In 1984, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s political wing Bharatiya Jana Sangh became the Bharatiya Janata Party. But its meteoric rise from two seats in the Lok Sabha then to 303 seats today has left many people confounded. They have tried to reason that the BJP’s popularity has grown because there is a general acceptance of its “fascist” tendencies among a large number of people in India. But there is someone specific that the critics of late have begun to hold responsible for the BJP’s rise: The socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP, as he was popularly known.
Many believe that had JP not incorporated the Jana Sangh into his 1974 movement against Indira Gandhi’s autocratic rule and not termed the RSS the “muscle power of the movement”, the BJP may never have found the foothold to become the force it is today.
Fascism, JP’s speech and Jana Sangh
This argument against JP is not used only in the Congress, socialist or communist camps, but even by comrades of Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, which had spearheaded the 1974 movement. They also concur that incorporating the Jana Sangh and its ideological mentor RSS into the movement was JP’s historic blunder.
Meanwhile, Sangh supporters, too, use their incidental association with JP and the remark he made at a programme: “If the RSS is fascist, so am I.” JP’s close associates had advised him to abstain from that conclave but JP not only attended it but also issued a statement that the RSS and its supporters have repeatedly used as a de-facto certificate, often quoting it outside its context.
Sangh’s socialist incarnation
On JP’s initiative, the Jana Sangh had merged itself into the Janata Party. Due to the movement’s widespread impact and the pressure of the Emergency, the Jana Sangh had changed its strategy. This is the reason why during the 1977 Lok Sabha election, the Jana Sangh neither used its flag nor campaigned vigorously on its staunch pro-Hindutva ideology.
All Jana Sangh candidates signed on the Janata Party’s membership form, which stated, “I express complete faith in the values and ideals as propounded by Mahatma Gandhi and I dedicate myself for the cause of establishing a socialist state.”
But Sangh had a hidden agenda
It is worth mentioning that just before a demonstration in front of Parliament under JP’s leadership, he had told a Jana Sangh gathering that its members will not wear saffron caps or carry their own flags. Lal Krishna Advani had accepted these terms. But future political incidents would go on to prove that accepting JP’s terms was merely political drama and opportunism by the Jana Sangh and the RSS to attain their far-reaching goals. They never drifted from their aim, nor changed their ways of achieving it.
JP faced criticism for providing a platform and political acceptance to the RSS even when he was alive. During the Emergency, when he was in prison, he wrote a letter addressed to the people of Bihar in which he explained his motive. “By incorporating them in the Sampoorna Kranti Andolan I have tried to de-communalise them (RSS and Jana Sangh).”
It is true that JP’s opponents often quote his “fascist” statement out of context; conditions prevailing at that time should be considered too. The movement in Bihar started from an issue of corruption in hostels of some schools and soon morphed into a wider anti-corruption movement. Police firing took place during a protest outside the state legislative assembly and dozens of protesters were killed.
There was an urgent need to break the spell of terror prevailing after this incident and JP agreed to lead the movement on the condition that he will be in complete command of the entire movement and it will be carried out in a peaceful manner. Soon, the movement acquired a larger dimension and demands were made to dissolve the state assembly for the brutal baton charge. Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was of the opinion that a movement that is demanding the dismissal of an elected government is fascist in nature.
By that time, the Jana Sangh and the RSS were part of the movement and the entire movement was targeted for getting support of these “fascist organisations”.
JP’s point of view was that he was leading the Bihar movement, and other political parties were participating in it after leaving behind their own flags and banners. Whoever came to support this movement against a “fascist government” by accepting its terms was welcome to do so. If the Jana Sangh was being labeled “fascist” for opposing a “fascist government”, then JP too was a fascist. That’s the historical perspective JP’s opponents don’t delve into.
JP’s delusion of de-communalising RSS
JP never gave too much importance to power politics. Some historians also say that it was not in his nature to be competitive with Jawaharlal Nehru and that is why he got involved in social reformer and human rights activist Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s ‘Bhoodan’ movement. In the final stages of his life, JP was in pain over the poor state of affairs in the country and participated in the Bihar movement out of this agony.
At the time, the Communist Party was opposing the movement and siding with Indira Gandhi. Gandhivadi organisations were also in a poor state. Vinoba Bhave was standing with Indira Gandhi too. The socialist camp was also participating in the organisation with less-than-required zeal. In such circumstances, his reliance on cadre-based RSS and Jan Sangh increased much more than he would have liked. He was probably in a delusion that, ultimately, he will be successful in de-communalising the RSS and the Jana Sangh. That is why he formed an independent youth organisation called “Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini” during the Emergency itself.
But we will now have to accept that JP made a historic blunder in recognising the true nature of the RSS. The RSS has been playing a constant role since its inception. To realise its grand hypothesis of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, it often attempts two or three types of totems — employing loudspeakers outside mosques, taking religious processions outside temples, and making a hue and cry over cow slaughter.
Historian Shekhar Bandopadhyay has explained these things in detail in his book “From Plassey to Partition.”
The RSS’ non-involvement in the freedom movement is well known. The RSS was banned after Nathuram Godse assassinated M.K. Gandhi. Despite this, the blunder that the socialists committed by involving the Sangh in 1967 got repeated in the times of the JP movement. Both decisions were led by anti-Congressism.
But it must be remembered that JP was never a supporter of the RSS’ communal agenda and politics. It was the Sangh’s deceitful promise that it had accepted the aim of socialism that JP was undone by. JP’s historic blunder should be seen thus.
The author has been associated with the JP movement, and has penned a novel ‘Samar Shesh’. Views are personal.
This article has been translated from Hindi. Read the original here.