The Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra is now a movement—Bharat Jodo Abhiyan. At a national convention in Delhi on 6 February, a week after the Yatra’s completion, Rahul Gandhi said that the Congress party originated as a movement and was part of civil society. The party has also announced to start the second leg of the Yatra, this time it will be from east to west.
The movement promises to be the much-awaited bridge between politics and grassroots movements and could also see political parties coming together to work on a common cause.
But how can a walk across the length of the country, wherein thousands participated, be transformed into a people’s movement to achieve its stated aim — “reclaim our republic, renew our Constitutional values, rescue our democratic institutions and rekindle the spirit of our freedom struggle?” And where can we find a similarity in post-Independence India?
It’s in the massive anti-corruption movement in Bihar led by Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s, popularly known as JP Movement.
JP’s Total Revolution
For Jayaprakash Narayan, corruption was not just pecuniary but encompassed the decay and degeneration of everything concerning the republic, its constitutional values, unity and integrity, federal and secular credentials, democratic institutions, economic equity, and above all freedom and liberty—the heart and soul of the nation. I know, because I have intensely interacted with Narayan during the near-six months he was in jail at Chandigarh. Though crushed under the sledgehammer of Emergency, the movement achieved several stellar results that could be the beacon for Bharat Jodo Abhiyan.
The JP Movement was the first to champion the notion of an aggregated civil base (ACB), and more particularly, the notion of democratic deepening through an ACB, as a way of marrying the strengths and overcoming the weaknesses of old and new politics. ACB is an alliance of civil society that aggregates the views and interests of member organisations to advance a general political agenda. It goes beyond specific issue areas, covers matters of political structure and process as well as policy, and concerns all the people within a given political jurisdiction.
The ‘democratic deepening’ achieved through ACB contributed a lot in defeating the Emergency regime in the 1977 election and restoring democracy in the country.
The JP Movement was launched in June 1974 with this clarion: “This is a revolution, friends! … 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.” Rahul Gandhi repeatedly raised these issues during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
JP’s “Total Revolution” is a combination of seven revolutions—political, social, economic, cultural, ideological or intellectual, educational and spiritual; with the motive to bring societal change in tune with the ideals of the Sarvodaya (progress of all) and transform society along Gandhian lines. He believed that elections, legislation and administrative execution are not enough for a democracy. “There must also be people’s direct action,” JP wrote in Towards Total Revolution, Vol 4, 1978.
Also read: ‘Congress now considering east-to-west yatra from Pasighat to Porbandar,’ says Jairam Ramesh
India becoming a failed state
From the way things are, it seems JP’s “Total Revolution” is needed more today than it was in the 1970s. On 26 April 2022, 108 members of the Constitutional Conduct Group comprising former civil servants (mostly IAS and IPS) wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We are witnessing a frenzy of hate filled destruction in the country where at the sacrificial altar are not just Muslims and members of the other minority communities but the Constitution itself,” the letter read.
It added that while communal disharmony and assertive Hindutva identity have continued for decades in the past and become “a new normal” in the past few years, “what is alarming now is the subordination of the fundamental principles of our Constitution and of the rule of law to the forces of majoritarianism, in which the state appears to be fully complicit.”
As for the economy, the Modi government has been deliberately pumping and promoting a bunch of oligarchs. Amitabh Kant, the former CEO of Niti Aayog, the Prime Minister’s think tank, spilled the beans in December 2020 at a virtual event organised by Swarajya magazine. He said that the current government has the “political will and the courage to say that we want to support five companies who want to be global champions. Everyone used to say…I want to support everyone in India, I want to get votes from everyone.”
In the event, everything small—agriculture, industry, commerce, trade, and the informal sector (80 per cent of India)—is shrunk and people are pauperised to enrich a few oligarchs. This is evident from the Hindenburg report on Adani Group and the OXFAM exposure, which reveals that in 2020, income share of the bottom 50 per cent was estimated to have fallen to a mere 13 per cent of the national income and they have less than 3 per cent of the total wealth. What is worrying is that India has the world’s largest number of poor people — at 228.9 million — while the total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 in 2022. The combined wealth of India’s 100 richest people has touched Rs 54.12 lakh crore. The wealth of the top 10 richest stands at Rs 27.52 lakh crore—a 32.8 per cent rise from 2021. And there are now 21 billionaires in the country who own more wealth than 700 million Indians.
The country is heading towards being a ‘failed state,’ as per Robert Rothberg’s definition in his book When States Fail: Causes and Consequences— a state that “offers unparalleled economic opportunity but only for a privileged few.”
“Those around the ruler or ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren starve… The privilege of making real money when everything else is deteriorating is confined to clients of the ruling elite… The nation-state’s responsibility to maximise the well-being and prosperity of all its citizens is conspicuously absent, if it ever existed.”
India’s democracy is already “on a path of steep decline”, according to the 2020 Democracy Report by the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute.
Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra is over. Time to build on synergy of ground energy & politics
Total Revolution 2.0
What else could be a better reason for launching “Total Revolution” now? Is Bharat Jodo Abhiyan aspiring for something similar?
The yatra commenced with the ‘nafrat chodo, Bharat jodo’ (Discard hate, unite India) call and closed with the outcry “Nafrat ke bazaar mein mohabbat ka dukan kholenge (In the market of hate we will open the shop of love).” Combating hatred and communalism was among the core agendas of the yatra and now the movement. In this context, JP’s resounding words on communalism should be music to the ears of the yatris: “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.” Add to this what he said on Hindutva: “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.”
Even though the agendas of both the movements are similar, the idea that Bharat Jodo Abhiyan can transform into the next JP Movement may sound unusual and bizarre.
How could Rahul Gandhi/Congress-led abhiyan transform into a movement that represented the first major challenge to the Congress party? The JP Movement, in a way, caused the end of Congress’ monopoly at both the central and state government level, eventually reducing it to just one of the many political parties. But as they say, times change and desperate times need desperate remedies.
M.G. Devasahayam is a retired IAS officer and chairman of People-First. He also served in the Indian Army. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)