Freedom fighter who dented Indira Gandhi, made BJP and uncongress socialism mainstream

On this very day in 1979, Jaya Prakash Narayan, veteran freedom fighter and leader of the 1974-75 JP movement against the government of Indira Gandhi, died.

Forty-two years after his death, BJP Chairman JP Nadda took to Twitter early Friday morning to pay tribute to JP in Hindi. Roughly translated, his tweet read: “Tributes on the anniversary of the death of Loknayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, who called for ‘total revolution’ to rid the nation of an unfettered government that has blocked urgency. Such a leader who has dedicated his whole life to defending the homeland and democracy will always be a model for us.

Indeed, much of the credit for the rise of the Jana Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor, to the status of the dominant political party goes to its collaboration with JP, a lifelong socialist who had taken a Gandhian turn, in the 1970s and the socialists of Lohia. and Lok Dal in the 1960s.

“Participation in the JP movement is widely seen as Jana Sangh’s entry into the cherished space of civil liberties,” political scientist Sajjan Kumar told Outlook.

In 1963, the Socialists and the Jana Sangh fielded joint candidates for four seats in the Lok Sabha partial polls to challenge the formidable Congress vote bank of so-called upper castes, Muslims and Dalits. The new alliance had an alternative vote bank: the small urban and largely “upper caste” support base of the Jana Sangh and the rising Hindu “backcaste” base of the Socialists. Ram Manohar Lohia won the poll as Farrukhabad Common Opposition candidate in UP. However, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya of Jana Sangh lost his election despite the alliance.

In 1967, the Socialists, the Jana Sangh, the Rashtriya Kranti Dal of Charan Singh – who had left the Congress the same year – and even the CPI(M) regrouped in states like UP and Bihar in the assemblies legislative to form ephemeral governments on the plank of “anti-congressism”.

“The anti-Congress alliances that the Jana Sangh and the socialists forged also marked the rise of the backward castes as an electoral force. These groups and the small Hindu base of Jana Sangh could together become electorally viable”, argues Sajjan Kumar.

However, JP, who left politics a long time ago, was involved in social and constructive work these days.

His return to public life came in 1974, when a large student opposition group, the Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti, protesting against the Congress government in Bihar, met him to ask him to lead their movement.

KN Govindacharya says it happened right after students tried to storm the Legislative Assembly in Patna on March 18, 1974. Police resorted to shooting, which killed students.

Speaking to Outlook at VP House in the nation’s capital, he refreshes his memory to recall the details of the fateful day, which would lead to the iconic JP move against Indira Gandhi. Govindacharya was there as an RSS pracharak.

“The police seemed to be taking over. Just then, a young activist called Akshay Singh, a resident of Palamu, drove a bus full of rocks into the ground that separated the road from the assembly building. This tipped the scales in favor of the students again,” recalls Govindacharya. He remembers one girl from Maharashtra, Lata Kamat, who stepped in just between clashes between police and students, not fearing for her life. However, in the police shootings, three students were killed.

After that, Govindacharya went to meet Jaya Prakash Narayan, with whom he had worked in the Bihar relief project a few years ago, asking him to join the movement. A delegation of 13 young people met JP a second time.

JP initially said, Govindacharya recalls, that the protesters were violent people. Govindacharya defended them, saying Congress ally CPI and the ruling party were behind the chaos. As “evidence”, he asked JP why only the offices of Pradeep and Searchlight, both pro-agitation, had been set on fire, and not those of the pro-government publications Aryavarta and Indian Nation.

JP agreed to lead the movement, making non-violence a condition.

JP’s entry added a spark to the movement from Patna to Delhi. The tide was beginning to turn against Indira Gandhi, as JP addressed gigantic gatherings. To add to the Prime Minister’s discomfiture, the High Court in Allahabad declared his election to Rai Bareli null and void. The Supreme Court gave her limited relief: she could attend parliament but not vote.

The situation deteriorating, Indira Gandhi imposes the emergency on June 25, 1975 at midnight and the leaders of the opposition are imprisoned. Pre-censorship of the press also began. Controversial policies such as the forced vasectomy and bulldozing at Turkman Gate in Delhi have been carried out.

New elections were ordered in 1977 and the emergency was revoked.

For the 1977 elections, the Jana Sangh, Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal, Congress splinter faction, Congress (O) and Swatantra Party merged to form the Janata Party, which defeated Congress in the elections of Lok Sabha held after the emergency.

Internal ideological contests, however, ensured that the Janata government did not sail smoothly. JP himself died in 1979.

The party was rocked by demands that Jana Sangh ministers could not be part of the RSS at the same time. Eventually the party split and Indira Gandhi returned to power. The Jana Sangh component of the Janata party formed the BJP in 1980, and Vajpayee as party chairman sought to evoke JP’s legacy as a beacon for the party for a few years. But the massive defeat of 1984 convinced the BJP that its ideological distinctiveness could not be dismissed.

However, the 1970s weren’t all JP was. He was one of the artisans of the Socialist Congress Party formed within Congress in 1934 to steer it in a more socialist direction. It gained its own aura during the Quit India movement. When the top leadership was arrested, JP and Aruna Asaf Ali continued to keep the movement alive in hiding.

Jawaharlal Nehru invited JP to be part of his cabinet, but JP was not interested in taking this position. Within a few years, he announced his retirement from politics and became a social activist in his own right, practicing Gandhian Sarvodaya and lending a helping hand for constructive work.

JP’s lasting political impact, however, was to act as a bridge between the socialists and the Jana Sangh.

He initially had “apprehensions” that the RSS was “community-based,” Govindacharya told Outlook. “He asked me why there were no Muslim RSS pracharaks and I replied that even his Sarvodaya had only two Muslim volunteers. Does it make you community, I asked him?

Later, however, JP, at the height of the Congress-JP movement duel, even said on a broadcast: “If the RSS is fascist, so am I.”

Nadda’s tweet is the latest reminder of the debt that not only the socialist parties but also the BJP owe JP.

Thelma J. Longworth