The Air-India flight from New York via London landed at Delhi a little before midnight. It was • cold December in 1977. A frail person parted the curtains and looked through the window. The tarmac was empty. He expected to see familiar faces from among the leaders of the Janata Party, then in power. He had the right to do so. He was the man who had, single-handed, put the party in power. People had responded to his call to fight against Mrs. Indira Gandhi's authoritarianism, which had t4en the shape of the emergency (1975-77). He symbOlised their dreams.
The frail person was Jayaprakash Narayan. He was returning from America after going through medical treatment. He expected at the airport Morarji Desai, whom he had made the prime minister, Jagjivan Ram, whom he had made the defence minister or George Fernandes, who claimed to be a votary of socialism, the creed which JP followed once. Instead, the government had sent a relatively unknown aviation minister, Purushottam Kaushik, to represent it.
But this was not the first time that political leaders had discarded him after using him as a ladder: The Jana Sangh, the earlier version of the BJP, had given him a promise to change its parochial thinking and to discard even the cap which its members wore to register their identity. But once they were part of the government, they went back on their word. JP felt so helpless. But what a force he was!
JP was a hero of the 1942 Quit India Movement. He defied the British police and kept the standard of revolt aloft even when the movement showed weakness. The Bhoodan movement had his imprint but he was pushed aside when the pro Mrs. Gandhi's supporters in the Sarvodaya established links with the government.
My mind goes back to January 26 in 1977. By then the general elections had been ordered. The chains of the emergency had been loosened to allow poll meetings. There was fear in the air. It looked as if the 18 months of autocratic rule of Mrs. Gandhi and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, had squeezed out even the last ounce of courage.
But that day turned out to be different. People in Delhi came in vast numbers to hear those who said that JP was their leader. He was stranded in Patna. So strong was the desire to throw out the perpetrators of the emergency that the crowd stood for hours in queue in the wintry cold to contribute their mite to the Janata's election fund.
When the day of polling came, people responded in such numbers that even nameless Janata members got elected to the Lok Sabha by majorities of hundreds of thousands. So much so, Mrs. Gandhi and her son and their Congress party were routed in the North, where it secured two seats.
It was a heady atmosphere, of hope and expectation. If the Janata leaders had at that time asked for the moon, the people would have plucked it from the sky and said: what more? They were willing for any sacrifice so long as they could see the party tackling the basic issues of bread and liberty. Once again people felt liberated as they did after the British left in August, 1947.
But the new rulers drove straight from Rajghat, where they swore to serve the people, to the sprawling bungalows and other luxuries of office. It was the people's first shock. They thought that JP's chosen men were of sterner stuff. People never thought that their leaders would just sink into the chairs which their predecessors had vacated. Still worse was to come. They saw them becoming part of the machine which most of them had denounced all their lives.
It was a tragic spectacle to see revolutionaries, Gandhians and simple honest men changing into robots, falling a prey to glib talk of bureaucrats and sycophants and behaving like traditional rulers. There was no difference between them and their predecessors. This was the first wound inflicted on JP.
The rulers could not see beyond their charmed circle. They chose people for different assignments not on merit, but on the basis of group alignments. Even those who were part and parcel of the emergency got on the right side of the government.
I recall my last meeting with JP at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. A beam of afternoon sunlight stole through the half-closed Venetian blinds. The broad face was etched with lines of fatigue and flecked with dark spots of age. But the eyes were alert with youthful enthusiasm.
JP spoke softly as he always did and talked of convening a meeting, not a big one, of intellectuals, administrators and legislators and those who want to create a new India to suggest some concrete steps -without making long speeches or entering into intellectual exercises.
`Unfortunately, my health comes in the way', he said. But he was working for his proposal till the end. Only the other day he sent a message to some people in Delhi asking them to gather in Patna to consider the country's problems.
Even while he fought for his life, he was conscious of the fact that the work that he had initiated was unfinished. His work was that the people should participate in the administration at all levels and articulate their opinion to such an extent that they influence the government's policies and decisions.
He expected the Janata Party, which he had assembled from the different constituents in the opposition, to implement his ideal of total revolution, that the people were real masters. But before long he realised that the instruments he had selected, those at the helm of affairs, were not the ones who had faith in his scheme of things.
He told me in October, 1977, six months after Janata rule, that he was disappointed by the performance of the government. 'If they could do something it will make an impact on the people and make them feel that the change had taken place.' He said he was prepared to give them 'at least one year'. The Congress, he said, `had 30 years'. Besides, most of the ministers in the Janata government had no experience, either administrative or political.
Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he was popularly known, was undeniably one of the greatest figures of the Twentieth Century that has passed into history leaving behind a set of brilliant ideas and lofty ideals that had inspired generations to shape the destiny of nations they belonged to and also of the mankind as a whole. The new Twenty first Century has inherited those ideas and ideals, and a wealth of experience and legacies that may help the present and future generations to build a better, brighter and happier world to live in. Our cultural and civilizational heritage contains, on one side, great philosophical and spiritual thoughts, religious faiths and beliefs; and, on the other, unprecedented achievements of science and technology that could help us attain new heights of scientific power and material prosperity. And, if used judiciously under spiritual discipline, this power and prosperity can promote peace and harmony among the people and peoples, and create conditions for the emergence of a new civilization and a new civilized man: noble and kind, equipped with rational "incentives to goodness" and to "tireless striving stretching its arms towards perfection", as Poet Rabindranath had put it in one of his hymns depicting the aspirations of mankind.
Great philosophers, thinkers and revolutionaries like Marx, Gandhi and Lenin, and scientists like Einstein- to mention only a few representative names - symbolised the height of philosophical, spiritual and revolutionary thought attained, and the power of science achieved during the last two centuries. These great ones and their worthy successors strove hard to build by ways and means evolved during their time, a new civilization and create conditions for the birth of a new human being. But, for some reason or other, that goal could not be achieved. On the contrary, it has receded further, leaving the modern man and modern civilization on the brink of disaster.
In this historical background, Jayaprakash Narayan deserves a special mention. For, it was he rather than any of his great contemporaries, who so passionately worked for the fulfilment of the hopes and aspirations of the people, and made heroic efforts, both militant and peaceful, to achieve that goal, and save his country and also humanity from ruin. JP combined in his ideological personality the socialist philosophy of Marx, crusading spirit of Gandhi and revolutionary militancy of Lenin, and also scientific objectivity of Einstein. JP was often described as a Marxist-turned-Gandhian revolutionary and thinker. But a closer look at his ideological progression from the beginning of his political career shows that he was a Gandhian-turned - Marxist-turned-Gandhian revolutionary. His scientific approach helped him evolve an ideological synthesis of Marxian radicalism, Leninist militancy, Gandhian humanism and constructive approach. His concept of total revolution was based on this synthesis. Earlier, he journeyed from Gandhian Satyagrah (in the form of non-cooperation) to Marxian philosophy of dialectical materialism and class-struggle, and took two and a half decades to travel back to the path of Gandhi. Even though he had turned towards Gandhi, a few years earlier, but he reached the ideological road-crossing in 1954, when he joined hands with the Mahatma's "spiritual successor", Acharya Vinoba Bhave who promised to bring about a non-violent revolution for "total transformation of man and society". JP had hailed it as a double revolution: social revolution along with human revolution through love. But, Vinobaji's technique of gentle persuasion did not go far enough to change the social system and the individual man simultaneously. JP realised in 1974 that the method of persuation had exhausted its revolutionary potentialities, while the situation called for revolutionary action to bring about radical changes in the system.
Meanwhile, he found that a dark shadow had descended on the political horizon. What concerned him most deeply was the sharp erosion of moral values and steady fall in the standard of public life and conduct. He expressed his deep concern in an article captioned HOPELESS SITUATION that was published in the Radical Humanist, monthly organ of the Radical Humanist Association. He wrote: "It is fashionable these days to say that there is no place for morality in politics and that whatever helps to achieve the end is moral. But democracy, and still more so democratic socialism, cannot function properly except on the basis of certain commonly accepted values of life and of public conduct." He regretted that in these respects "there has been a steady deterioration in the last quarter century putting into serious doubt the future of democracy."
Speaking about the ruling Congress Party, JP said, "The Congress ceased to be a movement soon after it came to power in 1947... and became a mere election machine. Even so it retained to a considerable extent its democratic character, its mass organisational structure and inner vitality. All that has changed in the past two or three years. Paradoxical though it may seem, the Congress despite its massive electoral victories in 1971 and 1972 is today a little more than a hollow shell." Viewing with deep concern the inner working of the Congress Party, JP said that there was "little or no internal democracy left in it, and that its State leaders and Chief Ministers were mostly had-picked men, rather than leaders in their own right. In fact, systematic effort has been made to cut the ground under the feet of such national and State leaders as have a base of their own in the Party and among the people," he observed. "The present state of affairs," JP wrote, "might suit Indiraji's style of leadership, but it spells ruin for the Congress as a democratic organisation and ipso facto for Indian democracy itself. For it is not reasonable to expect an organisation that does not practice democracy in its internal affairs to be much concerned about preserving democracy in the affairs of the nation."
Questioning the democratic-socialist credentials of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, JP said: "In regard to socialism the consequence of the drive towards democratic centralism or personal leadership at the cost of a healthy democratic socialist party, is that more and more economic power, in addition to the political power that it already enjoys, is passing into the hands of the affluent class of the so-called committed bureaucratic elite." In JP's view, "there was little in the present bureaucratic socialism that resembled democratic socialism which required decentralisation, industrial democracy, education of the people, particularly the elite, in the values of socialism and the need to practice them in their lives and many other things." The democratic "values and standards of public conduct evolved during the freedom movement had helped greatly to sustain our democracy. But the present situation was utterly 'hopeless', JP remarked. "The galloping political corruption was affecting and degrading the entire gamut of national life," which seriously concerned him. "Let alone democracy and socialism, the most important question is: Can a nation without a moral fire survive," he asked.
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