Remembering Jayaprakash: A Revolution, Indira’s Fall & BJP’s Birth
He earned the title ‘Lok Nayak’ & went on to inspire several veteran leaders – Modi, Lalu, Nitish, Mulayam & Paswan.
(This story was first published on 29 October 2020. It is being republished from The Quint’s archives on 11 October 2021 to mark the birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan.)
The year was 1920. An 18-year-old Jayaprakash Narayan heard a speech by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement. Azad's call to give up British education inspired him to leave Bihar National College, just 20 days before his exams and join Bihar Vidyapeeth, founded by Dr Rajendra Prasad.
Few would have guessed back then, that this bright-eyed dreamer would go on to lead an underground freedom movement against the British from within jail, lead a mass movement in Bihar that would bring about a reform in Indian politics, and inspire a movie that was shot secretly during the Emergency. We’ll get into these in a while, but first, let’s rewind to where it all started.
In 1929, Jayaprakash joined the Indian National Congress (INC) on the invitation of Nehru. On his entry into politics, Mahatma Gandhi became his mentor and soon he became one of Bapu's trusted front-line soldiers in India’s freedom movement.
JP fused ahimsa and aggression, in the right amounts and this, perhaps, helped him fight for India’s Independence twice – once to rekindle a dying ‘Quit India Movement’ and then, years later, to overthrow the Indira Gandhi-led government in a bid to restore a shaky democracy. While his words and values hold true even today, many political analysts claim that he would have been labelled an ‘anti-national’ if he was alive today.
JP's 'Underground' Freedom Movement
JP was first jailed in 1932 for civil disobedience against the British Raj. At Nashik jail, he met other freedom fighters – Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyut Patwardhan and Ashok Mehta, among others. He was arrested a second time, in 1939, by the British for opposing India’s participation in World War II. When he tried to persuade his co-prisoner and close aide AP Sinha, to escape with him, he said:
On the night of Diwali, on 8 November 1942, JP made a dramatic escape from the Hazaribagh jail and Sinha’s words came true.
When Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India Movement’, in August 1942, JP led an underground freedom movement, with other national leaders – Yogendra Shukla, Ram Manohar Lohia, and Aruna Asaf Ali, among others. The British launched a massive manhunt to capture him ‘dead or alive’, and finally arrested him in 1943. That is when Jayaprakash earned the name ‘Lok Nayak’, or People’s Leader. And the call for Purna Swaraj grew louder than before.
Man of the Masses
JP was one of the few senior Congress leaders who did not accept a parliamentary position after Independence. He wanted to create an environment devoid of anarchy and violence in free India, for the youth, especially the students.
He quit Congress in 1948 and subsequently joined the Praja Socialist party. He was inspired by Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, where he donated land for the landless. By 1957, he resigned from party politics to devote himself for the welfare of the people.
Bihar Movement: Beginning of the End of Congress-Raj
He congratulated Indira Gandhi when she was elected prime minister in 1966, owing to his close association with 'Panditji bhai'. However, differences between them grew. In 1971, while congratulating Indira for a sweeping win, he wrote a frank letter to her:
To which, she wrote back:
Their relationship deteriorated further, when agitating students in Bihar urged him to lead their movement in March 1974. An ailing JP, heeding to the call, led a historic silent protest, demanding dissolution of the Bihar Assembly.
On 18 March, Bihar police lathi-charged and fired upon unarmed protpesters, killing eight people. An undeterred 72-year-old JP marched on and crossed barricades while the police continued the lathi-charge. On 5 June 1974, JP addressed a large crowd at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. He declared, “We are not here merely to see the Vidhan Sabha dissolved. Total Revolution, we want nothing less!"
Fall of Indira & Rise of BJP
On 1 November 1974, Indira and Jayaprakash met in Delhi. She offered a compromise formula, to dissolve the Bihar government, provided JP ended his campaign. He declined, and the meeting ended in further bitterness. Days later, he was lathi-charged in Patna. Then, he was attacked again in Ludhiana, leading to a bone fracture. His car was attacked in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He was attacked a third time in Patna, when his procession was fired upon. These attacks only strengthened his resolve further.
On 12 June 1975, Allahabad High Court pronounced Indira guilty of electoral malpractices. JP demanded her immediate resignation.
On 25 June 1975, Indira announced Emergency at midnight, marking it a black day in the history of Indian democracy.
A day later, JP was arrested, along with his aide Morarji Desai and other Opposition leaders. He stayed in solitary confinement for 130 days before he was released on parole, after his brother secretly wrote to Indira about his failing health. But, even in the frailest of health, he inspired a gathering of 1,00,000 people at the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi, who unitedly recited Ramdhari Singh Dinkar's revolutionary poem: 'Singhasan Khaali Karo Ki Janata Aaati Hai...'
Noted filmmaker Anand Patwardhan documented JP’s mass movement and the Bihar revolution in his 30-minute-long film, ‘Kranti Ki Tarangein’, secretly filmed during Emergency using outdated film stock and makeshift equipment. The film, today, is a reminder of the undaunted spirit of the youth and their ‘Nayak’.
As part of his movement against Indira, he merged the Jana Sangh, the precursor to the BJP, into his movement, and called it RSS, “The muscle power of the movement”. He famously declared, “If the RSS is fascist, so am I”. On his insistence, the Jana Sangh also merged itself into the Janata Party.
On 18 January, 1977, amid growing agitation, Indira was forced to revoke the Emergency and announce fresh elections. JP influenced Jana Sangh to not campaign on its pro-Hindutva ideology, in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections.
Janata Party defeated Indira to become the first non-Congress government to rule India. JP was the silent kingmaker. He went on to inspire several young non-Congress leaders, who later became stalwarts in Indian politics – Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh, Late Ram Vilas Paswan and Late VP Singh, among others.
In March 1979, then PM Morarji Desai wrongly announced JP’s demise when he was in the hospital. This led to national mourning. When JP was told about this gaffe, he laughed it off.
On 8 October 1979, just three days before his 77th birthday, he breathed his last. The nation lost their 'Lok Nayak'. But even today, JP and the values he stood for, serve as a constant reminder of the freedom struggle and the spirit of democracy he fought for, all his life.
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