PUCL Bulletin, May 2004

24th JP Memorial Lecture

JP’s Quest

- By Kuldip Nayar

[Kuldip Nayar was born at Sialkot, now in Pakistan in 1924. He studied law and journalism followed by a doctorate in Philosophy. His journalistic career began as a Correspondent of The Times, London, subsequently he worked with The Washington Evening Stat, The Spectator (London) and as an Editor of The Indian Express, The Statesman, and UNI. He is a syndicated columnist catering to 80 Newspapers. He was appointed as the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1990. He is also a former member of Rajya Sabha.

He has authored several literary works, amongst others, The Martyr: Bhagat Singh experiments in Revolution and Suppression of Judges. He is a recipient of twenty National and International awards.]

I feel honoured that the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has asked me this year to deliver the 24th JP Memorial Lecture. Jaya Prakash Narayan was a tall man; the PUCL is his creation. He wasn’t built to be a hero: slight of figure, racked by illness, battle-worn. Yet, he proved to be the outstanding hero who won us the second freedom in 1977, 30 years after the first one.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, he inspired us to rise above our petty self and acquire a bit of nobility while fighting for the emancipation of the country from its bondage. We did not measure up to his standards. Our weaknesses pulled us down. We failed. The fault is ours, not that of JP’s message or his effort.

I had the privilege of knowing him. He did me the honour by picking me up for participating in the movement which he launched to awaken the society – the society which had become oblivious to the defects which had crept in the system. Ideals for which the freedom was won has receded into the background.

The Congress governments had done little to make political freedom meaningful, much less attain economic freedom. The white Sahib had left and the brown Sahib had sit in the chair. There was no change in the style or the content of governance. People from the authorities as oppressive as before, political leaders loud in rhetoric but weak in performance.

Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi had even mutilated the system beyond recognition. For the first time she inducted an extra-constitutional authority to her government. This was her son, Sanjay Gandhi, who believed that India required autocracy, not democracy, for ‘better and quicker’ administration. One lakh people were detained without trial high hundred and arbitrary actions were carried out with impunity. While the press gagged and resultant blackout of authentic information, Sanjay Gandhi have played with the country.

I got an inkling of Sanjay Gandhi’s thinking when I met him. I was writing my book, The Judgement, when Kamal Nath, his friend and a director on the Indian Express Board, asked me whether I would do the book on the emergency without talking to Sanjay Gandhi. I told him that I would like to meet him if it was possible. He arranged the meeting.

I recall that Sanjay Gandhi was standing under a tree when I met him. The ground was littered with papers and some discarded pieces of furniture. My first question to him was: How did he think he would get away with it? He said that if elections had not been held they would have been running the government. Then, why did you hold them?, I asked. “You should ask that suggestion from my mother”, he said. “In my scheme of things, there were no elections for three to four decades.”

How would you have ruled?, I inquired. “There are enough of bureaucrats who are of my thinking”, he said. “In any case, there has been hardly any instance of disobedience during the emergency. Fear had done the job. I have persons like Bansi Lal (then Defence Minister), who would have seen to the compliance of what we had in mind.” He was, indeed, a picture of dismay and defeat.

Roughly two years before the emergency, JP rung me up to invite me to inaugurate a Students’ meeting at Patna. I was then the Delhi Editor of The Statesman. I could never imagine that the meeting was a precursor of some type of revolution. A spark he kindled at that meeting would one day turn into a conflagration to consume Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s government which, in any case, had become too inept and too authoritarian.

JP called upon the youth to fight against undemocratic methods. He wanted them to be in the forefront to agitate for the removal of ills that parties had injected into the country’s body politic. Morality was the point he underlined. He was in favour of a party less government, all political parties giving their shoulder to task of building the country and the betterment of people.
The meeting was a success in the sense that JP went from Bihar to Gujarat where the students’ stir (navnirmaan) forced the state government to quit. It was another matter that students like Laloo Yadav, who was in the chair at the meeting, derailed the movement when the Janata government assumed the reins of the government.

The only morality they knew was how to capture power and to sustain it by hook or by crook. This was an anti-thesis of what JP stood for. Today’s Bihar, the cradle of JP’s stir, is an example.

JP’s movement was for cleansing. Was it possible to retrieve the nation which showed the best of its qualities of sacrifice and dedication during the struggle for independence? Could he put it back on the road to idealism and values? Although the target was Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s autocratic and corrupt rule, JP raised the larger question of propriety and morality in public life. Ultimately, the movement developed into people’s wrath against the mode of governance.

Strange, the elite remained distant. Cocooned in its own way of living and thinking, it did not participate in what looked risky. No doubt, it was disturbed over the concentration of power in the hands of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and a few others. Even an ordinary police was seen to be law unto himself. But the response was confined to the drawing room tittle-tattle.

The elite was simply afraid. Others too caved in. Even the press which was asked to bend began to crawl. Never did even Sanjay Gandhi imagine that it would be so easy. JP was disappointed in his own way. He did not expect the Congress, a party of his once-comrade, Jawaharlal Nehru, would go to the extent of suspending fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. And he definitely expected more resistance from the thinking class.

There is a wrong assumption in certain quarters that the JP movement provoked Mrs. Indira Gandhi to impose the emergency. On the other hand, it is believed that the emergency was imposed to suppress the JP movement. Both were independent developments. What was common between the two was their failure. Both exposed the deficiencies of the society and the governing class. Mrs. Indira Gandhi imposed the emergency not because there was a rightist combination building up to dislodge her. There was not a shred of evidence to support the thesis. She imposed it because after winning at the polls on the Garibi-hataao slogan in 1972, she was finding it difficult to govern. She had failed to deliver. People felt cheated. They were restive.

The JP movement was a failure because it evoked very little response when the time came. As Mrs. Gandhi put it, not even a dog barked. People were not inspired with lofty ideals of liberty and fair play to rise against Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial ways. They were where they were: cowards. Fear instilled in their mind made them avoid contact with the families of their friends in detention. The middle class did not stand up even against the excesses committed before their eyes. However, they defeated her when the occasion arose. That was their catharsis.

At least some of JP’s thoughts could have been implemented by the Janata government. It was his creature. He had swept the polls and put a rag-tag combination in power. The Janata party government could have repaired the damage the emergency had caused to the system and the institutions. Crime had been politicised and politics criminalised. There was no awareness of what was right, nor a desire to act according to what was right. Both public servants and politicians had lost their sense of duty. JP had asked the police not to obey illegal orders. But they had become a willing tool of tyranny which lasted nearly 20 months.

The post-emergency government did little to restore the health of democracy except to make the re-imposition of emergency difficult. Institutions were not helped to get back their vigour. Electoral reforms were necessary and a committee was formed to make recommendations. It did but the government was formed to make recommendations. It did but the government was not earnest about implementing them.

It is a tragedy that public servants or politicians who misused their power during emergency were never punished for the excesses they committed. The guilty changed colours overnight and sought a godfather within the Janata party. When Mrs. Gandhi returned to power in 1980, the few public servants who had done their job honestly without staining their record were punished. The most telling effect of the emergency was on the common man who began to wonder whether there was any line dividing right from wrong, moral from immoral.

The Janata government should have taken steps to restore people’s confidence in the rule of law. But its leaders got caught in power politics and petty personal quarrels. They had hardly any time, much less inclination, to make changes in the system which was reeking with crime and corruption. JP had wanted them to break the cartels of tainted politicians. Most had become part of it.

JP found himself helpless. When he returned from America after medical treatment, he specially flew through Delhi. By then, the Janata government was a few months old. From the plane he looked at the tarmac. The airport was deserted. Having chosen Morarji Desai as the prime minister, even though Jagjivan Ram had a majority of the Lok Sabha members behind him, he was looking from Morarji. None was there, not even JP’s devoted followers. He did not expect such a cold reception. Still he enquired whether Morarjibhai, Chaudhary Charan Singh or Babu Jagjivan Ram was present at the airport. The government was represented by the information Minister Kaushik. JP was visibly disappointed as he described the scene to me subsequently. He felt as if his need for the Janata was over the moment he put it in the gaddi.

As the Janata government went on bungling and as their internal bickering went on hitting the headlines, JP tried to intervene. He wanted to get some of them to Patna where he was lying sick. When I met him during those days, he was despondent and forlorn. Would Mrs. Gandhi come back? I asked him in desperation. He said he didn’t know. But one thing he made clear was that she would never dare to impose the emergency again.
On my return to Delhi, I met Prime Minister Morarji and complained that JP felt neglected. Morarji burst in anger and said in a loud tone: Did he expect him to go to meet him? “You know I never went to meet Gandhi”, said Morarji, “He is not taller than Gandhi”.

JP’s real disappointment was not Morarji but the Sangh Parivar. He had permitted its members to join the movement on the promise that they would sever their links with the RSS which he suspected was involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Nathu Ram Godse, the killer, was a RSS member.

Whenever JP would insist on the Jansangh members in the Janata Party to officially disassociate themselves from the RSS, he was told that they were in the process of doing so. He felt cheated. He made no secret of the fact that they had gone back on their word. This was true. They had no intention to do so. Even after joining the Janata, they stayed in touch with the RSS. They worked as a group although they were in different ministries. They did not want to renege their promise in the lifetime of JP who they knew was very sick. Once he died, they appeared in their true colour.

When the Janata Party came to consolidate its rank, they refused to cut off ties with the RSS. The Janata’s difference with the RSS was ideological. It saw the RSS waiting to replace the pluralistic India with the Hindu Rashtriya. The Janata woefully realised how the Jansangh members had used the two years’ time in the government to penetrate, not only the administrative machinery but the media, official and private.

It was obvious that the Jansangh members only wanted credibility which they did not have before the secular Janata party accommodated them under its umbrella. Once they got it, they formed a new party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which played the Hindu card with a vengeance. JP had apprehended such a development. He had even realised that he had gone wrong in having taken them on their face value. But by then, he had died.
Today when the Hindutva forces are gaining ground, it is a relief to see that Bihar, JP’s state, is substantially free from it. But his two staunch followers, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar, are ardent supporters of the BJP. George Fernandes, once JP’s trusted hand, is the standard bearer of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

We, human rights activists and civil liberty workers, cannot run away from the blame. We have failed to stall the advancement of saffronisation. Even the areas where we have worked for years are not free from communalism. In Rajasthan where human rights activists successfully won the right to information, the BJP has captured two-third of state assembly seats. The places where we claim to have the deepened influence at the grassroots went totally to the BJP.

The point which we must consider is where we have gone wrong. Why the saffronisation is reaching places where we are in touch with people all the time. Are we short in our commitment? In fact, the larger question which all human rights activists and civil liberty workers must face is why communalism is raising its ugly head once when we gained some strength.
The obvious inference is that it is Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrifice which saved us for more than four decades. The Sangh Parivar could not cross even the double digit figure in the Lok Sabha. Is it because of the contamination of the educated middle class? Is it the defeat of secular ideology at the hands of communal entities?

Whatever the reason, we cannot minimise our failure. We must analyse why we have not been able to convince the people among whom we have worked that parochialism and sectarianism come in the way of their own welfare and that of the country’s development. I hope that our own ranks are free from the taint of communalism and casteism.

While taking stock of our work and approach, we should ask ourselves: is it sufficient to confine ourselves to the filed work? Why have we been shunning elections? Is it because of fear to loss? Still at the time of polling we have taken interest in elections and voted for non-BJP forces because they, we believe, are a lesser evil.

Let us admit that there is no running away from the polls in a democratic setup. If we want a peaceful transition in the country, Parivartan, we have to get into Parliament and state assemblies. We cannot sit back and see the misuse of power by those who have no faith in the ideals we pursue or the changes we want to bring about.

I concede that it may take us a long time to win a majority but even then the presence of some of us in Parliament and the state assemblies will make the difference. At present we run after MPs and MLAs to ensure that our voice is heard at the places where the decisions are taken. While in Rajya Sabha, I recall that the briefing by Aruna Roy from Rajasthan helped me in the Parliamentary committee on Home Affairs to have amendments made in the legislation on the Right to information.

Although JP favoured a party-less government, he conceded that there had to be a government which would need to be captured through election. He proved it after the emergency by sweeping the polls. Mahatma Gandhi used the Congress party as his instrument for the struggle to oust the British. We should have some platform, some forum, which people come to identify with clean and credible alternative. It will be tough going but we should be prepared for failures in the beginning. In the process we may initiate some thinking among the naxalite and other similar groups that power will not come through the mouth of cannons but through the elected bodies which wield power.

Many may find such efforts confusing and feel that elections may divert our attention from the real problem. There is no more pressing problem than making people free from poverty. The state power is necessary for any meaningful effort to do so. If the nation is to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society, there is no option. The JP movement ultimately had to capture power.

But, how do we ensure that the people sent to the Parliament and the state assemblies do not behave the way in which the Janata party did. There will have to be two wings - one consisting of those who are engaged in legislative business and the other of those who do constructive work. Both should be answerable to a central body. Mahatma pursued the same line when leading the struggle for independence.

While shuttling between Patna and Mumbai for medical treatment, JP realised the necessity of reconstructing something different. He did not have many days to go. He was confined to Patna. His indomitable spirit had kept him alive, not only physically but also mentally.

He telephoned me one day. I was then in the Indian Express. He sounded as healthy as I found him when he rung me up to inaugurate the students’ meeting at Patna. He asked me to meet him. He said he would invite some more people, especially economists, to think afresh. Ideologies, he said, had failed to find an answer to the country’s problems. Something new had to be done and soon. He admitted that neither socialism, nor any other ism, would bring the desired result. There should be a new economic policy to give priority to the basic problems of people.

JP wanted real social and economic progress to usher in and believed that it would not happen until the opportunity was given to an ordinary man and woman to develop. The touchstone was how far any political or social theory made the individual to rise above his petty self and think in terms of the good of all.

Strange, Jawaharlal Nehru once made the same point in a lecture on ‘India’s Today and Tomorrow’. He said: “We talk of the welfare state and of democracy. They are good concepts but they hardly convey a clear and unambiguous meaning. Democracy and Socialism are means to an end, not the end itself. We talk of the good of society. Is this something apart from and transcending the good of the individuals composing it? If the individual is ignored and sacrificed for what is considered the good of society, is that the right objective to have?”

JP admitted that the Marxism had thrown considerable light on the economic process but was in many ways out of date. His purpose of inviting me and some others was to do our own thinking. JP was, essentially, trying to find a path which was suited to India’s genius. I could not respond to his call quickly. When I reached Patna, it was too late. He had passed away by then.


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