolved. That is only one milestone on our journey. But we have a long way to go… After 27 years of freedom, people of this country are wracked by hunger, rising prices, corruption… oppressed by every kind of injustice… it is a Total Revolution we want, nothing less!” In 1974, he led the students’ movement in the state of Bihar which gradually developed into a popular people’s movement known as the J.P Movement or Bihar Movement.

It was during this movement that JP gave a call for peaceful Total Revolution. Together with V. M. Tarkunde, he found the Citizens for Democracy in 1974 and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in 1976, both NGOs, to uphold and defend civil liberties.

Sampoorna Kranti or total revolution

Mrs Indira Gndhi, the then Prime Minster had carried out 2nd amendment of the Indian Constituion to remain in power, but was found guilty of violating electoral laws by the Allahabad High Court. Narayan called for Indira and the CMs to resign and the military and police to disregard unconstitutional and immoral orders. He advocated a program of social transformation which he termed Sampoorna kraanti, “total revolution”. Immediately afterwords, Gandhi proclaimed a national Emergency on the midnight of 25 June 1975. Narayan, opposition leaders, and dissenting members of her own party were arrested that day.

Jayaprakash Narayan attracted a gathering of 100,000 people at the Ramlila grounds and thunderously recited Rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar”s wonderfully evocative poetry: Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai. Narayan was kept as detenu at Chandigarh even after he asked for one month parole to mobilise relief in flooded parts of Bihar. His health suddenly deteriorated on 24 October, and he was released on 12 November; diagnosis at Jaslok Hospital, Bombay, revealed kidney failure; he would be on dialysis for the rest of his life. In the UK, Surur Hoda launched the “Free JP” campaign chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Noel-Baker for the release of Jayaprakash Narayan. Indira Gandhi revoked the emergency on 18 January 1977 and announced elections.

Birth of opposition Party in true sense in India

Before JP movement was opposition was just for the name sake with no or negligible influence in the political process. The Janata Party, a vehicle for the broad spectrum of the opposition to Indira Gandhi, was formed under JP’s guidance. The Janata Party was voted into power and became the first non-Congress party to form a government at the Centre. On the call of Narayan, many youngsters joined the JP movement. That was really beginning of effective opposition politics in India around many impending political and social issues, which was later articulated as the third front. It is an irony that the contemporary leaders of India who were born in the JP movement,  later forgot J.P’s message of issue based politics and politics for the cause of people with active participation of people in dabate, discussions and protests. It is said that the leaders who were born in JP movement have betrayed  JP’s ideals for power, wealth and vested interests. JP was against authoritarian government, corruption and divisive politics on non-issues. He stood for value and issue based politics.

Here is a compilation of Jayaprakash Narayan’s views on different issues.

 Views on revolution, politics and power

A violent revolution has always brought forth a dictatorship of some kind or the other… . After a revolution, a new privileged class of rulers and exploiters grows up in the course of time to which the people at large is once again subject. Power comes invariably to be usurped by a handful of the most ruthless among the erstwhile revolutionaries when power comes out of the barrel of a gun and the gun is not in the hands of the common people. My interest is not in the capture of power, but in the control of power by the people. It [Communism] did not offer an answer to the question: Why should a man be good?

If you really care for freedom, liberty, There cannot be any democracy or liberal institution without politics. The only true antidote to the perversions of politics is more politics and better politics. Not negation of politics. True politics is about promotion of human happiness.

But at the same time he reminded people of the political degeneration and need for change. Those people who still believe that power and party-politics will be able to do some good are only sucking dry bones. This kind of politics is disintegrating and will continue to do so till one day the disintegration is complete. Then the foundation of a new type of politics will be laid on its ruins and this new politics will be completely different from the old. It will be ‘lokaniti’ or the people’s politics, not ‘Rajaniti’ or the elitist politics. We in the Sarvodaya movement emphasise the initiative of the people — the Lokashakti as against the Rajashakti (the power of the State).

On war, peace and democracy

If cowardly submission, moral degradation was the only alternative, I would not, with the full sense of responsibility, be sitting here and preaching the renunciation of war, the renunciation of army… There is an alternative, not only an alternative, but the only alternative… War leads us into more wars, and then into complete destruction. This alternative of nonviolence is the only answer to the situation the world is facing today. Democracy cannot be made secure and strong without peace. Peace and democracy are the two sides of a coin. Neither of them can survive without the other.

On Non violence

You will tell me that this endless insistence on peaceful means is our Gandhian fad. But let me tell you that no such thing is being foisted on you. It is the strategy of the people’s struggle that dictates this line of action. Your success depends on scrupulous adherence to peaceful means. The other side is ready to commit a hundred acts of violence if you commit one. So please get all these notions of violence out of your heads. Only those who have no faith or confidence in the people or are unable to win the people’s confidence take to violent means. Violence becomes superfluous and harmful where Lokashakti has been aroused, and in the absence of the latter violence proves to be sterile and cruel.

Our means of peaceful settlement like negotiations across the table, good offices, adjudication, arbitration, friendship march and similar methods may succeed, or may fail – but there is no failure for a people who have accepted nonviolence and have prepared themselves to resist whatever evil that might come, with nonviolence.

On materilism and morality

Non-materialism, by rejecting matter as the ultimate reality immediately elevates the individual to a moral plane and urges him to endeavor to realize his own true nature and fulfill the purpose of his being. This endeavor becomes the powerful motive force that drives him in its natural course to the good and the true.

Jayaprakash Narayan Lives on

Jayaprakash Narayan died in Patna, Bihar, on 8 October 1979, three days before his 77th birthday, due to effects of diabetes and heart ailments. But today the space for dissent, discussion and protest in India can be seen as the legacy of J P movement. If such pressures would not be generated, the democracy would lose its capacity to self analysis and course correction. It is apt to remember one of his  remarks, “ My interest is not in the capture of power, but in the control of power by the people. True politics is about promotion of human happiness.”

When today the intellectuals and youth are being silenced by use of force and isolation when they criticize the government policies and methods to tackle people’s protest, we need to remember Jayaparakash Narayan to seek courage and inspiration to break the rampant and widespread culture of silence and indifference of the aspirational middle class. JP was the savior of democracy and we as a nation would ever remain grateful! J. P lives in the heart of peasants, labourers, students and women who think and act to rise against irrationality, superstition and injustice.

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