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10 October, 2020
Mr. Prime Minister, do you remember a patriot called Jayaprakash Narayan?
October 8 was the death anniversary and October 11 the birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP. If Mahatma Gandhi is the architect of India’s freedom in 1947, which was extinguished by Emergency on June 25/26, 1975, it was JP who got us our second freedom after defeating it in 1977. In appreciation of this, India’s masses called him ‘Lok Nayak’ and the ‘Second Mahatma.’
Do you remember this JP, Mr. Modi?
Talking about ‘freedom’, in the dying moments of the second millennium, standing on the ramparts of the Lincoln Memorial at Washington DC, US President Bill Clinton had declared: “The story of 20th century is the triumph of freedom. We must never forget the meaning of the 20th century or the gifts of those who worked and marched, who fought and died for the triumph of Freedom.” JP had done this for India, wherein live one-sixth of the human race, not once, but twice -- as a fiery fighter for freedom from alien rule under Mahatma Gandhi and later winning it back from a native ‘durbar’ under his own leadership. In the process he sacrificed his everything—his youth, his family, his health, his life.
You should be celebrating such a patriot Mr Modi. But do you at least remember him?
Let me remind you of some more details. In gratitude to JP for rescuing the Jana Sangh from near-extinction, and making it part of government***, your mentor and former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, paid this tribute way back in 1978: “JP was not merely the name of one person; it symbolised humanity. When one remembered Mr. Narayan two pictures came to one’s mind. One was reminded of Bishmapitamah lying on a bed of arrows. There was only one difference between Bishmapitamah and Mr. Narayan; while the former fought for the Kauravas, the latter fought for Justice. The second picture was one of Christ on the Cross and Mr. Narayan’s life reminded one of Christ’s sacrifices.”
Do you remember this embodiment of selfless sacrifice, Mr. Modi?
Let me go a little further. I believe that before you became Prime Minister you had proclaimed JP as your hero and icon, stating that you are a product of the massive movement of youth and students led by this great revolutionary. You had also claimed his legacy.
At least now do you remember him, Mr. Modi?
Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case, because what you have been doing for the last six years and more, and particularly in recent times, amount to the very opposite of the principles and values for which JP lived and died.
Let me remind you of these principles and values, which is the legacy JP left for future generations:
“All power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government are derived from the people…It is these people who will control/regulate the use of natural resources for the good of the community and the nation.” ‘Power to the People’ was JP’s democracy mantra.
“Freedom became one of the beacon lights of my life and it has remained so ever since…Above all it meant freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind, freedom of the spirit. This freedom has become a passion of my life and I shall not see it compromised for food, for security, for prosperity, for the glory of the state or for anything else.”
“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.”
“Idea of development envisages independent India as sui generis, a society unlike any other, in a class of its own that would not follow the western pattern of mega industrialisation, urbanisation and individuation. India’s would be agro-based people’s economy that would chart out a distinct course in economic growth, which would be need-based, human-scale and balanced while conserving nature and livelihoods. Such a ‘development’ process would be democratic and decentralised.”
“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. Not only do they degrade the noble religion and destroy its catholicity and spirit of tolerance and harmony, but they also weaken and put asunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority.”
“In the long struggle for national freedom there emerged a clear enough concept of a single, composite, non-sectarian Indian nationhood. All those who spoke about divisive and sectarian nationalism -- Hindu or Muslim -- were therefore outside the pale of this nationalism, evolved during the freedom struggle. The hostile and alienating nationalism we hear about today is antithetical to the ethos of freedom struggle and against the belief of all those who helped it evolve.”
“When, following Gandhiji’s murder, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh was under a shadow, there were many protestations made about its being entirely a cultural organisation. But apparently emboldened by the timidity of the secular forces, it has thrown its veil away and has emerged as the real force behind, and controller of, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The secular protestations of the Jana Sangh will never be taken seriously unless it cuts the bonds that tie it so firmly to the RSS machine. Nor can the RSS be treated as a cultural organisation as long as it remains the mentor and effective manipulator of a political party.” (1968)
“RSS should disband itself and merge with the youth and cultural organisations of the Janata Party and admit Muslims, Christians and members of other communities. RSS should give up the concept of Hindu Rashtra and adopt in its place that of Indian nationhood, which is a secular concept and embraces all communities living in India.” (1977)
[***It is important to remember here that top RSS and Jan Sangh leaders -- Balasaheb Deoras, AB Vajpayee and LK Advani -- had taken a solemn pledge in JP’s presence to totally give up communal politics and terminate the RSS-Jan Sangh ‘dual-membership’ in the event of winning election and forming government at the Centre in 1977. They had also assured JP that if any hurdle came up for this, they would not hesitate to disband the RSS. This pledge has been dishonoured.]
“It will be a suicide of our soul, if India tried to suppress the Kashmiri people by force… This would mean providing for the fullest possible autonomy to them. If, in Kashmir, we continue to rule by force and suppress these people and crush them or change the racial or religious character of their state by colonization, or by any other means, then I think that means politically a most obnoxious thing to do. To think that we will eventually wear down the people and force them to accept passively the Union is to delude ourselves.”
You may wonder as to how I know all this. In the mid-seventies, as the then District Magistrate of Chandigarh, I was the custodian of JP during his incarceration in Emergency jail. During this period, we had intense interactions on many subjects and developed a humane association and relationship which continued until he passed away in October 1979. I had the rare distinction of being called a ‘friend’ and a ‘son he never had’ by this great patriot.
I am not saying this. It is from my boss, Mr. TN Chaturvedi, former Chandigarh Chief Commissioner, who went on to become CAG, Member of Parliament and Governor of Karnataka:
“…. In 1975, M. G. Devasahayam was a young and dynamic officer holding the post of Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Chandigarh. I had known him when he was a probationer at the Lalbahadur Shastri National Academy, Mussoorie. He came to the IAS from the Indian Army, having developed qualities of leadership. During my stint from 1976-78 as Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh, I found Devasahayam to be a diligent, dedicated, composed, and efficient officer, who upheld the rule of law, and was fair in his dealings with all, however high or low they might be. It fell on the shoulders of this young man to be the jailor of JP…
“…. Besides his duties as a civil servant Devasahayam did something more…He met JP on an almost daily basis and interacted with him intensely. He treated JP as a man who had inspired millions of Indians to take up the cudgels for their rights. He looked upon him as the living connection with and embodiment of the ideas and ideals that Mahatma Gandhi instilled in those who fought for our freedom. He treated JP with the respect due him…
“…. From a low point JP gradually recovered his old self, and in spite of his ill health, determined to right the wrong that has been done to India i.e. defeating Emergency. Devasahayam brings JP to life in all the glory of his integrity, moral fervour, and gift of the fight against all odds. Devasahayam was not just a jailor, but also an interlocutor, and then a tireless facilitator of a rapprochement between JP and Indira Gandhi…”
JP himself acknowledged this relationship in a letter in Hindi on November 3, 1977, to the then Union Home Minister and Haryana Chief Minister. Translated it reads: “When I was a prisoner in Chandigarh Sri Devasahayam, while strictly adhering to his official duties and responsibilities dealt with me in an extremely humane manner. For his many acts of kindness towards me I shall ever be grateful. Even leaving aside this personal affection, I was deeply impressed by his exemplary qualities of administration and governance. He is a deeply patriotic, determined and dedicated officer.”
Be that as it may, Mr. Modi, please introspect and consider as to how far away you have moved from the legacy of JP that constitute the very idea of India and its constitutional morality. In today’s India, with NO Power to the People, Democracy is being decimated; Freedom is in extreme peril; Communalism is being officially promoted; Development has become predatory; Hindutva has become a cult; Hindu Rashtra is state policy; RSS is running the government and Kashmir has been brutalised and militarised. With unabated centralization of power and authority, federalism and institutions of democratic governance are getting destroyed. Invariably, Indian democracy is being morphed into an autocratic oligarchy. JP’s legacy is being mingled in dust!
As was the routine, I met JP on July 21, 1975. As usual we discussed many things, including the functioning of Parliament where a Resolution to endorse Emergency had been passed. He was very upset. As I left, he gave me a letter addressed to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi written over the past several days. With his hands shaking he said: “Mr. Devasahayam, most probably I will be punished for writing this letter. But it is all right. I have done my duty.” It was a 15-page, hand written document. I read it before sending to PMO. It was a searing missive, accusing Indira of destroying freedom and democracy, which shook the Prime Minister.
Now, let me conclude. You and your Party have already buried Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy fathoms deep. Now you are betraying the legacy of your Bishmapitamah. Pray, will the Indian Republic have legs to sand?
You are 70, and in a few weeks, I will be turning 80 and enter the final phase of my life. Yet, I do not know whether I am competent to give you advice. So, I will do it with these words JP had written to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on July 21, 1975:
“I have given all my life, after finishing education, to the country and asked for nothing in return… Would you listen to the advice of such a man? Please do not destroy the foundation that the Fathers of the Nation had laid down. There is nothing but strife and suffering along the path that you have taken. You inherited a great tradition, noble values and a working democracy. Do not leave behind a miserable wreck of all that. It would take a long time to put it all together again. For it would be put together again, I have no doubt. A people who fought British imperialism and humbled it cannot accept indefinitely the indignity and shame of totalitarianism. The spirit of man can never be vanquished, no matter how deeply suppressed…”
I rest matters here, because what has to be said has been said…
Major M. G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd)