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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 45, New Delhi, October 23, 2021

JP as a failed politician | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 23 October 2021

by Prof Radhakanta Barik

JP Narayan (JP) after leaving his party politics he decided to enjoy his freedom. He felt restricted in his freedom to think and act as free intellectual as a member of the party. He defined it as “freedom of the mind, freedom of spirit’ He left the party and but remained active in public life. He joined the sarvodaya which meant welfare of all. This is a utopian idea guided him for some years. He campaigned for the sarvodaya which demanded the rich to hand over his land to them and which would be distributed among the poor. He joined Vinoba Bhave who was leading the movement. Sarvodayists strive towards a society based on truth and non-violence. There should be no distinction of caste or creed and there should be no exploitation. There is space for the development of both individuals and groups in class and caste based society. ’Truth’ means personal morality based on selfless and honest. They were concerned of Gram-Swaraj, communal unity, development of Khadi and other village industries, removal of narrow provincialism, cow protection, naturopathy, etc. The main constructive activities of the Sarvodaya movement are Bhoodan and Gramdan. It is an interesting idea that he never campaigned for distribution of wealth in cities where capital is concentrated. Rich farmers are expected to donate land voluntarily, to be distributed among the landless families of the village. This is considered an alternative to the communist method of seizing land by for the landless. Development of all is another principle of Sarvadoya philosophy. They do not recogsnise the existence of class and caste groups in a society. There is no conflict among them in a Sarvodaya society. “Sarvodaya means that the good of all resides in the good of one. That there could be interests of one person which are against the interests of another is inconceivable. Similarly, there could be no interests of any one community, class or country which would be against the interests of any other community, class or country. The idea of opposition of interests is itself wrong.”(Vinoba Bhave,1975)Sarvodaya talks of class collaboration. There is however evidence to show that there had been an accentuation of class conflict, even in the areas where sarvodaya workers have done intensive work.

Sarvodaya philosophy opposes the system of capitalism which breeds centralization and profiteering but there are some features of capitalism like individual freedom, minimum interference by the government in social and economic sphere are in tune with the sarvodaya philosophy. It is deadly combination of laissez-faire and class collaboration. This creates havoc in small scale production system.

Sarodaya makes it clear that they oppose communism although they believe in a vogue egalitarian society. Communist believes in class struggle between capitalist and working class which is an eternal truth of each modern society. Sarvodaya believes in class collaboration and class harmony and eschews class conflict. Sarvodaya workers are committed , ‘ to the service of the poor with single minded devotion.” It is the duty of the rich to serve the poor. It believes in moral character.” Social structure changes its form along with the development of human character. Hence all lovers of good should concentrate their attention on the development of moral qualities.” Vinoba believes, “ if we do not carry on our work properly, communism is bound to make inroads into our public life.” He believes that communism is a social evil. The difference between Sarvodaya and communism are fundamental and irreconcilable. “It is a fact that many Sarvodaya workers felt disturbed with the rise of communists in 1960s specifically in Bihar. They developed philosophy of Sarvodaya against communism.

Vinoba and JP moved around the whole country and but both of them concentrated in Bihar in 1950 The state government passed legislation regarding legalizing the land under the Gramdan . JP concentrated his energies in Bihar since 1954. By the end of Gandhi centenary year of 1969 the movement received gift or dan 98perentages 587 blocks in Bihar virtually a Bihardan. The figures are highly impressive and the Bhoodan and Gramdan movements achieved their targets. Despite the efforts by Sarvodaya workers the power structure of Bihar remains as before. landed elite turned more aggressive after the all the gram dan scene happened in Bihar. By donating a portion of land in the name of gramdan their legitimacy has further strengthened. Their respectability has further increased. It weakened the land less families as their resistance against the landed elite has been caricatured by some.

Sarvodaya dreams of non intervention of the government as government is unnecessary. “ The best kind of government is one where it is possible to doubt whether any government exists at all. An ideal government would have no armaments no police force and no penalties, the people would manage their own affairs, listen to readily to advice and allow themselves to be guided by moral considerations.” It is absurd thinking of Sarvodaya that government is unnecessary and its activities should be minimal. An ideal government would have no armed forces no armaments and the people would manage their own affairs, JP’s debate over Sarvodaya is derived from the post Russian revolution when there was a sharp debated over the nature of Soviets and nature of government. It is a debate between Trotsky vs Stalin.

Sarvodaya people think politics or rajniiti has no place in life as it is about power politics and it is destructive. In politics the power hungry individuals and political parties play their mischievous designs. Sarvodaya thinks that parliamentary democracy is sham as parties control power and they do not want to share power with people. As Vinoba Bhave belives that in fact it is bogus. Not only does it fail to express the people ‘s strength. It does more harm like the kings and they do not represent public opinion. In some districts of Bihar like Saharsa the landlords handed over the land to trust but distributed the land to poor. It has been found that land got distributed and returned back to original owners. Thus, the basic philosophy of Sarvo- daya is a mixture of anarchism and laissez faire. Sarvodaya workers ignore the contradictions in their philosophy. They accept some important principles of capitalism but reject the consequences that flow from the capitalist sys- tem: concentration of wealth and power in a few hands. As poor was not empowered and landlords were not serious of their efforts which failed the project initiated by Sarvodaya. Study shows that land got distributed voluntarily went back to the original owners. One study conducted by Pradhan H Prasad in Mushahari block found that land distributed under the Sarvoday had gone back to original owners. Parth Mukherjee a socialist and friend of JP whose study found the same. JP himself admitted that gramdan and land distribution was “ ineffectual in solving a major social and economic problem”In 1970 the Sarvoday workers got disillusioned of their activities and felt bad about the happenings like violence in rural India. Disillusionment helped them to jump into students’ movement led by JP in 1974-75. Some Sarvodaya workers started doubting the effectiveness of their persuasion regarding gifting the land by some rich farmers. An average worker doubted the concept of Vinoba’s concept of positive satyagraha with its gentlest influence. By 1970s they got convinced of the non-violent approach has failed. They are convinced of the matter that only violent approach to land question can solve the problem. They realized that caste hierarchy has further strengthened. Moreover the Sarvodaya workers used to depend on the government for conducting their work.They felt embarrassed of their plight against the government help. JP and others blamed the Congress government for low level spirit working among the Sarvodaya workers and leaders.

After the split in the Congress Party into Congress (O) and Congress created problems for Sarva Seva Sanga as they did not approve the radical political posture of Indira Gandhi and they started siding with the Congress (O). By early 1970s Vinoba and JP started differing with each other. Vionoba went to the background and JP took interest in politics and came to the forefront and took interest in politics as an active nonparty leader. In 1973 the Sarva Seva Sangh held a meeting at Sevagram to review the national situation. The convention said that the present critical situation could be tackled only by mobilizing people to strengthen the people’s power. In 1974 the Sarvodaya workers supported Gujarat students’ movement against the corrupt politics. JP visited the Gujarat and complimented students. As if students were doing politics in vacuum. They were ideological people and they were dead against the congress and it was the RSS supported their movement in Gujarat.

In Bihar after the Sewagram conference some leading Sarvodaya leaders started giving statements regarding the political situation. They spoke against the price rise and invited JP to participate in the movement against the price rise. This led to split between Vinoba and his supporters and the JP and his supporters. The Sarvodaya started demanding spiritualization of politics and they demanded for dissolution of the assembly.

JP started speaking on people’s peaceful struggle to control state power. He supported as a citizen demand for resignation of the Ministry and dissolution of the state assembly. “ I must raise my voice as strongly and act as effectively as possible to condemn and fight against such abuse of democratic power and democratic institutions. “His support for the struggle could not confine to the non violent in nature as he claimed: “ In reality violence and nonviolence are not contradictory to each other. They are part of each other. They are two sides of the same coin.They are essential aspects of any society and nation.”

His total revolution remains as the mystical as those leading movement and those holding power do represent the same social classes and interest groups. The students are of different nature as they have a different psychology. He accepted the theory of generation gap as students do not approve the values of the values, customs and institutions of their parents. Students do not have the class character of their families. They can be the agents of social change in society. Sensitive, vocal and having no family responsibilities, students can afford to be full time revolutionaries. But study shows that students do represent class values of their parents except in their dress and sexual norms. Students accept the caste system. Furthermore students do not feel the political system is unjust. All these experiments failed which made JP disillusioned of his non party politics. He failed as the leader of PSP which failed to win the majority in Bihar assembly election. He as the leader of the party wrote a letter to Nehru and gave him a charter of demands including the distribution of land and other programmes but Nehru did not agree to those demands. Furthermore, many of the members of PSP decided to join the Congress Party back. The PSP is a misnomer as it is a faction within the Congress Party who pleaded for little radical programme but basically they were Congress in their hearts and minds. Those who opposed the proposal of joining the Congress and they joined the SP led by Lohia which created a platform in opposition to the Congress.

JP by leaving the party politics and remained as a public intellectual and took up the challenges like North Eastern India specifically the issue of Mizos and Nagas. He negotiated with their leaders and started negotiated with the central government to settle the demands of these two powerful communities in Constitutional framework. He pleaded for the settlement of Kashmir issue when Sheikh Abdullah remained in jail. He negotiated on behalf of the state to bring an amicable settlement. He turned into the issue of dacoits in Chambal valley where he pleaded for peaceful settlement with the dacoits with the state. His mediation got fruitation. His popularity remained at height being a public intellectual outside of state power but state required his good will to settle some knotty problems. Both state and JP turned closer to each other. His self respect arose further. Political scientists recognize his public spirited actions as non parliamentary opposition and as a moral voice in Indian politics.

This was Nehru’s time when state required his public spirited actions. After Indira Gandhi came to power she did not require his public spirited actions. He got disillusioned with her and she became very powerful after 1971 general election and her win over Pakistan in creating Bangladesh she turned into a powerful political figure where all opposition got reduced to pigmies before her. Many opposition parties like Jansanga and Swatantra went to JP and needed his help to revive their fortunes. After the split in the Congress Party into Congress (O) and Congress created problems for Sarva Seva Sanga as they did not approve the radical political posture of Indira Gandhi and they started siding with the Congress (O). By early 1970s Vinoba and JP started differing with each other. Vionoba went to the background and JP took interest in politics and came to the forefront and took interest in politics as an active nonparty leader. In 1973 the Sarva Seva Sangh held a meeting at Sevagram to review the national situation. The convention said that the present critical situation could be tackled only by mobilizing people to strengthen the people’s power. In 1974 the Sarvodaya workers supported Gujarat students’ movement against the corrupt politics. JP visited the Gujarat and complimented students. As if students were doing politics in vacuum. They were ideological people and they were dead against the congress and it was the RSS supported their movement in Gujarat.

In Bihar after the Sewagram conference some leading Sarvodaya leaders started giving statements regarding the political situation. They spoke against the price rise and invited JP to participate in the movement against the price rise. This led to split between Vinoba and his supporters and the JP and his supporters. The Sarvodaya started demanding spiritualization of politics and they demanded for dissolution of the assembly.

JP started speaking on people’s peaceful struggle to control state power. He supported as a citizen demand for resignation of the Ministry and dissolution of the state assembly. “ I must raise my voice as strongly and act as effectively as possible to condemn and fight against such abuse of democratic power and democratic institutions. “His support for the struggle could not confine to the non violent in nature as he claimed: “ In reality violence and nonviolence are not contradictory to each other. They are part of each other. They are two sides of the same coin.They are essential aspects of any society and nation.”

His total revolution remains as the mystical as those leading movement and those holding power do represent the same social classes and interest groups. The students are of different nature as they have a different psychology. He accepted the theory of generation gap as students do not approve the values of the values, customs and institutions of their parents. Students do not have the class character of their families. They can be the agents of social change in society. Sensitive, vocal and having no family responsibilities, students can afford to be full time revolutionaries. But study shows that students do represent class values of their parents except in their dress and sexual norms. Students accept the caste system. Furthermore students do not feel the political system is unjust.

Sarvodaya workers formed the Jan Sangharsh Samiti, Janata Sarkar and Janata Morcha of students and other middle class people. They instead of talking of capitalism and talked of trusteeship. But the nature of economy remains the same.

All these experiments failed which made JP disillusioned of his non party politics. He failed as the leader of PSP which failed to win the majority in Bihar assembly election. He as the leader of the party wrote a letter to Nehru and gave him a charter of demands including the distribution of land and other programmes but Nehru did not agree to those demands. Furthermore, many of the members of PSP decided to join the Congress Party back. The PSP is a misnomer as it is a faction within the Congress Party who pleaded for little radical programme but basically they were Congress in their hearts and minds. Those who opposed the proposal of joining the Congress and they joined the SP led by Lohia which created a platform in opposition to the Congress.

JP by leaving the party politics and remained as a public intellectual and took up the challenges like North Eastern India specifically the issue of Mizos and Nagas. He negotiated with their leaders and started negotiated with the central government to settle the demands of these two powerful communities in Constitutional framework. He pleaded for the settlement of Kashmir issue when Sheikh Abdullah remained in jail. He negotiated on behalf of the state to bring an amicable settlement. He turned into the issue of dacoits in Chambal valley where he pleaded for peaceful settlement with the dacoits with the state. His mediation got fruitation. His popularity remained at height being a public intellectual outside of state power but state required his good will to settle some knotty problems. Both state and JP turned closer to each other. His self respect arose further. Political scientists recognize his public spirited actions as non parliamentary opposition and as a moral voice in Indian politics.

This was Nehru’s time when state required his public spirited actions. After Indira Gandhi came to power she did not require his public spirited actions. He got disillusioned with her and she became very powerful after 1971 general election and her win over Pakistan in creating Bangladesh she turned into a powerful political figure where all opposition got reduced to pigmies before her. Many opposition parties like Jansanga and Swatantra went to JP and needed his help to revive their fortunes.

Social economic situation got deteriorated in early mid 1970s on the price front where prices of essential commodities grew which created disenchantment among public. Students’ politics took up the price rise and started protesting against the government. Corruption grew in state governments which resulted in middle class angry. Students of Gujarat went on rampage against the government. That grew into a force which got popularly known as Navanirman andolan. Students of Bihar went on agitation on similar demands like corruption and price rise. They demanded price reduction of cinema tickets. This created ABVP to campaign against the Abdul Gaffer government. They invited JP to their public meeting which created a momentum in mass movement in cities of Bihar. He gave his moral voice to the students’ movements He suggested for reconstruction of polity by strengthening the panchayati raj where people have a direct voting power to elect their representatives who indirectly elect the representatives to assembly and parliament. This is the best form of government where money power is not going to play role and less manipulation by the leaders of political parties. This is not the game at the panchayat level and people spending more money in lakhs to elect their representatives to the Panchayat and manipulation and casteism are working bluntly. Decentralised democracy as suggested by JP cannot replace the Parliamentary democracy today.

His understanding of caste system is vague and superficial and nor Gandhian or Ambedkarite both of them spoke of changing of social structure. Gandhi talks of allowing the upper caste to feel humiliated of their caste superiority and they should labour for cleaning their latrine. Untouchability is a crime against humanity. He was staying among Kayastha caste but never attempted to improve their social behavior and they are as casteist as before. In the city of Patna they do not allow the Yadav and Dalits to lease their houses even. Ambedkar tells that Hinduism cannot be separated from caste system. It is Buddhism which fought against caste system. Inter caste marriage can help the change in their behavior.

In political science there are four important concepts such as reform, rebel, revolt and revolution and each concept has specific meaning. Reform is intended to remove the bottlenecks on the path of smooth functioning of one organ of the system. By reforming one organ and other organs work better. Rebel has a definite political meaning that anger of people gets articulated against the ruling establishment. It is confined to small section of a society. Revolt is widely accepted as the protesting against the government and much wider involvement of various sections of society get involved in it. Revolution has a wider meaning and touching each aspect of the system and after overthrowing the system they intend to replace another system which works for the welfare of people.

Furthermore JP talks of economic decentralization which leads to distribution of resources among various sections of society without creating monopolies. He was concerned of growth of small scale industries and cottage industries. Reservation for small scale production system in the central government was there and got abolished now which create monopolies. In social plane he talks of a society without caste discrimination but he has not taken any step in this direction. Gandhi and Ambedkar have a definite view of reforming caste system but in practice both played in bringing changes in the system. Gandhi succeeded to convince the priestly class of Vaikum of Kerala to convince them to allow the dalits to have an entry into the temple. His campaign against practice of untouchability played a decisive role in changing the outlook of caste Hindus. Ambedkar’s annihilation of caste system empowered Dalits to fight a battle for social justice and equality. JP made his wishes but without creating a blue print for attacking the caste system or in practice he has not worked in any locality to change the caste relations in a society. He constituted a committee to look into educational problems but they produced the report but without any campaign for improvement in school or college education. JP’s plea for Total Revolution has limited purposes for which there was no attempt by him or his followers to improve the government and governance.

JP’s total revolution has taken corruption into civil society of Bihar that in family to caste or community they accept the corrupt values as normal ones. The same situation prevails regarding caste and the educated lot are highly caste consciousness and defend each other. Caste or corruption have turned into normal social values in Bihar society. It is a victory for JP who did not do anything on the ground for reforming his own caste as EMS Namboodiripad did among the Brahmins of Kerala. JP Narayan’s total revolution is a big hoax in the history of modern India. It aimed at the bringing back the RSS into politics which had no legitimacy in India after death of Gandhi. On their request he started students movement with the help of his caste Kayastha in Bihar. Today India is paying the price for problems created by JP.

JP remains as the leader of Indian bourgeoisie by working for him in critical moment of Indian politics. Once the Janata Party after winning the election of 1977 wanted to elect the leader of the party in a democratic manner but Indian bourgeoisie negotiated with the JP to nominate a conservative leader like Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister for his activities Janata Party government could not work. His politics got sponsored by the bourgeoisie by persuasion and negotiations with him. The Parties like Jan Sangha and Swatantra suggested him to create movement to create space for them in Indian politics. His politics during two movements such as Gujarat and Bihar remained one of the murkiest Chapters of modern political history of India.

References

  • Ghansham Shah, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 15 (Apr. 9, 1977), pp. 605-614 (10 pages)
  • Radhakanta Barik, Politics of the JP Movement, Radiant publication New Delhi 1977
  • Transforming the Polity: Centenary Readings from JP selected by Ajit Bhattacharyea, Rupa New Delhi, 2002
  • Pradhan H Prasad, Sarvodaya and Land distribution, EPW, 6 Dec 1975
  • Parth N. Mukherjee, "Sarvodaya after Gandhi : Contradictions and Change" in Ramashray Roy, (ed.) Contemporary Crisis and Gandhi (Delhi, 1986)
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