In the Name of Democracy JP Movement and the Emergency

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Item Code: IHL274
Author: Bipan Chandra
Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9780143029670
Pages: 384
Cover: Paperback
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Book Description

Two crises of an unprecedented magnitude rocked India during the years 1974 to 1977. From January 1974 to June 1975 the country went through a turbulent period marked by a series of agitations•——bandhs and gheraos, strikes and shutdowns, closures of colleges and universities, two massive popular movements in Gujarat and Bihar, that demanded resignations of the state governments and dissolution of the state assemblies. While the movement in Gujarat was successful in achieving these twin objectives, that in Bihar, popularly known as the JP movement (after its leader Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP) failed to do so. The latter, however, soon spread, especially in North India, and developed into a movement for the ouster of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. This was followed by the second ‘watershed’ in India’s recent history: the imposition of the Emergency by Mrs Gandhi on 26 June 1975. The step sent shock waves across the nation and the trauma continued for nearly nineteen months. Political observers, both at home and abroad, talked of a crisis of India’s political system and its democracy, with many predicting that the dark night of a long—term dictatorship had descended on the country. This book attempts to make sense of these two connected happenings and their consequences for the people and the polity.

Many journalists and a few scholars have written about the JP movement and the Emergency separately, but very few have studied them in tandem with each other. While the functioning of the Emergency may be seen in isolation, any analysis of its causes, its historical significance, as well as consequences, has to be in the context of the JP movement. Likewise, the JP movement cannot be understood except with reference to the role of opposition parties and organizations such as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayasmsevak Sangh) in it, besides J P’s ideas and personality. Such a study has not been attempted so far, except very briefly. The present work is an attempt to fill that void.

This is, however, not an examination and evaluation of the politics and intellectual development as a whole either of JP or of Indira Gandhi. Rather, I focus on their politics and thought, their pronouncements and deeds at a particular juncture when JP was the leader of the mass movement associated with his name during 1974-75 and Indira Gandhi was the prime minister against whom it was directed. A full account of the events between 1974-77 is avoided, though some degree of narration, as in Chapters 2, 3, and 4, has been found necessary.

My effort is primarily to understand what actually happened during those crucial years and why and with what consequences. After all, movements, parties, governments and individuals seldom stand for what they claim, and the JP movement and the Emergency regime were no exceptions. The personalities of JP and Indira Gandhi were quite complex and often displayed paradoxes. The issues that they raised, therefore, deserve critical attention. The main justification given by JP for his movement was that it aimed at ending corruption in day-to-day life and politics, whose fountainhead was Mrs Gandhi, and to defend democracy which was threatened by her authoritarian personality, policies and style of politics. Her continuation in office, he said, was ‘incompatible with the survival of democracy in India’. Mrs Gandhi’s primary defence of the Emergency and her main criticism of the JP movement was that its disruptive character endangered India’s stability, security, integrity and democracy. ‘In the name of democracy it has been sought to negate the very functioning of democracy," ‘she said on the morrow of the Emergency. Thus, both of them justified their actions by appealing to democracy. It is also significant that the people overthrew Mrs Gandhi and the Emergency regime decisively in March 1977, gave an opportunity to the participants in the JP movement to exercise power, and then, equally decisively, brought Mrs Gandhi back to power at the end of 1979. Why?

The effort here is to understand both the JP movement (JPM) and the Emergency and not merely to condemn their negative aspects. In my view, a critical look at the JPM does not exonerate Mrs Gandhi of what happened during the Emergency, nor do the excesses of the Emergency and the loss of the citizens’ liberties scale down the major weaknesses of the JP movement and the inadequacies of JP as its leader. I do not agree that either of the two—the JPM and the Emergency— were fascist, but, as I would argue, both had the potential of being fascist or totalitarian. I deal with this aspect in the concluding chapter. A related but a more significant question is raised in the discussion on the limits in terms of both methods and objectives, that a mass movement against a democratically-elected government must observe in a political democracy.

The book also seeks to explore what did the two—the JPM and the Emergency—mean for the future of democracy in India. Has the ghost of authoritarianism been laid to rest for a long time to come? Or did the two generate forces and create some of the conditions for it to remerge? My unstated perspective throughout will be to understand both phenomena so that the same should not happen again.


My effort has been to study both events in their larger historical context-both local and global. Consequently, the experience of the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany and the authoritarian regimes in Tsarist and Communist Russia, inter—war Japan, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Kuomintang China, as also in our neighbourhood in recent years, has constantly informed my understanding of the developments during 1974-77. History shows that not all popular mass movements lead to or strengthen democracy, nor do they necessarily stand for what their leaders claim, or what their followers believe. Moreover, quite often not only participants but even observers manage to see the reality in a skewed manner. Often enough, regimes which claimed to be defending democracy have themselves ended up as dictatorships.

‘There is also the difficulty of writing about events which are close to us in time. But this problem of distance is a relative one. For example, India’s national movement, given the constant striving struggle and contention around the values of its legacy, is for most of us quite contemporary. Similarly, the economic and cultural impact of colonialism- the colonialization of our minds-is very much a part of our day-to-day life, affecting deeply our socio—economic and cultural development. Even the ancient and medieval periods of our history take on a very contemporary hue in the context of the efforts to spread or oppose the communalization of our society.

On the other hand, after a detailed examination, I have come to the conclusion that in some respects the IPM and the Emergency can be considered as much closed chapters of our history as the end of colonial rule in 1947, and may perhaps appear to be even more remote. Neither has left an abiding legacy. The impact and even the memory of the years 1974 to 1977 have faded even in the minds of those who lived through those eventful years. For most Indians, independence and Partition in 1947, the India-China War of 1962 and the Bangladesh War of 1971 are more etched in their memory than the JP movement or even the Emergency. A researcher found in the sixties that a Punjab peasant remembered events by their proximity to World War I, or the Jallianwalla massacre, or Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom, or the Great Depression, or World War II. It is my impression that today’s peasant or even urban-educated person is likely to connect events more to 1947, or 1962, or 1971, or to Indira Gandhi’s assassination than to the JP movement or even the Emergency. And this, despite the fact that newspapers and magazines routinely publish articles on the Emergency around 25 June every year. But for the JP movement even this doesn’t happen. And, certainly, for us, Gandhiji is more contemporary than JP and Nehru more than Indira Gandhi. And yet the years 1974-77 are worth remembering and studying for their valuable lessons about our polity’s development and future scenarios.

The problem of producing supporting documentation for statements made about a recent period is real. But, then, this is also true not only for the ancient and medieval periods of our history but also of the modem era, as for example, the national and other popular movements. For example, the private papers of most of the political leaders and other activists of the modern period are not available. Most of the leaders of the national movement from Dadabhai Naoroji, M.G. Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale to Lokmanya Tilak, Gandhiji, Sardar Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose did not keep any private papers of consequence. The records of the Indian National Congress, trade unions, kisan sabhas and like organizations are scanty, for they were regularly subjected to police raids and their records had to be periodically destroyed. The records of the colonial government are much more useful. But they suffer from many lacunae. The records of the Central Intelligence Department are still highly classified and are not likely to be made available, at least in our life time. Also, the Home Department preserved and transferred to the National Archives only highly selective records, transferring primarily those records which were relevant from the point of view of its administrative needs. Consequently, these records are quite inadequate for the period up to 1918 so far as the study of national and other popular movements is concerned. Another example: the National Archives has hardly any meaningful files on Bhagat Singh and his comrades; the main one on them deals with the problem of forced—feeding Bhagat Singh and others when they were on hunger- strike in 1930.

For the period of this study the absence of certain primary sources is felt even more intensely. For example, Indira Gandhi’s private papers, if they exist, are not open to scholars. JP’s papers in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library are private in name only as they consist almost entirely of his articles and speeches, even otherwise available, or of his non-political personal correspondence. The records of the home ministry and other government departments dealing with this period have not yet been released to the public. But, going by the quality of those which have been opened for the fifties, they are likely to be of little value to researchers.

In the absence of more direct historical material, much of what actually happened has to be reconstructed through careful reasoning. For example, JP’s political calculations during 1974-75, or his and other leaders’ plans or conception of the character, content and course of the movement that was to be launched after 29 June 1975 to force Mrs Gandhi to resign, or Mrs Gandhi’s political calculations in imposing the Emergency, or in withdrawing it in January 1977 are still not fully known for lack of relevant information. Another interesting example is the complete confusion, then as now, regarding the role of the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) during the Emergency. The opening up of the home ministry’s files to public scrutiny and the release of the private papers of Indira Gandhi and other political leaders and bureaucrats is bound to lead to fresh research and analysis on many aspects of the present work. Apart from the issues raised above, fresh material would help shed light on such questions as Mrs Gandhi’s claims of the growth of subterranean foreign influences in Indian politics and of the deep penetration of the country’s institutions, bureaucracy, political leadership and so on by foreign intelligence agencies, or the RSS’s influence over the JP movement or its penetration of the army, police and bureaucracy, or the extent of Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie’s control over government policies and administrative apparatuses. Similarly, scholars would like to know whether there was any well thought—out plan to use the Emergency for any specific, long- term purposes and, if so, was it prepared much before June l975? Or, for example, what was the role of the family planning and slum- clearance drives in the implementation of the design for the Emergency or were these just the whims of a young man who had suddenly gained political and administrative power? Even the nature and extent of the suppression of civil liberties or of the Emergency excesses are not adequately known despite the exertions of the Shah Commission. And, then. Why were national elections suddenly announced on 18 January 1977 The answer to the last of these questions is critical to the understanding and evaluation of Indira Gandhi’s role as a major leader of post—independence India. And, of course, most of these questions may never be completely answered even on the basis of direct evidence of private papers, memoirs and government files, for historical actors are seldom fully conscious of their own motives, actions and political calculations. However, we cannot afford to wait for fresh historical source material to be available or unearthed. We have to try to understand these two ‘watershed’ developments with the aid of the available source material, however inadequate, and with the knowledge of the historical processes at work in Indian society. The existing studies are, in my view, inadequate in their hypotheses regarding both the JPM and the Emergency. At the time, or even later on they failed to provide citizens and political activists working propositions that were predictive or offered guidelines for political action. For example, in none of the writings of 1977-78 could I find anything that could foretell the re-emergence of Mrs Gandhi in 1979 as a decisive actor in politics and, therefore, suggesting the possible reasons for this. Nor did any of the studies of the JPM, with the possible exception of Ghanshyam Shah’s, advance or provide an explanation for its failure to stand up to state repression after 25 June, unlike the 1942 movement or the Dandi March, with which JP was so fond of comparing his movement, or the subsequent disappearance of JPism, to coin a phrase, from the Indian political stage.

As against the problems of ‘doing’ contemporary history, there is the advantage of the historian having lived through and ‘experienced’ a part of the period. Consequently, whenever necessary and useful, I have relied on my personal experience and that of friends and colleagues. This has, of course, its own advantages but also its drawbacks. Living through a particular happening, one develops a certain specific understanding of and approach towards events. The possibility of the contemporary bias of the historian becomes obvious; but, then, personal hindsight and ‘empathy’ with the events can help impart a certain depth of understanding, beyond the study of historical documents. This is so provided the historian is aware of his bias and makes a conscious attempt to overcome it.

Despite my best efforts, like any historian writing about a past event, ancient, medieval or modem, my present intellectual and political positions also tend to impinge, for better or worse, on my understanding of the J P movement and the Emergency. Yet, I do believe that a certain detachment and a relatively, though not fully, objective view of events, even if contemporary, is possible; and I have tried my best to maintain this distance.

This is also the reason why I have relied upon and quoted at length from the writings, speeches and interviews of JP and Indira Gandhi, the main characters in my narrative, for an indication of their attitudes and approaches so that the reader can draw his own conclusions. I would also like to add that while my present understanding of the period under study is before the reader, during the years of the actual events was highly critical of both the JP movement and the Emergency and did what I could to counter the impact of the latter in my university (JNU). My view of what would have been the desirable course of action both for JP and Mrs Gandhi is discussed in Chapter 5 as also to a certain extent in the concluding chapter. I may also point out that such a dispassionate view of an event is possible has been demonstrated by Bhola Chatterji, a ‘JPite’ in outlook and sympathies, who was on JP’s side of the barricades during 1974-77, but who wrote what is arguably the best critical study of the movement.

Still, I am aware that the subjective element is far greater in the case of a historian of the contemporary period and because of this, as also because of the scantiness of primary sources, he has to be much more tentative in his findings and analysis than the historian of other periods—his answers have to be much more provisional. The element of conjecture and speculation is also far greater in his case. As Hobsbawm has put it, it is perhaps ‘too early’ for a historian of contemporary events ‘to draw up a historical balance sheet.’ Accordingly, depending on the nature of evidence, some parts of this work are firmly rooted in facts, others are interpretative and still others speculative.

When faced with inadequacy or even absence of source material on some aspects of the political developments under study, I have taken recourse to what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of a historian’s craft, namely, heuristic devices or counter-history, that is, looking at a possible alternative scenario or course of action, at what did not happen but might have happened, to throw light on the actual course of events. This I have done, above all, in Chapter 5 while discussing what alterative approaches could have been adopted by the two sides after 12 June 1975. I have, of course, assumed the open- ended character of the situation existing at the time, with both sides having several options. To a certain extent I have also adopted a heuristic approach in discussing the role of different social groups towards the Emergency, or the more interesting question as to why Mrs Gandhi called for elections in January 1977.

My critique of JP and his movement for relying upon the RSS and its cadres for popular mobilization outside Bihar and in the civil disobedience movement planned at the end of June and of the consequences thereof if Mrs Gandhi had given way or been swept aside, is also based on my understanding of the RSS and of what the result of depending upon it could have been for the polity and society. This approach relies upon comparative history——the historical record of countries that fell prey to fascism in the inter-war period (i.e. from 1918 to l939)—to speculate and create an alternative scenario of what could have happened; that is, to create counter-history. The liberal historians of fascism have unanimously, whatever their other differences on the origins of fascism, condemned the Italian liberals and King Victor Emmanuel for not taking a stand against Mussolini and the March on Rome, and Marshall Hindenburg for letting Hitler tinker with the German Constitution. But what would have these historians written if Victor Emmanuel had helped suppress the March on Rome and thus prevented Mussolini from capturing power, or Hindenburg, as the President, had not let Hitler become or remain the Chancellor of Germany despite a near majority in the Reichstag? It may be suggested that if counter—history is not used where necessary, then to talk of employing history to predict events would be, to use a mild adjective, a non-starter.

I have tried to bring out the role of different classes, strata and groups in both the JP movement and the Emergency. But I have not taken recourse to a class analysis of either, though I have discussed the attitude adopted by different social classes, strata and groups towards both. And this for two reasons. First, politics is ‘guided’ by classes and is the ‘consequence’ of class interests. But when, where, how and by whom are questions to be analysed in a complex manner, with abundance of materials and the acumen of a Karl Marx—and even he was only rarely successful when dealing with specific events. Second, class analysis is possible only in the case of long—term social, economic and political trends, such as communalism, movements, structures, and revolutions such as the French, Russian, Chinese or Indian. For example, the generalization can be made, though it might be disputed by some, that despite Nehru’s intentions India developed as a capitalist society. However, class analysis cannot be easily applied to specific, short-term movements and events, such as the IP movement which lasted only seventeen months and the Emergency which operated only for nineteen months? Moreover, neither attempted or led to changes in the socio- economic organization or structure of Indian society or the country’s political system or even the course of politics once the Emergency ended and the Janata government was formed. There was another ‘paradox in the Indian situation. In Indian conditions, the popular social base of a long-term dictatorship could have been provided only by the rich peasantry, which enjoyed power in the countryside, and the petty bourgeoisie. But, as brought out in Chapters 2 and 8, in North India, both were opposed to the Congress and Mrs Gandhi both before and during the Emergency. On the other hand, both could have supported communalism, as was the case in Punjab and later, in the nineties, in most of the Hindi-speaking states; and communalism would have inevitably led to a dictatorship or fascism in a multi—religious society like India’s.

I have also not dealt at length with the excesses of the sterilization drive and slum clearance and jhuggi-jhopri resettlement. For one, this required a detailed look into the hospital, Municipal and Delhi Development Authority records or the type of oral history research that Emma Tarlo has carried out in one of the resettlement colonies.’ I was not in a position to do that. But a more important reason for devoting relatively little attention to these two issues is that, though they played an important role in Mrs Gandhi’s defeat at the polls in March 1977, they were not basic to the Emergency. The case against the Emergency regime rested on its very character and not on the degree of its excesses. The excesses were important partly because they revealed the inherent bureaucratic, authoritarian and extra-constitutional character of the Emergency. But their extent and degree is, if I may say so, only marginal and even irrelevant for determining the character of the Emergency. This point can be made in a simple manner. I do not think that those who stress the degree of the excesses would suggest that minus those the Emergency was acceptable or unblemished. Therefore, a critique of the Emergency and an understanding of its character would have to be arrived at, even if there had been no family planning and slum clearance excesses.


I have extensively, but critically, drawn on contemporary accounts though many of them are quite superficial and simplistic in their understanding and analysis. Many of them were published immediately after the formation of the Janata government in March 1977 and were clearly ‘rush jobs’, more often based on gossip and rumours which were treated as facts, though some of them did contain certain insights. Unfortunately, there was little serious and penetrating reportage on both events; no great contemporary effort to critically assess what was happening in 1974-75 or 1975-77. An exception is Ghanshyam Shah’s outstanding reportage on the Gujarat and Bihar movements. The report on Gujarat was published in Economic and Political Weekly in August 1974. The report on Bihar was prepared on the eve of the Emergency, but could be published in the Economic and Political Weekly only in April 1977. The two reports were published in June 1977 as a, book entitle Protest Movements in Two Indian States. Shah’s articles were based on detailed fieldwork and interviews with participants in the two movements and offered deep insights and meaningful generalizations. I have used his work extensively for Chapter 3 on the Gujarat and Bihar student movements. There are two other outstanding works on JP and the JP movement. The first, Bhola Chatterji’s Conflict in JP’s Politics, published in 1984, was informed by the author’s close acquaintance with and admiration for JP and other socialist leaders, including Chandra Shekhar. The second, Balraj Puri’s long essay, was first published in 1978 in Revolution Counter-Revolution edited by him, and then reprinted as ‘A Fuller View of the Emergency’ in the Economic and Political Weekly of 15 July 1995. The JP movement has been better covered by writers than the Emergency. Vasant Nargolkar’s, Minoo Masani’s and S.K. Ghose’s accounts of the former have not been matched by any accounts of the latter, though Kuldip Nayar’s two works came close to them. Geoffrey Ostergaard’s work, Nonviolent Revolution in India, is indispensable for his treatment of Vinoba Bhave’s and the Sarvodayites’ relations with the JPM and the Emergency. Max Jean Zins’ is one of the few analytical works on the Emergency which is informed by a well-grounded Marxist approach. Various writings of Ajit Roy, referred to in the text, also belong to the same genre. I would also like to recognize the contribution of the biographies of Indira Gandhi by Inder Malhotra, Zareer Masani and Mary C. Carras for a fuller understanding of her life and politics. The accounts of the Emergency written by Hemy C. Hart and W.H. Morris- Jones, when it was still in operation, contained many insights and retain their relevance, as does the contemporary analysis of the JP movement by C.N. Chitta Ranjan. Works of Bimal Prasad and Ajit Bhattacharjea enable one to follow JP’s intellectual journey. However, except for Bhola Chatterji, Balraj Puri and Geoffrey Ostergaard, authors dealing with the JP movement and the Emergency do not view the two sequentially. Interestingly, Balraj Puri, in his all-too-brief study, comes to the conclusion that both weakened the political system.8 P.N. Dhar’s recent book provides some fresh insights into the working of the minds of both JP and Indira Gandhi as also does the day—to—day diary kept by B.N. Tandon, joint secretary in the prime minister’s secretariat. Unfortunately, only the first volume of the diary covering the period from 1 November 1974 to 15 August 1975 has been published so• far. Apart from its other virtues, Granville Austin’s study is definitive in its treatment of constitutional changes brought about during 1975-77. I have kept references and, therefore, footnotes to the minimum and in general, with rare exceptions, used them only for quotations. Still, there are a large number of them. This is because it was necessary to authenticate the many statements made by JP and Indira Gandhi and major commentators, especially in Chapters 4 and 6. Their words would also enable the reader to come to his own conclusions.

Back of the Book

An examination of two watershed developments in our contemporary history

The Emergency of 1975-77 was a dark chapter of India’s democracy. Leading up to it was the JP movement, named after its Leader Jayaprakash Narayan, which paralysed much of northern India and directly challenged Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at the Centre. This book, unlike earlier studies, looks at these happenings sequentially, seeking to understand their character and the nature of the challenge they posed to our democracy.

Tracking the events of the period, Bipan Chandra finds that instead of pressing for Mrs Gandhi’s resignation, JP could have waited for the law to take its course or asked for immediate elections. Similarly, Indira Gandhi could have preponed elections on grounds of political instability and sought a popular mandate rather than impose Internal Emergency. Both sides seemed to have been prisoners to immediate circumstances and had the potential for leading to a totalitarian dictatorship though they did not. Yet, despite the authoritarianism inherent in the Emergency, particularly with the rice to power of Sanjay Gandhi and his Youth Congress brigade, Indira Gandhi ended it and called for elections. Likewise, the JP movement ran out of steam, through the danger of it turning fascist was real, given the fuzzy ideology of Total Revolution, confused leadership, and dependence on the RSS for its organization.

Finely argued, incisive and original, this book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of those turbulent years. Further, by raising the matter of acceptable limits of popular protest in a democracy, it offers insights of great contemporary relevance.


Acknowledgements ix
1 Introduction 1
2 The Years of Disillusionment 12
3 Popular Movements and Political Crisis 34
4 The Emergency Imposed 64
5 The Democratic Option 85
6 JP as a Leader and Thinker 94
7 The Emergency: The Initial Years 156
8 The Emergency: The Later Phase 193
9 The Emergency Revoked 246
10 Conclusions 261
Appendix 295
Notes 301
Bibliography 362
Index 365
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