Jayaprakash Narayan and Emergency
Jayaprakash Narayan was born on October 11, 1902, in Sitabdiara, a village on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Whenever the Ganga changed course, JP’s ancestral house has been shown alternately in Bihar and UP. He became a natural leader among the village boys. JP was married to Prabhavati, daughter of lawyer and nationalist Brij Kishore Prasad, in October 1920. Prabhavati was very independent-minded and, on Gandhiji’s invitation, went to stay at his ashram while JP continued his studies. Because of Prabhavati’s vow of celibacy while JP was away in the USA, and his honouring the same on return, the couple did not have any children and, therefore, had no immediate family.
Narayan was educated at universities in the United States, where he became a Marxist. Upon his return to India in 1929, he joined the Indian National Congress (Congress Party). In 1932 he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for his participation in the civil disobedience movement against British rule in India. Upon release he took a leading part in the formation of the Congress Socialist Party, a left-wing group within the Congress Party, the organization that led the campaign for Indian independence. 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. After his release in 1946 he tried to persuade the Congress leaders to adopt a more militant policy against British rule.
During the freedom struggle, JP was the frontline foot soldier of Mahatma Gandhi. He never sought power and did not enjoy it even for a day. Well before Indira Gandhi was anywhere near politics, JP had been offered the posts of Union cabinet minister, prime minister and President of India in quick succession and he turned down each one of them. Though considered the natural successor to Nehru as prime minister, JP chose to withdraw from power politics to engage in the more enduring struggle against poverty, social evils and violence. JP was an iconoclast with compassion and a product of the Magadha legacy which “not only produced relentless fighters and exterminators of kings” but “hearkened at the same time to the devout teachings of Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha”.
India’s first freedom achieved on the midnight of 14/15th August 1947, ended on the midnight of 25/26th June 1975, when the then President of India signed a crisp four-line proclamation virtually on command from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi:
“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 352 of the Constitution, I, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, President of India, by this Proclamation declare that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India is threatened by internal disturbances.”
This extinction of freedom in the country brought about an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Indira Gandhi, the self-appointed dictator, and Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, the congenital democrat. While the former was the epitome of power and pelf, the later abjured all desire for power, but wielded immense moral authority. By the time the confrontation ended in March 1977, JP had won with India regaining its Freedom.
Freedom has been India’s path ever since Independence, a path chosen by the founding fathers of our Republic under extremely trying circumstances. Despite all trials and tribulations and its many imperfections, India today is being lauded as the largest democracy on earth practicing freedom, however imperfect it may be. For JP, considered among the greatest revolutionaries of the last century, Freedom has always been a passion.
During the 20 months of active Emergency spanning 1975, 1976 and 1977, people moved in hushed silence, stunned and traumatised by the draconian goings on. Across the nation, groveling academicians, advocates, and accountants vied with each other to sing paeans of glory to the Emergency rulers, some signing pledges of loyalty and servitude in blood! The bulk of the civil service crawled when asked to bend. Higher judiciary was willing to decree that under Emergency regime citizens did not even have the ‘right to life’. Politicians of all hue and colour, barring honourable exceptions, lay supine and prostrate. There was gloom all around and it looked as if everything was over and the world’s largest democracy was slowly but surely drifting into dictatorship.
But through this all, one single soul, one lonely spirit continued to stir in anguish and agony, for the first few months in captivity at Chandigarh, later attached to a dialysis machine at Bombay’s Jaslok Hospital, and then a spartan house at Patna. Yet, this defiant, indomitable spirit in the person of Jayaprakash Narayan dared the might of Indira’s dictatorship and defeated it thereby restoring freedom and democracy to India. This he did despite being in the frailest of health and living on borrowed time.
During the initial days of the Emergency, within the confines of the yet to be commissioned intensive care ward of Chandigarh’s Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI), JP was a haggard and ‘defeated’ individual who felt that all hopes were gone and freedom in India stood extinguished. He had also mentally reconciled himself to die in confinement ‘as a prisoner of Indira Gandhi’. But the Almighty and the Ultimate Arbiter had other ideas. He wanted this man, who once symbolised all that was fiery in India’s Freedom struggle and all that was noble in pursuing a cause, to resurge, rise again and re-emerge as the nation’s hope and the alternate icon to lead the people back to freedom and democracy.
JP was treated as the patriarch of the Janata Parivar, even though he was six years younger than Morarji Desai, the country’s first non-Congress prime minister. JP was also the same age as Charan Singh and six years older than the other claimant in the bitter struggle for the prime ministerial position, Jagjivan Ram. JP remained revered as the grand old man of the Janata Party because he took himself out of the race for positions and power and became its conscience keeper.