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Updated: June 15, 2010 13:02 IST

Democracy, according to Gandhiji and JP

J. Sri Raman
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“I have every sympathy for the Naxalite people. They are violent people. But I have every sympathy for them because they are doing something for the poor...If the law is unable to give the people a modicum of social and economic justice,...what do you think will happen if not violence erupting all over?”

This was Jayaprakash Narayan at a New Delhi conference of voluntary agencies way back in 1969. He was more forthright when he stated: “I say with a due sense of responsibility that, if convinced that there is no deliverance for the people except through violence, Jayaprakash Narayan will take to violence.” This quote questions the subtitle of the book under review, which suggests an identity of outlook between Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP for short, and Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhiji, “The democracy or the Swaraj of masses can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists.” In his notion of democracy, “the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest,” and that can “never happen except through non-violence.”

Frustration

Veteran journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea, citing JP's statement, says that it only vented the leader's “frustration”, which was to find expression in a major movement five years later. Certainly, JP's offer of qualified support for the ultra-Left or other hues of violence is not the primary feature of his platform of “participatory democracy.” There is a link, though.

JP's philosophy of “participatory democracy” was contraposed to electoral or “representative democracy.” He was not just asking for electoral reforms, as frequently suggested, but arguing against what he considered a basically flawed system. As early as 1959, in an essay titled, “A Plea for Reconstruction of the Indian Polity,” he said: “The fundamental defect …is that this form of democracy is based on the vote of the individual...the system is based on a false premise; the state cannot be an arithmetical sum of individuals. The people, the nation, the community can never be equated with the sum of individual voters.” On this tenet was based his ‘Total Revolution' of 1974 which culminated (or reached its anti-climax) in the installation of the first-ever non-Congress, Janata Government in 1977. The authors of most of the papers on JP's ideology and political actions, put together in this book, are agreed on two things. They see his ideological struggle as one of “participatory democracy versus representative democracy.” They are agreed, too, that the Total Revolution suffered a total reverse when the Janata regime of Morarji Desai took over in New Delhi. They all bemoan the fact that the new rulers simply turned their backs upon someone whom they had hailed as the Lok Nayak (People's Leader) until the other day. Curiously, however, none of the papers delves into the causes of his debacle.

Vision

Many of them speak, for example, about JP's vision and vehement advocacy of “a partyless democracy.” But they don't dwell on the fact that he depended on major political parties (with their unconcealed agendas for power) for mass mobilisation. Among these new-found acolytes and followers of JP was the Jan Sangh, which later refused to merge with the Janata Party and, instead, let the “dual membership” of its Ministers and MPs undermine the experiment.

Some of the articles note that the JP movement in Bihar has left a legacy of “caste” leaders like Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, and Ramvilas Paswan. None of them, however, mentions that Gujarat, where the movement began with a Sangh-backed agitation against the Congress regime of Chimanbhai Patel, has been consigned to communal politics under “netas” like Narendra Modi. Nor is any question raised about community-based democracy, especially in the context of the outrageously lurid activities of “khap panchayats.”

It is rather surprising that, in a volume of as many as 26 papers, there is no attempt at a detailed analysis of the historical and social context of the JP movement. Nor is there any discussion of the economic crisis of the mid-1970s that was marked by an all-round price increase. In short, this is an interesting book on an important political event of post-Independence India that raises more questions than it answers.

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