The Man who ignited Total Revolution thereby changing the authoritarian Indira Gandhi regime
Restless and struggling hard with the might of a titan against the dark forces of power politics, massive corruption, the demon of communalism, bureaucratic dominance and moral bankruptcy, Jayaprakash Narayan lived the life of a hero. It was his deep concern for the common man - that earned him the popular prefix ‘Lok Nayak’ - which led him through Marxism and Socialism to Gandhian way.
The change from his own early Marxist phase is reflected in the contrast between his praise for State power in Why Socialism, written in 1935 and his censure of it in From Socialism to Sarvodaya, more than 20 years later. But, he later went further to find Sarvodaya inadequate in remedying deep-rooted social ills and stressed the need to mobilise mass struggle. He grew increasingly impatient and justified violence if the Government failed to perform, as he announced in New Delhi in 1969. Born in Bihar, Jayaprakash Narayan studied in the U.S. when he came in contact with radical socialist ideas. Returning to India in 1929 he worked with the Indian National Congress and formed the Congress Socialist Party in 1934 within the Congress organisation.
Following the 1930 Dandi March, most of the top Congress leaders were arrested. Jayaprakash immediately set up an underground office at Bombay to continue Congress work. He travelled all over the nation, printing, distributing and organizing secret meetings.
In the Nasik jail, he met politicians and reformers like Ram Manohar Lohia, Ashoka Mehta, Minoo Masani, P. Dantawala and Achyut Patwardhan. They all were impatient for freedom and agreed to steer the Congress toward the goal of socialism. Jayaprakash was released from jail in 1933.
In 1934, Jayaprakash and his friends formed the Congress Socialist Party under the Presidentship of Acharya Narendra Deva and secretaryship of Jayaprakash himself. The group intended to function as the Socialist wing of the Congress party and aimed to make socialism the goal of the Congress. In a book “Why Socialism?”, Jayaprakash explained why socialism would be right for India. He was adored by the youth for his idealism. He was imprisoned by the British again in 1939 for his opposition to Indian participation in World War II on the side of Britain, but he subsequently made a dramatic escape and for a short time tried to organize violent resistance to the government before his recapture in 1943, And participated in Civil Disobedience Movement.
He took a leading part in the Quit India Movement (1942-43), escaping from the high-security Hazaribagh prison. Soon after Independence, he formed a separate political body, the Socialist Party, which was later merged with Kisan Mazdoor Sabha to become Praja Socialist Party.
Following Gandhiji, JP recognised the prime necessity of change in the individual who takes upon himself/herself the task of changing the society. The Socialists lost to the Congress in the 1952 elections. Nehru invited Jayaprakash to join the Cabinet. When Nehru could give no assurances on the implementation of Jayaprakash’s 14 point plan to reform the Constitution, the Administration and Judicial system, nationalize the banks, redistribute land to the landless, revive Swadeshi, and setup cooperatives, Jayaprakash refused the offer.
Jayaprakash believed that every village should be like a small republic – politically independent and capable of taking its own decisions. It was a marriage of Gandhian-Indian concepts and modern Western democracy. His thoughtful well-researched and brilliant book, “The Reconstruction of Indian Polity,” won him the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
After independence and the death of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev and Basawon Singh (Sinha) looked after the CSP out of Congress to become the opposition Socialist Party, which later took the name, Praja Socialist Party. On April 19, 1954, Jayaprakash Narayan declared in Gaya that he was dedicating his life (Jeevandan) to Vinoba Bhave’s Sarvodaya movement and its Bhoodan campaign, which promoted distribution of lands to Harijans (untouchables). He gave up his land, set up an ashram in Hazaribagh, and worked towards uplifting the village.
The gist of this concept is presented in his letter to people of Bihar and an extract from the Notes on Bihar Movement, both written in 1975. Earlier, he had also pleaded for reviving the ancient concept of dharma to suit democracy so as to ensure that the main mould of life remained indigenous. His basic objective is succinctly told in the text reproduced from JP’s weekly, Everyman’s.
By 1957, Jayaprakash Narayan had quit active politics and took great interest in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan-Gramdan programmes which demanded that land be distributed among the landless, He soon became famous as the Sarvodaya leader. In this phase of his life, JP espoused many a cause as that of Nagaland, of the surrender of dacoits, of Kashmir and communal harmony.
The main quest, however, remained where and what it was, namely a relentless confrontation against corruption, money power and misuse of political authority which seemed to dominate the national scene even after 30 years of parliamentary democracy.
In 1974, JP suddenly burst on the Indian political scene as a severe critic of what he saw as the corrupt and increasingly undemocratic government of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He gained a huge following from students and opposition politicians. The next year a lower court convicted Gandhi of corrupt election practices, and JP called for her resignation. Instead, she declared a national emergency.
He was imprisoned on the eve of promulgation of Emergency in June 1975 but was released next year on account of shattered health and an unaccountable kidney trouble. But physically weak JP saw a ray of hope in the gloom that had descended on Indian polity as well as society. He inspired political parties other than the ruling one to combine as a single Janata Party against dictatorship and the smothering of all freedoms under the Emergency regime. It was his leadership and guidance, which mainly led to the victory of the Janata Party in the March 1977 elections. All went well for a few months. But unfortunately forces of selfishness, struggle for power and partisanship reasserted themselves and JP was a disillusioned man at the time of his death in October 1979. His long letter to the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, reflects his utter disappointment.
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