Jayaprakash Narayan is credited with spearheading the anti-Indira Gandhi movement of the mid-1970s. And he did lead it. As a leader and street fighter, JP Narayan did an impeccable job. He gave Indira Gandhi the chills, which is why she was forced to impose a national Emergency in 1975. Without an Emergency and a complete evisceration of Indian democracy, it would have been practically impossible for Indira Gandhi to sustain her rule. The Emergency ended up disenchanting Indians at large, who were infuriated at how easily Indira Gandhi stripped them of all their rights. So, after the revocation of the Emergency in 1977, the Janata Party won a historic mandate in the snap elections which followed.
The Janata Party had won a sweeping victory, securing 43.2% of the popular vote and 271 seats. With the support of the Akali Dal and the Congress for Democracy, it had amassed a two-thirds or absolute majority of 345 seats. But that was all. Forcing Indira Gandhi out of power and winning the immediate elections that followed – Jayaprakash Narayan’s ‘total revolution’ was able to achieve just that. Of course, it can be argued that his movement gave rise to politics of a new kind in India, which eventually saw the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party – but the fact remains that apart from diversifying Indian polity, the anti-Indira movement ended in shambles.
The Right Intent; Faulty Execution
There is no doubt about the fact that the JP movement was very much needed, and so was the removal of Indira Gandhi from office. No other Prime Minister has given India the kind of stagnant growth like Indira Gandhi had. Under her, India faced a food crisis, essential commodity crunch and astronomical inflation. This is apart from her initial support to insurgencies, most importantly in Punjab, which eventually led to her death in 1984. Indira Gandhi was leading an anti-democratic government, and a movement that sought to teach her a lesson for the same was led by Jayaprakash Narayan.
However, the execution was faulty. The movement was just too socialist to be true – which is a prime reason why, after it had achieved its primary objective, it began falling apart. JP Narayan did not project any stalwart as the prime ministerial candidate, who would replace Indira Gandhi. The movement did not settle on what would constitute its cabinet when it came to power. It had no roadmap of what was to be done with India after it rose to power. Who would be given charge of the country when Janata Party rose to power? Would it be Moraji Desai or Chaudhary Charan Singh? None of this was given much thought, the cost of which the movement paid in 1980 when Indira Gandhi rose back to power.
Divisions Within the Janata Party
Despite a strong start, the Janata government began to wither as significant ideological and political divisions emerged. The party consisted of veteran socialists, trade unionists and pro-business leaders, making major economic reforms difficult to achieve without triggering a public divide. Socialists and secular Janata politicians shared an aversion to the Hindutva agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose members included Vajpayee, Advani and other leaders from the former Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The party should have been able to resolve these inner divisions, but it did not, and this cost it everything.
It was Jayaprakash Narayan’s responsibility to create a roadmap for the government which arose as a result of his movement. Instead, the conflict between Moraji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh dominated the narrative and led to Desai resigning in 1979. He was replaced by Chaudhary Charan Singh, whose government could not last for even one month. Parliament was then dissolved, fresh elections were held, and Indira Gandhi came back in her most cruel form.
Rise of Corrupt Politicians
Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement was noble. But at the end of the day, it was socialist. Its constituents banked on caste-based politics to survive in Indian polity. But they also claimed to be socialists themselves. And as history tells us, it is these secular-socialists who turn up to be the most corrupt and morally bankrupt leaders. Whether one speaks of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, and even Nitish Kumar – these are all products of the JP movement, and they have all destroyed their states in creative ways.
Ironically, these three happen to be the champions of casteist and divisive politics. Be it Nitish Kumar’s Kurmi-OBC-Muslim equation, or Lalu and Mulayam’s famous Muslim-Yadav combination, all of the aforementioned leaders have divided their states in the name of social engineering to create a vote base for themselves.
Jayaprakash Narayan and Anna Hazare have much in common. They both led massive movements against incumbent governments, and both succeeded. JP Narayan drove Indira Gandhi out of power, while Hazare’s movement ended Sheila Dixit’s career in Delhi. However, they both had no strategy. They both gave rise to leaders who should not have been in office in the first place. No matter how noble a movement or initiative is unless it bears required results that can alter the course of history, it can not be considered a success.