The nation-wide popular upsurge, triggered by police brutality in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia has a precedence. On April 8, 1974, at the age of 72, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), a fiery freedom-fighter turned Sarvodaya leader, led a peaceful, silent procession at Patna. Police responded violently and this kicked-up a mass upsurge against corruption and autocratic rule.

On June 5, 1974, riding the crest of a popular upheaval against all that was rotten in governance and public life, JP declared at a massive rally in the same city: "This is a revolution, friends!... 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!"

Thus, was born the ‘JP Movement’ that shook corrupt and authoritarian governments to their very foundation.

What is happening across the country in recent days is no different. Only that there is no JP today, with a moral authority borne of suffering and sacrifice. Serious as they are, CAA, NPR and NRC are the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back.

The wide-spread fury is against everything despotic, corrupt and autocratic happening in the last few years-sinking economy, mounting unemployment, diminishing democracy, fettering of freedom, brazen killings, concentration of authority, ravaging of institutions, intolerance and hatred, unabashed crony-capitalism, unabated surveillance, midnight demonetization, arbitrary Aadhaar, illegal electoral bonds, fraudulent election, killing of RTI Act, apartheid Education Policy, abrogation of Article 370, militarising Kashmir, tax terrorism and what not.

All these, taking place under the watch of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, goes against the very grain of JP and his Movement. Yet, Mr. Modi claims JP as his hero and icon and has proclaimed so a couple of times. He cut his political teeth in the massive JP Movement of youth and students. It was because of associating with JP Movement, Modi’s party gained political respectability and captured power at the Centre and many states. Therefore, it is imperative for Modi to heed JP’s thoughts and ideas, that are extremely relevant today:


“Freedom became one of the beacon lights of my life and it has remained so ever since……Above all it meant freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind, freedom of the spirit. This freedom has become a passion of my life and I shall not see it compromised for food, for security, for prosperity, for the glory of the state or for anything else.”


"Although almost every religious community had its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism was more pernicious than the others because Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce all opposition to it as being anti-national.”


“…. Those who attempt to equate India with Hindus and Indian history with Hindu history are only detracting from the greatness of India and the glory of Indian history and civilization. Such persons, paradoxical though this may seem, are in reality the enemies of Hinduism itself and the Hindus. Not only do they degrade the noble religion and destroy its catholicity and spirit of tolerance and harmony, but they also weaken and sunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority.”

Hindu Rashtra

“In the long struggle for national freedom there emerged a clear enough concept of a single, composite, non-sectarian Indian nationhood. All those who spoke about divisive and sectarian nationalism—Hindu or Muslim, were therefore outside the pale of this nationalism, evolved during the freedom struggle. The hostile and alienating nationalism we hear about today is antithetical to the ethos of freedom struggle and against the belief of all those who helped it evolve.”


(1968) “When, following Gandhiji’s murder, the RSS was under a shadow, there were many protestations made about its being entirely a cultural organisation. But apparently emboldened by the timidity of the secular forces, it has thrown its veil away and has emerged as the real force behind, and controller of, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The secular protestations of the Jana Sangh will never be taken seriously unless it cuts the bonds that tie it so firmly to the RSS machine. Nor can the RSS be treated as a cultural organisation as long as it remains the mentor and effective manipulator of a political party.”

(1977) “RSS should disband itself and merge with the youth and cultural organisations of the Janata Party and admit Muslims, Christians and members of other communities. RSS should give up the concept of Hindu Rashtra and adopt in its place that of Indian nationhood, which is a secular concept and embraces all communities living in India.”


“It will be a suicide of the soul of India, if India tried to suppress the Kashmiri people by force. Rather than rely on repression, what the Government of India can do is go back to the time when the state had acceded to India only in three subjects [i.e. Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Communications]. This would mean providing for the fullest possible autonomy… If, in Kashmir, we continue to rule by force and suppress these people and crush them or change the racial or religious character of their state by colonization, or by any other means, then I think that means politically a most obnoxious thing to do…”

What Modi is doing along with Amit Shah is just the opposite. Both have compounded things further with an unnecessary, unimplementable and anti-people CAA and NRC. Immediately seizing this opportunity BJP’s WhatsApp University had unleashed a ‘four-step’ process for India becoming a Hindu Rashtra–starting with the CAA, followed by the NRC, then a law to control population, ultimately followed by a Uniform Civil Code. The language employed in these posts is blatantly Islamophobic-the NRC is captioned as a ‘Check and Throw,’ while the law for population control is captioned ‘No pig breeding.’ Faced with massive resistance these worthies are desperately trying to thrust NRC through the National Population Register (NPR). This is Modi’s “New India.”

But the people of this nation have rejected this communal and fascist India and led by youth and students, a la JP Movement, have risen in angst and anger which is manifesting throughout the country. Young women taking the lead and standing tall and bold, is a unique phenomenon unparalleled in Independent India. Such a massive upsurge happening so soon has cast serious suspicion on the so-called ‘massive mandate’ BJP claimed in the last Parliament election. No amount of force can suppress the ‘voices of freedom’ and petty barbs like ‘urban Naxals’ and ‘tukde-tukde-gang’ and invoking NSA is not going to work.

I must explain my qualification to give this narrative on what JP stood for and what is happening now. During Emergency (1975) when JP was arrested in Delhi and sent to Chandigarh for safe custody, as District Magistrate there I became his custodian. During this period, I met JP almost every second day and exchanged critical information and insights with him. This led to a humane and warm relationship between us which led to JP regaining his “integrity, moral fervour, and gift of the fight against all odds” and going on to win India’s Second Freedom as testified by my former boss, late TN Chaturvedi, who went on to become Governor of Karnataka.

In the process I broke the barriers of civil service and saved JP’s life twice. This has been partially recorded by the distinguished barrister and parliamentarian M.R. Masani in his Book: ‘JP: Mission Partly Accomplished’ (Macmillan).

JP himself acknowledged this relationship in his letter in Hindi (03-11-1977) to the then Union Home Minister (Ch. Charan Singh) and Haryana Chief Minister (Ch. Devi Lal). Translated it reads: “When I was a prisoner in Chandigarh Sri Devasahayam, while strictly adhering to his official duties and responsibilities dealt with me in an extremely humane manner. For his many acts of kindness towards me I shall ever be grateful. Even leaving aside this personal affection, I was deeply impressed by his exemplary qualities of administration and governance. He is a deeply patriotic, determined and dedicated officer.”

Be that as it may, it will be appropriate here to narrate an intimate interaction between me and JP in which he went into an introspective and questioning mode, evaluating himself, the Movement and the ‘disaster’ it had brought about. The introspection started with himself: “Where have my calculations gone wrong?”, he asked and explained that they went wrong because he made certain wrong assumptions.

One, a Prime Minister in a democracy “would use all the normal laws to defeat a peaceful democratic movement, but would not destroy democracy itself and substitute for it a totalitarian system”.

Two, even if the Prime Minister wanted to do it, senior leaders in the party would not permit it.

Unanswered questions that had been haunting JP came out in a rush: “What can the people do, the youth do to fight against autocracy, corruption, unemployment, poverty? Wait quietly for the next general election? But what if in the meantime the situation becomes intolerable? Then what are the people to do? Sit quietly and fold up their arms and silently bear their miseries? That would be Indira Gandhi’s image of democracy: ‘silence of the grave’! And what if the elections themselves are neither free nor fair?” JP gave his own answer: “I do not think in any democratic society the people have relied wholly and solely on elections to change their plight. Everywhere there have been strikes, protests, marches, sit-ins, sit-outs etc.”

The wheel has come full circle. Modi and his colleagues who have been part of these ‘strikes, protests, marches, sit-ins, sit-outs etc,’ have now become intolerant towards these very protests by students and youth. They are unleashing unconcealed brutality and ruthlessness.

Sanghis may deride Gandhiji and hail his assassin Godse. But they can’t do this with JP whom former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee described thus (1978): “JP was not merely the name of one person; it symbolised humanity. When one remembered Mr. Narayan two pictures came to one’s mind. One was reminded of Bishmapitamah lying on a bed of arrows. There was only one difference between Bishmapitamah and Mr. Narayan; while the former fought for the Kauravas, the latter fought for Justice. The second picture was one of Christ on the Cross and Mr. Narayan’s life reminded one of Christ’s sacrifices.”

The choice for Modi is staring. Either heed JP’s democratic clarion or face his fatal prophecy: “India will arise from the grave, no matter how long it will take. I think popular resistance will grow and gather strength. And the dictators will be defeated.” The writing is on the wall!

M.G. Devasahayam is former Army and IAS Officer