JP's revenge

Chandra Bhan Prasad

Why did Jai Prakash Narain call upon the armed forces to defy the civilian rule at his Ramlila Ground rally on June 25, 1975? How could the Army Chief disobey civilian orders, and yet remain the Army Chief?

To disobey a civilian authority, the Army Chief in any democracy would have only one option, that is, take over the reins of power, and declare military rule. Had Indira Gandhi s position become illegal to the extent that it required to be replaced by a military regime?

Indira Gandhi was an elected Member of Parliament, enjoyed majority in the Lower House, and was Prime Minister. Her election from Rai Bareli was invalidated by a judge of the Allahabad High Court. Did she, as a citizen, have no right to approach the Supreme Court? She did approach the Apex Court, and got a temporary relief on June 24, 1975. The Supreme Court ruled that Indira Gandhi s powers and privileges as Prime Minister would be unaffected during her appeal against the Allahabad High Court judgement. That means, till JP s June 25 rally, backed by a host of leaders from Opposition parties, Indira Gandhi, howsoever pretentious she may have been, was taking a legal course as available in the Constitution. Then why did JP not wait for the Supreme Court s final judgement? On the contrary, JP gave an open call to the Army to revolt, for which the Indian Constitution does not provide any space. JP had also announced a nation-wide week-long satyagraha from June 29. Was JP s call for satyagraha, which may have led to a genuine disturbance creating a law and order problem, intended to entice the Army to move in?

If the Army was to listen to JP, that would have been an end to democracy, or creation of a Pakistan-like situation. Indira Gandhi responded to this threat by invoking the constitutional provision of imposing internal Emergency. We must also remember that in the wake of the 1971 war, there already existed an external Emergency. The question which requires a fresh look is: Why was JP, and a host of Opposition leaders, seeking to overthrow a duly elected Government by an Army coup when the General Elections were due only a year later in 1976? To understand this riddle, we must have some idea of the socio-political context, JP s own personal crisis, and the state of Opposition politics.

By the mid-70s, Indira Gandhi was at the zenith of her popularity. Her garibi hatao slogan and schemes, including the introduction of the second phase of land reforms, and victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war made her invincible in Indian politics. There was no one in the Congress to effectively challenge her. At the all-India level, her charisma grew by leaps and bounds. She was increasingly getting identified with the Socialist block at the international level. By then she was an internationally recognised leader. Her opponents, who had left the Congress to challenge her, too were marginalised. The Opposition was in disarray. Her closeness to the Soviet Block left no option before the domesticated Left but to side with her. After the initial brouhaha of the socialist upsurge in 1967, most socialist leaders were losing their relevance. The Sangh Parivar on the other hand, had realised by then that their Hindutva slogan is unlikely to take them to power. Thus, if the General Elections were to take place in 1976, the entire Opposition ran the risk of being totally wiped out.

Jai Prakash Narain, a Gandhian by persuasion, had become totally irrelevant by the 70s. Though an important leader in the Gandhian movement, he was no match for Nehru. Assailed by profound self-doubt in his abilities, and also sensing Gandhi s soft corner towards Nehru, whom the Mahatma had once described as jewel of India, JP had no option but to quit the Congress, if at all to upstage Nehru.

Outside the Congress, there existed only two major blocks: The Communists and the Socialists. His deep, almost pathological, hatred towards Communism, drove him to the Socialists, with whom he had a better understanding. Sensing the limited appeal of the Socialist movement, he sought to achieve sainthood by jumping on to Vinoba Bhave s bandwagon. After the failure of Bhave s bhoodan andolan, which was a monumental farce, he was a broken man. Not only that he failed to challenge Nehru, he even failed to block Indira s rise. Not that every top leader of the freedom movement became Prime Minister or President, but most of them achieved some identity, some stature, to be remembered by future generations. What must ultimately have got stuck in his psyche was a feeling that it is political democracy, patronised by the modern state system and sanctified by the Constitution, that is responsible for his ruin. He became revengeful, and decided to destroy political democracy, modern state, and the Constitution.

To accomplish his new-found mission, he began collecting interest groups, who were fundamentally opposed to the resolve of the Constitution, as evident in its Preamble, to restructure Indian society along egalitarian lines. He shadowed Charan Singh, who never allowed Dalits to exercise their fundamental right to vote in his constituency. He shadowed Morarji Desai, who was completely opposed to any role of the state in the economic affairs of the country. He picked up Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, who by then, was an established lumpen of the Patna University. He patronised Raj Narain, essentially a clown, to mock at the very notion of representative democracy. He knew that Dalits and Brahmins are the most conscientious voters in India s parliamentary democracy. He brought together all landowning OBCs, erstwhile social police of upper varnas, and included Rajputs and Bhumihars, to hit at these two social minorities.

Today the RSS-remote-controlled BJP is bringing in legislations to go beyond 50 per cent ceiling of job quota to fill up the SC/ST backlog. Twenty years ago, the RSS-remote-controlled Jan Sangh would have been on the streets protesting any such move. The social philosophy of the RSS of the 70s was a negation of the very notion of democracy, leave alone the notion of equality. But JP not only shadowed the Jan Sangh, he allowed the largest number of Lok Sabha seats to the latter.

Any takers for JP s political morality? He, became a top-ranking lumpen himself, enticed Babuji with a public declaration of making him Prime Minister, to quit the Congress. In his name, Dalits were robbed of the cutting edge of their votes, and when the Janata Party actually came to power, Morarji Desai, was made PM. JP s protege Neelam Sajeeva Reddy became President. He, after the fall of the Desai Government, instead of appointing Babuji as Prime Minister, who had an assured majority support, acted by his conscience, and appointed Charan Singh as the next PM. Such was JP s followers hostility towards the Dalits. If at all parliamentary democracy in India was ever throttled, it was when Charan Singh became PM without a majority in Lok Sabha. While JP failed in his mission of destroying democratic institutions in his life time, that damage looms even larger today. The material basis for a United Front type outfit was laid by JP. The kind of political forces that JP had unleashed then are maturing, and are out to dismantle the very core of Indian democracy. Mr Laloo Yadav is not alone. Mr Deve Gowda is not alone. They are omnipresent in contemporary Indian politics.

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