The book presents a comprehensive biography of one of the tallest leaders of a generation
that contributed to the making of the nation both during pre-independence and
post-independence periods with a rare vision and commitment. JP, as he is fondly remembered,
is for many, now synonymous with two turbulent and momentous periods of Indian history i.e.,
his heroic role during Quit India Movement of 1942 and his leadership of 1974 Students'
Movement to save democracy in the country. However, the book, translated by the author
himself from Hindi with new inputs, gives an insight into the multi faceted personality of
JP and his-life long struggle and dedication for the uplift of the down trodden without ever
nursing any personal ambition.
Sudhanshu Ranjan (b.1962), received his early education at Begusarai and higher
education at Patna and Delhi. Presently a senior Staff Reporter with Doordarshan, Patna, he
has covered many international events. A regular contributor to leading newspapers and
magazines on a variety of issues, he is also a human rights activist and heads an
organization devoted to the welfare of the persons with disabilities.
This tradition of sacrifice was never extinct in this country and even in the twentieth
century it manifested itself with all its effulgence when Mahatma Gandhi led the freedom
movement successfully but scrupulously kept away from power, though he was the natural
claimant to it and could have achieved the supreme position without any effort or
manipulation. It was an unparalleled sacrifice in the history of mankind. Everywhere in the
world the leader of a freedom movement always assumed the mantle of power after its
successful conclusion. But Gandhi valued people's power more than any power that the state
A little similarity can be found in the Father of Chinese Republic, Sun Yat-Sen who led the
fight for the overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in chine. After dismantling the Manchu power,
Sun was immediately elected provisional president but he declined the presidency in favour
of Yuan Shih-kai, a former member of the old regime and a successful warlord. Yuan utilized
this opportunity for aggrandizing power and Pelf and Sun fought him bitterly until the
dictator died in 1915. After Yuan's death even Sun accepted office and continued in and out
of office fighting one warlord after another.
In the case of George Washington too, We find that after winning the decisive battle of
Yorkshire in 1781 with the help of the French, Washington returned to Mount Vernon and would
have been quite content to remain there had the increasing need for a strong central
government not forced him to come back into public life, first as the Chairman of the
Constitutional Convention and afterwards as the first president of the USA. However,
Washington relinquished the presidency after two terms, though he could have continued
without any problem, making it a precedent to be broken only by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thus,
even these leaders ultimately relented and accepted office. One can easily say that in the
entire world, Mahatma Gandhi stands out as the single leader to have shunned power.
Jayaprakash Narayan was another leader to carry on the legacy of the Mahatma by keeping
himself away from State power for the sake of strengthening people's power In India only two
kinds of people have endeared themselves to the vast populace -those who have been able to
get to the plenitude of power and those who have rejected power with contempt. That is why
in the post-independence era in India two leaders who stimulated maximum veneration of the
common people were Jawaharlal Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan. While Nehru remained at the
apogee of State power, J.P. symbolized lokshakti (people's power) and his life was a
selfless expression aimed at fortifying people's power, so that it could keep a check on the
state power, which tends to become tyrannical and corrupt. In fact, after Mahatma Gandhi he
was the only person to expound and propagate this philosophy with utmost firmness and
sacrifice. The emergence of such a person is a rare occurrence in history but if such a
person comes once, he remains in our consciousness forever.
J.P.' s critics crap that his life his was an awful expression of contradictions and
incongruities-a man who jettisons Russian communism but refuses to discord Marx, adulates
Gandhi's satyagraha but does not leave class struggle. He has also been dubbed as an
escapist who kept making detours.
The main reason behind leveling the charge of escapism was his consistent refusal to accept
any office. But this was inspired only by his conviction that government has only a limited
role in effecting social change and that the state alone cannot vouchsafe people' s welfare.
Though he did not reject the institution of Parliament as a prostitute as Gandhi did
initially in 1909, he laid emphasis on decentralised economic development and the concept of
gram swaraj (village self-rule).
Several opportunities came in his life when he could have got to the apex of power but the
prospect of getting power never charmed him. Immediately after the dawn of independence,
Governor General, Mountbatten, wrote to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, that he
should induct some young blood into his Cabinet and he specifically mentioned J.P.' s name.
In 1953 Nehru invited J.P. and his socialist comrades to join his Cabinet but J.P. imposed
fourteen conditions for joining the Government. He categorically wrote to Nehru that he
should not participate in the Government unless there was an agreement on certain important
Programmes. There could not be any such agreement. When the American writer John Gunther
came to India in the early fifties of the last century, he asked Nehru after interviewing
him, who else in India he (Gunter) should meet. Gunther reports that Nehru suggested it to
him to meet J.P., adding that he was the Nehru Prime minister of India.
Again in 1962 discontent against the then government was quite palpable. President
Radhakrishnan told him, "J.P., make ready to take over," Some M.P.s also made endeavours in
this direction. M.P.s favouring a change in leadership held a meeting at the residence of
the socialist leader, Purushottam Tricumdas and urged J.P. to accept the leadership J.P.
not only spurned the offer but also met Nehru to express his solidarity with him. The death
of Nehru in 1964 precipitated a power struggle in the party. Some leaders suggested the name
of J.P. for the post of prime Minister. Lal Bahadur Shastri also announced that he would
withdraw his candidature if J.P. become a candidate. Again J.P. declined saying that the
question of embracing power, after having once rejected it, did not arise. In 1967 Dr. Ram
Manohar Lohia and Minoo Masani proposed his name for the presidency. Some parties and also
some of the members of the Congress expressed their support for Dr. Zakir Hussain. All this
can be attributed to his unflinching faith in people's power and also because he basically
distrusted all politicians: "Politicians of all brands from time immemorial have practiced
amoralism, no matter how much they might have denounced it in words."
Great persons become historical forces at certain junctures of history and so they must be
evaluated as historical forces, not merely as ones in flesh and blood. In J.P.' s life his
ideological journey assumes paramount importance. But many people fail to discern any
consistency and continuity in his ideology. Such people have actually not bothered to peep
into his philosophy. More than a politician, he was a seeker after the truth. In order to
slake his thirst he came under the impact of several ideologies, viz., Marxism, socialism,
Gandhism, Sarvodaya and led several movements. But as he felt that a particular movement did
not stand the exacting demands of truth and justice he displayed the courage of dissociating
himself from it. His close associate and friend S. M. Joshi has observed:" Jayaparakash was
truthful to the core, and I could cite numbers incidents from his life to show that truth
and truthfulness stood much higher in his scheme of things than the normal things that you
and I consider important. Indeed it was because of his faith in truth and his loyalty that
he came close, very close to Mahatma Gandhi."
The welfare of the common people constituted the leitmotif of all his philosophy and
exercise. In democracy he placed 'demos' above everything else and this concern for demos
had its fructification in his concept of "Total Revolution is the logical culmination of
Gandhi's concept of village self-rule. Complete overhaul of the social structure was its aim
because the system, in the opinion, was touching the cesspool of degradation and a moral and
egalitarian society could not be formed without throwing out the existing system completely.
J.P. wrote in1969: "Gandhi's nonviolence was not just a plea for law and order, or a cover
for the status quo, but a revolutionary philosophy. It is needed a philosophy of a total
revolution, because it embraces personal and social ethics and values of life as much as
economic, political and social institutions and processes."
J.P. served the county without desire for any return, which gave him a lofty height and
moral authority. This moral authority had its sway even on the ferocious dacoits of Chambal
whom the Government had failed to nab but they surrendered before J.P. Such instances
abound. Anyone and everyone approached him with their complaint. Once a group of Anandmargis
squatted before his house to ask him to arrange their meeting with their leader P.C. Sarkar
in jail. Once a large number of people of Dawoodi Bohra community come to J.P. with the
request that he should save their community from to dangers being faced by the reformers of
their own community. And J.P. was concerned with the problem of everyone. He did not have
animus for anyone. During Bihar movement in 1974-75 once he went to Munger district. In the
afternoon he was away and nobody knew where he had gone. Later it was found that he had been
invited by the local sex workers whom he had gone to address.
He kept grappling with all sorts of contemporary socio-political problems, be it Kashmir or
the insurgency in Nagaland, menace of Naxalism in the Mushari block of Muzaffarpur or the
famine of Bihar, or whether it pertained to international problems like those of Bangladesh,
Tibet, Africa or the increasing danger of nuclear war in the world At a time he kept
cogitating on politics, international relations, cooperative, education, human rights and
other burring issues.
His approach to every problem was humane which transcended the barriers of caste, religions
and country. Ironically, sometimes, this gave an opportunity to his detractors to dub him as
a traitor or anti-national. In fact, he was basically a humanist and never differentiated
between man and man. Many a time his servant slept on his bed but he did not feel bad. His
friends and relations objected to it but he reacted with equanimity that, after all, a
servant is also a human being. He always called his servant an attendant, not a servant. He
had a childlike simplicity -he could be easily pleased and would become angry in a jiffy.
By nature he was quite emotional. One or two incidents throw light on his nature. In 1959
the silver jubilee celebration of the Socialist Party was organized in Bombay (now Mumbai).
The pandal of the conference was named after a bosom friend of his, Yusuf Meherally, who
died at the young age of forty-seven. J.P. was invited to address the gathering though he
was no longer a member of the party then. When he stood up to speak, his throat was choked
and tears started rolling down his cheeks. He could not utter a single word for long and
there was pin-drop silence in the conference.
He would be always quite concerned about the comforts of others. The former Prime Minister,
Chandra Shekhar, told this author that he had been associated with J.P. since the early
fifties and he used to call on him (J.P.) in his village. J.P. welcomed his guests very
warmly and personally looked after their comfort. In the night when everyone slept, J.P.
visited each room with a lantern to see whether everyone had got a proper bed and blanket.
Chandra shekhar another story. Mohammed Mustafa was a young freedom fighter from Balia (U.P)
who was mercilessly tortured by the British. They wanted to make him cry but the iron-willed
Mustafa never cried. After Independence he got an offer for the post of DSP from Pakistan
but he declined saying that he would not leave India, come what may.
Chandra Shekhar introduced him to J.P. Immediately J.P. wrote a personal letter to Lal
Bahadur Shastri, the then Railway Minister, requesting him to give a job to Mustafa. After
some time, J.P. met Chandra Shekhar at Azamgarh and he inquired about Mustafa. When he was
told that Union Minister, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai: "if a young man like Mustafa does not get a job
in free India, freedom is not worthwhile. If you cannot do it, let me talk to Bhai Sahab
(Jawaharlal Nehru). "Then he was appointed in Deoband sugar mill at Rs. 150 per month.
He could not brook any one's suffering. Once he went to Kedarnath. Sarvodaya leader and
founder of Samanvay Ashram, Gaya, Dwarko Sundarani, was also with him. Sundarani told this
author that there was snow all round. One day a scavenger came to his room barefoot to clean
the toilet. Finding the scavenger in such a condition J.P. burst into tears: "See, after so
many years of Independence condition of these people is still so pathetic. I also did such
menial jobs in the USA but I always had boots and warm clothes to put on." After the death
of his wife, Prabhavati, he usually broke down upon remember her.
He was extremely courteous and welcomed all and sundry at his house despite pressing
commitments. Sometimes it so happened that a visitor popped in just when he was to leave for
catching a train. Even then he would entertain him at the cost of missing the train. Yusuf
Meherally fondly and affectionately wrote about him:
J.P. has two vices that I can discover. The first is the possession of a magnificent
shaving set. With a beaming smile he will tell you that it is the finest in own. When one
has a face as handsome as Jayaparakh' s this many be pardoned!
I do not know how to describe the other, unless I cell it a lack of the time sense-for to
call it merely unpunctually would be prosaic. The fact is that Jayaparaksh loves a good
discussion, especially with an intelligent opponent, and will miss half a dozen appointments
to do so. But at those times when he comes late, such genuine misery is written on his face,
that he seems to endear himself all the more by his unpunctuality.
He was quite circumspect that nobody was hurt by his behaviour and also tried to behave in
such a way that none felt small before him. If his secretary or anyone else showed him a
draft and J.P. found some mistake in it, he would say that he had doubts, so dictionary
should be consulted.
The socialist leader, Devendra Prasad Singh, speaks eloquently about his courtesty
kind-heartedness. Elaborating on it, his referred to an incident which happened around 1960.
J.P. had gone to Calcutta. Some Sarvodaya leaders came to him. Singh also called on him with
Asoka Mehta. J.P introduced the Sarvodaya leaders to both of them but Mehta neither paid any
attention to them nor did he look at them during the half hour talk. J.P. was hurt by Mehta'
s behaviour. After Mehta left J.P. said, "What happened to Asoka? He did not attach any
importance to them."
He was also particular about discipline and manners. His face would be screwed up even if a
person sipped tea noisily. His life was quite simple, though he abominated dirt and
untidiness. He never kept a car easily moved about in a rickshaw or tonga. In trains he
seldom traveled above inter class. (There were four classes then -first, second, inter and
Like Rousseau, J.P. had profound faith in the innate goodness of man. The surrender of the
dacoits of Chambal conclusively demonstrates it. Many people took advantage of the
sentimentalism and faith. Therefore, several persons, including his friends and could
associate are of the opinion that J.P. was credulous and could not judge people correctly.
In November, 1988 socialist leader S. M. Joshi, while discussing this aspect of J.P. 's
personally with the author commented in exasperation: "J.P. had no judgment of people. All
the wrong people kept taking advantage of him." But another Sarvodaya associate of his,
Acharya Rammurti, strongly rebuts this contention: "How can you say that? J.P. movement was
more peaceful than any of Gandhi's movement. Only one constable was killed by students in
Mairwa, Chapra for which J.P. profusely apologized and gave Rs. 5,000 to the family of the
deceased. Moreover, nobody can be prevented from joining a mass movement. When he went to
Vellore for treatment in 1974 he entrusted the leadership of the movement to four persons.
Whose character in those four was bad? It is true that Gandhi was much cleaver than J.P. but
a person's stature cannot be judged by the character of his followers. "Devendra Prased
Singh told this author that he had said to J.P. that many anti-social elements had joined
the movement. J.P. replied that he knew about it out could not do anything, as he did not
have much time.
In fact J.P. respected friendship. In a few meetings he become intimate with any person. The
selfish ones did not lag behind in deriving mileage out of this relationship. To be true in
friendship is sublime but an essential concomitant of it is that unscrupulous peoples take
its undue advantage. That is why Gandhi was very clear that saints should abstain from
friendship as loyalty to a friend leads to wrongdoing. George Orwell has commented that this
is unquestionably true but he has to add something more: "The essence of being human is that
one does not seek perfection, that one is sometime willing to commit sins for the sake of
loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it make friendly intercourse
impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life which
is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals. No doubt
alcohol, tobacco, and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a
thing that human beings must avoid. ?
J.P. was definitely not a saint so he cherished friendship. He trusted everyone to such an
extents that his co-workers felt irritated several times that the whole movement was being
obstructed by some undesirable elements. But J.P. always said, "Don't condemn anyone so
soon," In fact, he gave the benefit of doubt to everyone till last movement.
According to his associates he was so large-hearted that he could not learn worldly
machinations. His magnanimity knew no bounds. His friend and acquaintances easily wore his
cloths. If while buying a cloth someone praised it, J.P. would buy him the same cloth. He
hardly took care of his own things. A founder member of the Congress Socialist Party, S. H.
Razi, while recounting his first meeting with J.P., told that in the beginning of 1934 he
was going to Allahabad from Patna with Ram Brikshs Benipuri to take part in a literary
conference. J.P. was also to accompany them. But he did not turn up at the station. They
located J.P. at Danapur station. Actually, as per his habit, J.P. reached the station late
and boarded the running train. At Mughalsarai jn., the train stopped for a little while and
J.P. went into their compartment and chatted with them. After some time he went back to his
own bogie. In the morning when they alighted at Allahabad jn., they found that J.P. did
not have any luggage. On being asked, he replied in a detached manner that someone had
stolen his luggage while he was talking to them at Mughalsarai.
In today's murky political scenario J.P. 's selfless service stands out as a beacon light
for the present generation He had totally identified himself with the nation and even a
slight aberration in the system deeply disturbed him. Any minor incident provoked him into
admonishing his associates in words such as, What is happening? What are you people doing?
as if some thorn had gone inside his flesh. I am sure J.P. would emerge taller than most of
his contemporaries if an objective evaluation of his personally is done.
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