Today, October 11, is the 119th birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he is popularly known. All day, a scene has been playing out in my mind.
It is the high point of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, a cover for the mobilisation drive under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani to have the Babri Masjid demolished.
Advani is to address a rally in Patna. His Toyota, fitted to look like a Ram Rath, is about to reach Gandhi Maidan in the city. In a corner of the ground, opposite Hotel Maurya, stands the statue of JP.
In a tent in his shadow sit some young women and men. They are there to silently protest Advani’s communal campaign. I see the tent surrounded by hundreds of people in saffron bandanas. They are shaking the tent. Moments later, it is completely burnt down.
The police arrest the protestors and take them to the Kotwali police station. Some scooters and motorbikes near the statue are also set ablaze. Most of the protestors belonged to the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, an organisation formed during the JP agitation days.
JP’s statue watches, as he once said, the muscle power of his agitation throttling the voice of his movement. JP had proudly welcomed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh into the fold. If the RSS is fascist, so am I, he had retorted to those criticising him for joining cause with the RSS in his attempt to unseat Indira Gandhi’s government.
As the tent is burnt in Gandhi Maidan, Muslims are being attacked and passersby forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” by the followers of Advani, who once had declared himself to be a follower of JP. JP had assured sceptics that his association with the RSS would change the organisation and de-communalise it. The RSS had other ideas.
It wanted to use JP’s movement to gain political legitimacy and respectability. That it achieved. When JP and his many of his associates were in jail, Balasaheb Deoras, the chief of the RSS, was writing letters to Indira Gandhi praising her, pledging total support to her, pleading with her to withdraw the ban imposed on his organisation. She did not oblige. Indira knew the RSS too well to trust Deoras’s words.
JP was as opposed to the RSS as Indira Gandhi. So why did he, a seasoned politician and someone who could have been a statesman, fail to resist the temptation of making a Faustian pact with the RSS in 1974? Had the situation in country become so precarious that there was no option but to overthrow the Congress government – and to go to any extent to achieve this?
An honest history of the JP agitation is yet to be written. Many of JP’s associates are dead. Among those alive, none seem to want to critically examine the nature of the agitation. Yet, many of the members of the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini now admit that the JP agitation was a folly and it paved the way for the ascendance of the RSS.
What led JP to tell India that the Congress party during its 27-year rule had failed the people and country completely? Why did he repudiate the actions of his friend Jawaharlal Nehru? Why did he announce a movement that he ambitiously called “the second freedom struggle”? Why did he copy the methods adopted during the freedom struggle such as asking the students to boycott universities and colleges for a year, calling upon people to not cooperate with the government, even going to the extent of asking the police and security forces to not obey the government?
He even asked his followers to establish Janata Sarkars and start replacing the government in many areas. As the historian Bimal Prasad observed, “Patterned on the Russian democratic workers councils (soviets), these micro-organs of people’s power were expected to adjudicate disputes, ensure the sale of essential commodities at fair prices, organise redistribution of ceiling-surplus land amongst the landless, prevent black market activities and hoarding, and fight against caste oppression.”
In a way, JP was establishing a parallel government. It was a very dangerous game. And this is what the RSS had been waiting for. The RSS had long been planning to capture the state. It failed in 1947-’48 when it had thought that the chaos would help it conduct a coup. Gandhi’s assassination stunned India and a ban on the RSS by an otherwise-sympathetic Patel made it very difficult for the organisation to be accepted by the mainstream parties.
But the desperation of leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia to somehow end the Congress rule led them to , in his own words, shake hands with the devil. The formation of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments in several northern states after the 1967 assembly elections created the space for the politics of the RSS, when its political wing, the Jan Sangh, became part of the ruling coalition.
The socialists and even the communists did not mind joining hands with the RSS. The democracy argument worked for them. They would have preferred secularism but if it were to be eroded in the cause of democracy, it could be pushed aside for a while.
This argument was used once again in 2011 when the sceptics pointed out the communal tendencies in the India Against Corruption movement. Again, the democracy argument won.
By the mid-1960s, the RSS started creeping back. It would, however, be more apt would be to say that it was always there in the sense that nearly all the parties of India were in many ways Hindu parties . In fact, in a letter to her father from Lucknow in 1947, Indira Gandhi had herself expressed her distress at seeing the mentality of the RSS dominating the Congress party, the police and the administration.
In 1967, the Indian secular experiment was still in its infancy. After a lull of 15 years, the RSS had started to rock the boat by through the acts of communal violence, big and small. The Jabalpur riots in 1961 were clearly a warning that India was not safe. But people like Lohia were in a hurry.
Lohia and JP could have been fellow travellers, but for many reasons, distance grew between the two. JP withdrew from active politics even when Nehru wanted him to help him steer the ship of India through the stormy waters of the 1950s. One wonders if both these men viewed themselves as prime ministerial material that had not been recognised by Gandhi or the public.
Recalling a meeting held in 1961 in honour of Lohia in Barakar, a small town in West Bengal, my father recalled Lohia complaining that his claim as a potential prime minister had been ignored even when he was a more suitable candidate and that Gandhi had instead chosen Nehru for obvious reasons.
Did JP also nurse a similar grudge? He was always hailed hero of 1942 but did he want to be remembered as The Leader? Was he therefore playing out that fantasy of the freedom struggle 27 years later? What was fundamental that he wanted to change which could have made it a second freedom?
His complex that he jad not been given his due was betrayed in a poem published in Dharmayug magazine after Emergency was lifted. In this poem, he said that he could have become prime minister had he so wanted. But his was a quest for revolution. So he renounced everything.
“इतिहास से पूछो कि वर्षों पूर्व
बन नहीं सकता प्रधानमन्त्री क्या?
किन्तु मुझ क्रान्ति-शोधक के लिए
कुछ अन्य ही पथ मान्य थे, उद्दिष्ट थे,
पथ त्याग के, सेवा के, निर्माण के,
पथ-संघर्ष के, सम्पूर्ण-क्रान्ति के.”
He is also reported to have said that Gandhi had once told him that he, Narayan, was his true follower as he wanted to destroy the legacy of the British whereas Nehru merely wanted to remove the British but was to carry forward their legacy.
Was he also fantasising about this conversation? After all, Gandhi even in his most bitter debates with Nehru never ever saw this weakness in him?
We need an honest and frank discussion about the JP agitation. Many have rightly observed that the only achievement it can claim is mainstreaming the RSS and putting it centre stage. JP rushed into its arms as he wanted an army for his cause and only the RSS could provide that.
JP, in what is seen to be his most glorious moment, compromised with the basic Gandhian principle of unity of the means and the cause. If the means are impure, what you achieve will always be tainted. That is what JP must have thought in his last agonising days and that is what many of the once-idealist youth who followed him must also feel, now that they are in their sixties.
India is paying for JP’s hasty shortcut.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.