Keeper of India's Conscience
He realised that Gandhiji's success in the freedom struggle had showed that it was possible to bring about change without sacrificing one's values.
Jayaprakash Narayan was born on October 11, 1902, in
Sitabdiara, a village on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. His
father Harsudayal was a junior official in the Canal Department of the
State government and was often touring the region. Jayaprakash, called
Baul affectionately, was left with his grandmother to study in Sitabdiara.
Since there was no high school in the village, Jayaprakash was sent
to Patna to study in the Collegiate School.
While in school, Jayaprakash read magazines like Saraswati,
Prabha and Pratap, books like Bharat- Bharati, and poems by Maithilsharan
Gupta and Bharatendu Harishchandra which described the courage and valour
of the Rajput kings. Jayaprakash also read the Bhagwad Gita. He excelled
in school. His essay, The present state of Hindi in Bihar
won a best essay award. He joined the Patna College on a government
Jayaprakash was married to Prabhavati, daughter of
lawyer and nationalist Brij Kishore Prasad in October 1920. Prabhavati
was very independent-minded and on Gandhijis invitation, went
to stay at his ashram while Jayaprakash continued his studies.
Jayaprakash, along with some friends, went to listen
to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad speak about the Non-cooperation movement
launched by Gandhiji against the passing of the Rowlatt Act of 1919.
The Maulana was a brilliant orator and his call to give up English education
was like leaves before a storm: Jayaprakash was swept away and
momentarily lifted up to the skies. That brief experience of soaring
up with the winds of a great idea left imprints on his inner being.
Jayaprakash took the Maulanas words to heart and left Patna College
with just 20 days remaining for his examinations. He joined the Bihar
Vidyapeeth, a college run by the Congress.
Higher Studies in the USA
After exhausting the courses at the Vidyapeeth, Jayaprakash
decided to go to America to pursue his studies. At age 20, Jayaprakash
sailed aboard the cargo ship Janus while Prabhavati remained at Sabarmati.
Jayaprakash reached California on October 8, 1922 and gained admission
to Berkeley in January 1923. To pay for his education, Jayaprakash picked
grapes, set them out to dry, packed fruits at a canning factory, washed
dishes, worked as a mechanic at a garage and at a slaughter house, sold
lotions and accepted teaching jobs. All these jobs gave Jayaprakash
an insight regarding the difficulties the working class faced.
Jayaprakash was forced to transfer to Iowa State when
fees at Berkeley were doubled. He was forced to transfer to many universities
thereafter. He pursued his favourite subject, Sociology and received
much help from Professor Edward Ross, the father of Sociology.
In Wisconsin, Jayaprakash was introduced to Karl Marxs
Das Capital. News of the success of the Russian revolution
of 1917 made Jayaprakash conclude that Marxism was the way to alleviate
the suffering masses. He delved into books by Indian intellectual and
Communist theoretician M.N. Roy. His paper on Sociology, Social
Variation, was declared as the best of the year.
Return to India
Jayaprakash had to cut his doctorate short when news
came that his mother was seriously ill. Jayaprakash returned to India
in November 1929, a mature young man with an enquiring mind, original
in his thinking, and with the fierce, idealistic desire to devote himself
to serve society. For Jayaprakash it was not enough that the nation
attain political freedom. To him, the definition of freedom was freedom
from hunger, poverty and ignorance.
While Jayaprakash became a believer of the Communist
school of thought, Prabhavati became an ardent Gandhian. He respected
Prabhavatis choice and did not force her to change her views.
In 1929, both Jayaprakash and Prabhavati left for the Congress session
at Lahore under Jawaharlal Nehrus presidentship. There Nehru invited
Jayaprakash to join the Congress, an offer that Jayaprakash gladly accepted.
He began work in the Labour Research Cell of the Congress at Allahabad.
Following the 1930 Dandi March, most of
the top Congress leaders were arrested. Jayaprakash immediately set
up an underground office at Bombay to continue Congress work. He travelled
all over the nation, printing, distributing and organizing secret meetings.
After an underground meeting of the Congress Working Committee in Banaras,
Jayaprakash went to Madras where he was arrested. The next day the newspaper
headlines screamed, Congress Brain Arrested!
In British Jails
In the Nasik jail, Jayaprakash had the opportunity
to meet thinkers like Ram Manohar Lohia, Asoka Mehta, Minoo Masani,
P. Dantwala and Achyut Patwardhan. All of them were impatient for freedom
and agreed to steer the Congress towards the goal of Socialism. Jayaprakash
was released from jail in 1933.
In 1934, Jayaprakash and his friends formed the Congress
Socialist Party under the Presidentship of Acharya Narendra Deva and
Secretaryship of Jayaprakash himself. The group intended to function
as the Socialist wing within the Congress party and aimed to make socialism
the goal of the Congress. In a book Why Socialism? (1932),
Jayaprakash explained why socialism would be right for India. He was
adored by the youth for his idealism.
Jayaprakash was arrested for speaking against Indian
participation in the Second World War in February 1940 and sent to Deoli
detention camp in Rajasthan. Jayaprakash was appalled at the conditions
in Deoli. He organized a hunger strike to protest the conditions in
1941. The Government immediately released him. He was again arrested
in 1942 for participating in the Quit India movement. In November 1942,
Diwali night, Jayaprakash along with five others escaped the prison
by scaling a 17 feet high wall while the guards remained distracted
by the festivities. A Rs.10,000 reward was offered for Jayaprakashs
capture, dead or alive. Jayaprakash escaped to Nepal and organized a
guerilla army called the Azad Dasta. Jayaprakash and Ram
Manohar Lohia were captured briefly but were rescued by the Azad Dasta
members, who set fire to a hut to distract the guards. Both freedom
fighters escaped to Bihar. Finally the British closed in on Jayaprakash
in Amritsar when he was on his way to Rawalpindi to meet Khan Abdul
Gaffar Khan. Jayaprakash was taken to Lahore Fort, notorious as a Torture
chamber on September 18, 1943. 16 months of mental and physical
torture followed. Jayaprakash was put in solitary confinement for the
first month. Then came interrogations, physical torture and humiliation.
Jayaprakash was released from jail on April 12, 1946.
Jayaprakash returned to a nation he could barely recognize.
Talk of partition and riots between Hindu and Muslims dominated the
atmosphere. Jayaprakash rushed to Bihar to assist in curbing the riots.
He pleaded with the Congress Working Committee not to accept the partition
From Marx to Gandhi
Independence finally came on August 15, 1947. Within
a year Gandhiji was assassinated. Prabhavati hid her sorrow behind the
spinning wheel, but Jayaprakashs mind churned (with) grief
and horror. He began to see the wisdom in Gandhijis insistence
on truth and non-violence.
The Socialists led by JP lost to the Congress in the
1952 elections. Nehru invited Jayaprakash to join the Cabinet. When
Nehru could give no assurances on the implementation of Jayaprakashs
14 point plan to reform the Constitution, the Administration and Judicial
system, nationalize the banks, redistribute land to the landless, revive
Swadeshi, and setup cooperatives, Jayaprakash refused the offer.
Jayaprakash turned his attention to the trade unions he was President of. He, along with the unions was able to get a minimum wage, pension, medical relief and housing subsidy introduced. At the same time, Jayaprakash was keenly watching events in Russia. The bloody purges and imprisonment convinced Jayaprakash that communism was not for India. He realized that Gandhijis success in the freedom struggle had showed that it was possible to bring about change without sacrificing ones values.
On April 19, 1954, at a meeting in Gaya, Jayaprakash made the dramatic
announcement of dedicating his life (jeewan daan) to Vinoba Bhaves
Sarvodaya movement. He renounced all self-interest, gave up his land
in Sitabdiara, and withdrew from all personal activity to devote the
rest of his life to the movement. Prabhavati was delighted at this declaration.
Jayaprakash set up an ashram at Hazaribagh, a poor and backward village.
He gave Gandhian concepts a new dimension by using modern technology
to uplift the village.
Jayaprakash believed that every village should be like a small republic - politically independent and capable of taking its own decisions. It was a marriage of Gandhian-Indian concepts and modern Western democracy. His thoughful, well-researched and brilliant book, The Reconstruction of Indian Polity, won him the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Taming the Naxals
In June 1971, Sarvodaya workers in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, received a letter
threatening to kill them. The area was continuously threatened by Naxalites,
which was made up of young men. Jayaprakash walked into the heart of
Naxal territory armed only with love and sympathy. He knew that the
cause of the violence was that the youth were frustrated because of
poverty and unemployment. He lived in Musahari block for many months
and experimented to alleviate the problems of the Naxals. Jayaprakash
was also a key person in acquiring the surrender of dacoits in the Chambal
On April 15, 1973, Prabhavati died of cancer, leaving Jayaprakash alone.
Call for Total Revolution
1974 ushered in a year of high inflation, unemployment and lack of supplies and essential commodities. Jayaprakash was asked to lead a peaceful agitation by the Navanirman Andolan of Gujarat. On April 8, 1974, at the age of 72, he led a silent procession at Patna. The procession was lathi charged. On June 5, 1974, Jayaprakash addressed a mammoth crowd at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. He declared, This is a revolution, friends! We are not here merely to see the Vidhan Sabha dissolved. That is only one milestone on our journey. But we have a long way to go... After 27 years of freedom, people of this country are wracked by hunger, rising prices, corruption... oppressed by every kind of injustice... it is a Total Revolution we want, nothing less!
In Indiras Jail
On June 12, 1975, the Allahabad High Court held the Prime Minister,
Mrs. Indira Gandhi, guilty on charges of corrupt practice in her election.
Jayaprakash advised her to resign until her name was cleared by the
Supreme Court. Instead, she clamped Emergency on June 26. Jayaprakash
was arrested and sent to Chandigarh where he was kept prisoner in a
hospital. My world lies in shambles around me, he cried.
As his health worsened, he was moved to a hospital in Bombay.
Finally in January 1977, the Emergency was lifted. Fresh elections
were declared. Under Jayaprakashs guidance several parties united
to form the Janata Party. The party incorporated all of Jayaprakashs
goals in its manifesto.
Courtesy : www.indiaisthebest.com
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