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History is yet to do justice with Jayaprakash Narayan

Ram Bahadur Rai | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Never was Jayaprakash Narayan's philosophy more relevant than in the contemporary period. The gulf between the rich and the poor has widened to alarming levels in the country.JP and his 'Sampoorna Kranti' movement had two major ambitions; reducing poverty and overhauling the system of governance. Alleviation of poverty and illiteracy can solve many of the country's problems. Over a third of India's districts are gripped by Maoist insurgency.

Jayaprakash Narayan retired to the Himalayas after the Bhoodan movement. In the initial part of the 1970s, he was contemplating his next plan of action in the wake of the prevailing situation in the country.

One day, JP received a letter from Bihar's Muzaffarpur, informing him that Naxalites had threatened to kill Sarvodaya activists in the Mushahari area. The insurgents had apparently also decided the date for carrying out the threat.

A worried JP lost no time in heading for Mushahari via Delhi and Patna. The ageing leader declared that Naxalism would be eradicated from Mushahari even at the cost of his life. For the next one-and-a-half years, he bravely confronted the Naxalites of the region.

Like all other, insurgencies thrive on poverty and inequality. Maoists exploit social injustices for their objectives and incite people to pick up arms against the state. Some people tend to fall for this propaganda, only to realise their folly later. We see how a large number of people have realised the futility of the Maoist path in the recent times.

JP remains relevant because none of the chief objectives of 'Sampoorna Kranti' have been fulfilled. In fact, 'Sampoorna Kranti' was never more required.

The left-leaning

Many people felt JP was a man of contradictions. He went to the United States for higher studies after completing his high school education. It was during this period that he was introduced to Marxism. A sharp-minded JP closely studied the philosophy but was never a Communist in the classical term, unlike his contemporaries such as Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta and Renu Chakravarty, all of whom were baptised in Communism at the Oxford University.

The Communist movement had a visible footprints in the States at that time. But I can claim with authority that JP was not a Communist. Though, the fact that he dedicated his life for the poor proves he had a deep understanding of the ideology.

JP was an Indian to the core. He was bred on traditional Indian values. He was welcomed by his wife Prabhavati upon his return to the country. She was the one to invite him to Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram where he met Gandhi. Later, he got acquainted with Jawaharlal Nehru at the Ashram. They remained friends for life.

The transformation of JP was more due to Prabhavati's activities than Gandhiji's influence. He became a Gandhian much later. But it did not take him long to dedicate himself to the cause of freedom. The persona of JP that the world knows was developed over a period spanning decades.

Personal relations

There are many stories about JP's relations with Prabhavati. It is said he was not very happy with Gandhiji during his initial days at the Sabarmati Ashram. However, there are hardly any credible sources to prove this.

JP went to the USA after tying the knot with Prabhavati. His father-in-law Brij Kishore Prasad was also a freedom fighter. Therefore, he left his wife entirely to the Ashram. Soon, Prabhavati Devi became accustomed to the rules and regulations there and eventually took an oath to follow them for life.

It is said JP was not entirely comfortable with Prabhavati's vow of celibacy upon his return. However, it never affected the couple's relation. This indicates JP accepted Prabhavati's decision with time.

Relations with Indira Gandhi

JP was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter always wanted him to join electoral politics. But, JP was against the idea. While Nehru was confident about his leadership, the same couldn't be said about his daughter.

JP used to call Indira, Indu. Prabhavati also shared close ties with Indira Gandhi's mother Kamla Nehru. Yet, Indira could never overcome her insecurity vis-a-vis JP.

The circumstances under which she assumed power made her even more distrustful. People like PN Haksar, who were Indira's eyes and ears after independence, only added to her paranoia. Slowly, the values that governed the independence movement were replaced by vested political considerations.

JP was one of those rare leaders who still adhered to those principles. Gradually, Indira became surrounded by a coterie that was far removed from the high ideals of the freedom struggle. This brought her on a collision course with JP.

On 31 October, 1974, Indira Gandhi invited JP to the national Capital through her emissaries. He met Chandrashekhar in Delhi, who was then considered as one of the young turks of the Congress.

The meeting made it clear that other Congress leaders were not aware of Indira's invitation to him. He was believed to have shared his dilemma with Chandrashekhar, who apparently told JP that Indira wanted to keep her overture a secret so that the blame could be put on him if the talks failed.

Ultimately, negotiations between JP and Indira Gandhi broke down the next day, triggering a chain of events that changed the course of Indian politics. The showdown between the two resulted in the Emergency and the incarceration of JP.

Few other leaders in India's modern political history can match the stature of JP. He was the one to call for a second independence movement. Jayaprakash Narayan is still to get his due place in history.

First published: 11 October 2016, 3:39 IST
Ram Bahadur Rai @CatchNews

Rai is a senior journalist and editor.