BY SAEEQ NAQVI
Are there traces of the 1974 JP movement in the anti-corruption show mounted by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare?
First, the backdrop. In 1969, Indira Gandhi split the Congress to sideline the regional leaders like Atulya Ghosh, C.B. Gupta and a host of others more to the right of Indira Gandhi’s pronounced socialism at that stage. Congress split was accompanied by nationalization of banks and stopping of Privy Purses of Princes.
To keep the Congress buoyant in Parliament, Indira Gandhi fell back on Left support. One of her cabinet colleagues, Mohan Kumarmanagalam and CPI leader S.A. Dange devised a formulation – unite and struggle. In other words, the left would “unite” with the Congress’ “pro-peoples” policies like the nationalization of banks and “struggle” against its “anti-Peoples” stand.
This leftward lurch of the Congress coincided, more or less with the Tet offensive bringing the US closer to its sad conclusion in Vietnam. This was also the period of anti-Vietnam restiveness among the Youth – Kent state university, Grovesnor square, London, the barricades in Paris. In the early 70’s in India too, youth anger, on another issue, erupted as the Nav Nirman Samiti agitation in Gujarat.
Then came the Bihar movement.
After the Bangladesh operations in 1971, Indira Gandhi was “Goddess Durga”, invincible. To beat Indira Gandhi’s charisma, another charismatic persona had to be placed on a pedestal. In those days socialist, Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan had retired into Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s “Bhoodan”, a voluntary land distribution movement. Also, he made for a rather lonesome seminarist in New Delhi.
Crafty minds got together, notably Ramnath Goenka, powerful newspaper magnate, and his friend, the senior RSS leader, Nanaji Deshmukh. Later, Managing Director of the Statesman, C.R. Irani also joined as Goenka’s sidekick.
JP’s house in Kadam Kuan in Patna, became the headquarters of a movement with various names – JP movement, Bihar Movement, total revolution, anti-corruption movement. For its target, the revolution chose a rather innocuous, without any history of corruption, Abdul Ghafoor, the Congress Chief Minister.
The global, national situations were reflected in Bihar as well. When Indian Communists split into CPI and CPM, the CPI in Bihar remained intact, making it a powerful block in the state assembly.
To defeat Indira Gandhi and her Left affiliates, in the guise of fighting corruption, a coalition was forged in which JP was a “Mukhauta” or mask, and the organizer was Nanaji Deshmukh who mobilized Akhil Bharatiya Viyarthi Parishad and RSS cadres as the primary foot soldiers. Socialists, Swatantra supporters, Congress(O), the right wing of the Congress discarded by Indira Gandhi in the 1969 split, sedentary, wheel spinning Gandhians – all joined to mount “total revolution” built up by the Indian Express and The Statesman. After the Railway strike led by George Fernandez, an atmosphere of anarchy was created which caused an unnerved Indira Gandhi to declare a state of Emergency in 1975. Yes, it was only after Allahabad High Court disqualified Indira Gandhi on technical grounds from membership of parliament that emergency was declared. She lost the 1977 General Elections. Morarji Desai led the Janata Government as Prime Minister in which Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani became Foreign and Information Ministers respectively. The project promoted by Ramnath Goenka and Nanaji Deshmukh, among others, in response to Indira Gandhi’s 1969 congress split and leftward swing, had borne fruit. It is another matter that India’s first non-congress coalition collapsed in 1980 and Indira Gandhi bounced back.
Compare the situation today.
There is no Left surge, rather Left decline in India unless we begin to regard Maoism-Leninism with more seriousness. In the 70s, the US was under pressure – détente was working against it. This time, there is an overall dissipation of western power. In other words there is a global constant linking JP movement to the present – western decline. It was true then, it is true now. Worry of worries, China has risen.
In those days, the infection of youth anger in the west spread to India and it were the youth who manned the JP movement. Again it is the “youth bulge” which has dramatically altered the political landscape in North Africa and West Asia. The idea has been transmitted by the media.
Corruption in 1970’s was built up as an issue to be placed at the service of politics. Today it dwarfs all other issues. Shockingly, ruling UPA partners, the DMK has produced record breakers in corruption. Cabinet Ministers are in jail on that count without the UPA having the courage to part company with the DMK. Abjectly subservient to morality is power at all costs. And now Jayalalitha has taken a direct shot at the Union Home Minister’s credibility.
JP’s strong point was his innings in public life and, ultimately, his “tyag”, renunciation, willingness to work outside public glare. The Indian mind reveres renunciation.
Anna Hazare is also on the renunciation path, having stepped out of Gandhian stables, but doesn’t quite measure up-to JP’s stature.
Baba Ramdev is better known but more for his yoga feats. Renunciation is not quite his forte. He is a millionaire. His saffron image has also been compromised when he donned a white salwar-kurta and covered his face in a white chunni to escape the police. In this he followed in every detail the principal mullah who tried to escape wearing a burqa from Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007.
It was Indira Gandhi’s charisma that JP was set up to challenge. Whose charisma were the Hazare-Ramdev duet expected to challenge? Sonia Gandhi is not invincible; she is irreplaceable as Congress President. In that position her future is secure either as leader of the ruling party or leader of opposition. Jayalalita and Mamata Bannerjee have charismatic potential but within their states. The person on whom most eyes are riveted is Mayawati because her durability in UP blocks alternative game plans from 2012 to 2014. That is where all political interests would like to derive mileage from the current anti-corruption campaigners, provided Ramdev does not sully his saffron and is found escaping, this time in a burqa!
In brief, JP movement was to replace a left lurching Indira Gandhi. Hazare-Ramdev ball is being tossed up for political parties to smash it on a deft and durable Mayawati. Also, remember, all puritanical movements will be eventually exploited by exactly the right wing groups who rallied around JP.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)