JP Narayan: The saintly politician and crusader for a clean polity
JP’s call for Sampoorna Kranti or Total Revolution to fight against rampant corruption, unemployment and the systematic weakening of democratic institutions back in 1974 and the subsequent events, led to the imposition of the infamous Emergency.
Many a colossus has straddled the Indian political stage of post-Independent India, leaving their indelible imprints on the sands of time. But, one leader, who had changed the country’s political course in a revolutionary way, was the veteran Gandhian socialist leader,
Jayaprakash Narayan. Significantly, JP as he was popularly called, never sought power or pelf.
JP’s call for Sampoorna Kranti or Total Revolution to fight against rampant corruption, unemployment and the systematic weakening of democratic institutions back in 1974 and the subsequent events, led to the imposition of the infamous Emergency. It eventually paved the way for the realignment of political forces in the country and gave a new direction to the politics of the country with far-reaching ramifications.
Probably, no other leader inspired the youth at that time in the way JP did. His transparent integrity, towering reputation and his self-effacing simplicity endeared him to the nation. His call for revolution was not confined to political aspects alone. It resonated far beyond the realm of politics and covered social, economic, educational and cultural dimensions. The idea was that power should come back to people and youth should be the agents of change. JP’s call had magical spell on the youth, and I feel privileged to count myself among the millions of young minds he influenced at that time.
In fact, I was inspired to plunge into politics after listening to his speech at Visakhapatnam, where as a student leader of Andhra University I had invited him to address the students. His greatness was so awe-inspiring that he always displayed a saint-like detachment from holding public office or joining electoral politics. Despite his mass following, he kept out of electoral politics. He had once said, “My interest is not in capture of power but in control of power by the people”.
I had my first taste with authoritarianism when I was arrested for having invited JP to Andhra University. On this flimsy count, I was incarcerated from September 1975 to January 1977. My brush with electoral politics was also due to JP. On his advice, I was chosen as a candidate to contest from Ongole, as he wanted youngsters to be given tickets and to play a committed role in nation-building. He firmly believed that youngsters should be in the forefront of changing the system. Those entrenched in power, the status-quoists, would naturally resist any change, but only the energy and force of youth can bring about revolutionary transformation—this was his firm belief.
And that’s precisely what happened in the seventies. After blessing the Nav Nirman Andolan in Gujarat, where people had risen against the corrupt state government, JP had mobilized students in Bihar to fight against authoritarianism and corruption. He had such a mesmerizing influence on the political scene that under his mentorship a host of splinter parties of the Congress like Congress (O), Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and other socialists came together to form the Janata Party. He could have easily occupied the top post during the Janata regime. Although people clamored for his leadership, he said power was not his aim. People were so greatly fascinated by him that in many instances children were named after JP.
JP was one leader who influenced me and my thoughts at a young age. Following his visit to Andhra, I had travelled with him from Visakhapatnam to Chennai by train. En route, I used to translate some of his speeches at railway stations.
Undoubtedly, he was one of the tallest leaders in post-Independent India along with Pandit Nehru, Dr Ambedkar and Sardar Patel.
During his teens, he was inspired by the speech of Maulana Azad on Non-Cooperation Movement and quit Patna College. He joined the Bihar Vidyapeeth, which was founded by Dr Rajendra Prasad. To pursue higher studies, he later travelled to USA, where he took up odd jobs to pay for his college fee. As a result, he developed a natural affinity towards the working class which remained all through his life. He was also drawn to Marxism while studying in America.
JP was a deeply sensitive man and always strove for the well-being of fellow human beings. “True politics is about promotion of human happiness,” he remarked once.
After his return from the USA, he joined the Congress at the invitation of Pandit Nehru and was also member of the Congress Socialist Party, a left grouping within the Congress which worked underground to promote the campaign for freeing India from British rule. He participated in the freedom struggle and led the Quit India movement in 1942 in the absence of senior leaders.
He remained detached from electoral politics after Independence, but as such was not indifferent to politics. He also took active part in Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement.
JP never used to mince words and always aired his opinions candidly. He said of RSS in 1977 and I quote “RSS alone has the capacity to transform society, end casteism and wipe the tears from the eyes of the poor. I have great expectations form this revolutionary organization which has taken up the challenge of creating a new India”.
When some people who joined the agitations in the later stage of the JP movement raised objections to the involvement of a ‘fascist’ RSS, he asserted, “If the RSS is fascist, so am I.”
More than ever, the country today needs value-based politics practised by Jayaprakash Narayan. The youth should emulate his ideals and tread the path shown by him. As rightly believed by him, youth should be in the forefront of any movement to change the status quo. Participation of youth is all the more needed for the successful implementation of campaigns like ‘Swachh Bharat’ and transform India into a ‘New India’ by 2022.
With about 65 per cent of the country’s population in this category, the vision of a New and Resurgent India can be achieved with greater participation of youth, who should act as the agents of positive change in the country’s march towards greater prosperity. The dreams of our freedom fighters and leaders like JP can be realized only when we replace caste, community and cash with calibre, capacity and conduct of the people in politics and other spheres. That should be our goal and youth should be the torchbearers of this transformation.
VALUE-BASED POLITICS IS NEED OF THE HOUR
- More than ever, the country today needs value-based politics practised by Jayaprakash Narayan. The youth should emulate his ideals and tread the path shown by him. As rightly believed by him, youth should be in the forefront of any movement to change the status quo.
- Participation of youth is all the more needed for the successful implementation of campaigns like ‘Swachh Bharat’ and transform India into a ‘New India’ by 2022.
(The writer is Vice-President of India)