If the Loknayak were living today - what a dream! - he would have been a 110. Impossible, one would say. And one would be right, although I do know two very agile and remarkable women who are with us today - Fori Nehru and Sushila Sahay - at a 103.
This also means that if Jayaprakash
Narayan (JP) could have lived to the not so unimaginable age of 85, he would have been with us until 1987.
Which further means that he would then have seen the Emergency come and go, the first non-Congress government do likewise, Indira Gandhi return to power. He would have seen the intensification of the political crisis in Punjab, Operation Bluestar and would have been horrified by Indira Gandhi's assassination and Rajiv Gandhi's installation as prime minister amid tragic violence inflicted on innocent Sikhs.
'Would have seen'?
Would JP have just seen all that as a mute spectator?
Of course not. Health permitting, he would have been an active participant in the major political proceedings of the day and made his own unique contributions, influencing vitally their unfolding.
Corruption would have preoccupied him, not in terms of governmental graft alone but in terms of the role of money - 'black' as well as white - in the business of elections, politics, and indeed in society as such. Accountability or 'mera paisa, mera hisab', as Aruna Roy has been putting it, would have been, I think, an obsession with him. JP could obsess.
And he would have thrown himself into the vortex of Left-extremist violence to quell it and would have also told the powers that be that it was their neglect of tribal and peasant India that was throwing impoverished and desperate populations into the embrace of the gun.
Equally, he would have asked the protagonists of violence if they realised what they were doing.
Would have, would have…
Why this nostalgic dream?
Because we miss a moral lodestar, a tribune for the people. But before we lament further, in this year of the Lord 2012, see what JP was doing in 1922, 1932, 1942, 1952, 1962 and, finally, in 1972.
1922: A friend, Bhola Pant, then in the US asked Jayaprakash to come to the US for higher studies. Jayaprakash had been married a year-and-a-half. Rather optimistically he asked Prabhavati to accompany him - a maritally admirable but financially implausible proposition. Besides, Prabhavati had her own preferences. She refused to go, choosing to remain instead at Gandhiji's Ashram where Kasturba and the Mahatma looked upon her as the daughter they did not have. Jayaprakash was to spend a total of seven years in the US - 1922 to 1929 - earning his teachers' unqualified appreciation but working at restaurants and working on farms picking and drying fruit to sustain himself.
1932: Recognised by Jawaharlal Nehru as a man of uncommon calibre and courage, JP became acting general secretary of the Congress. When Civil Disobedience got into full swing and party organs were banned, JP went underground. Madras Police and railway staff at the railway station in Madras spotted him. "Are you Jayaprakash Narayan?". "Why do you want to know?" ."Because you are under arrest". This was to be JP's first jail term.
1942: Sentenced to nine months rigorous imprisonment, JP was jailed in Hazaribag. On November 8, 1942, while Diwali was being celebrated with Hindu warders having been given a night off and Muslim warders served a special feast, JP, with five others, tied dhotis into a length of knots and climbing one on to others' shoulders, let themselves down on the outside of a chosen wall and escaped. JP was now the stuff of legend.
1952: Free India's first election that year saw the Congress win 362 of the Lok Sabha's 500 seats and over 65% of the seats in the assemblies. The Socialist Party to which JP belonged suffered a crushing defeat. Nehru sportingly offered cooperation in Parliament and even suggested a possible merger with the Congress. JP set stiff conditions for the merger, which included not positions for himself or his colleagues but abolition of pensions to princes and landlordism, redistribution of land to the landless, nationalisation of banks, insurance companies and mines, regulation of public servants emoluments. The conditions were not met and no merger took place.
1962: The early 60s were abuzz with speculation on whether JP would be Nehru's successor at the helm of government. This, despite the fact that JP had become a pillar of Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan campaign, albeit with certain differences with that saint-scholar. After the Chinese offensive in October 1962, JP wished to lead a peace brigade of shanti sainiks to the area to offer non-violent resistance to the aggressor and to appeal to both sides to stop fighting. But Vinoba opposed the idea. JP deferred to the senior.
1972: At Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's behest, JP toured world capitals in 1971 to explain India's stand on East Pakistan and to ask for aid to Bangladesh. His standing with world leaders, especially those of a socialist persuasion was unrivalled. JP's tour had its impact but it was disastrous for JP's health. He suffered a heart attack in November 1971 and remained hospitalised until early 1972. Discharged from hospital, he learnt that Prabhavati had been diagnosed as having cancer. She was to die the following year. "There is no life or zest left in me…" he wrote to condolers.
In 1967, when JP was only 65, President Radhakrishnan's term was coming to a close. Minoo Masani proposed that Jayaparakash be the nation's choice for India's third president. JP demurred, saying Bihar's governor Zakir Husain, already being discussed for that high office, would be by far more suitable for that office.
Today, as we recall JP's heroism with nostalgia, his self-abnegation with a sigh, we wonder why it is that deals have become the lubricant of our politics and craftiness its principal skill. And where all idealism has flown.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal.
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