JP: A Forgotten Revolutionary

BY KULDIP NAYAR

REVOLUTIONARIES have a short span of fame. They are forgotten sooner than their length of struggle and sacrifice has lasted. Mahatma Gandhi, who ousted the British rule, is mostly remembered because of the Indian currency notes which carry his photo.

So is the case with the founders of Pakistan and Bangladesh — Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman are beaming through the currency notes in their respective countries.

Poor Jayaprakash Narayan enjoys no such honour although he effected in 1977 a revolution to release India from the shackles of authoritarian prime minister Indira Gandhi. I sensed the neglect even in his home state, Bihar, when I visited Patna, where he was born. Coincidence had it that the day of my visit happened to be October 11, the birthday of Jayaprakash Narayan. No local newspaper had any mention of him, much less carry his photograph.

The state government run by the Chief Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, one of JP’s leading followers, had taken no notice of the day. There was not even a small official function to recall his services to the state, if not the country. The airport named after him still carries the wrong spelling of his first name, Jai, instead of Jay.

JP’s Forlorn House

At Kadam Kuan, where his forlorn residence stands in a congested area, was without any crowd. A few of us queued before his statute to garland him. What shocked me was that some builders were trying to occupy part of the building which has been converted into a museum, retaining the study and the bedroom of JP as he used them.

Still he was the man who had single-handedly put democracy back on track after it had been derailed. He crushed the mighty Indira Gandhi, then the prime minister, in the 1977 elections. He showed how an ordinary person (aam aadmi) can retrieve his right to speak out, to write or to live freely if he determinedly stands against despots. JP revived the Constitution which she had suspended and gave back newspapers their freedom.

It is another matter that JP failed in his lifetime even after giving the second independence to the people. He fell ill and could not keep an eye on those who took the reins of the government at the Centre. There was no difference between Mrs Gandhi’s authoritarian rule and non-performing Janata government. I complained to the then prime minister, Morarji Desai, that JP was unhappy over his lack of contact with ministers. Desai curtly replied that he had not even gone to meet Gandhiji. "JP is not bigger than Gandhi," said Desai.

Back in Delhi, I saw the debasement of politics. The central government was busy defending Mr Robert Vadra, the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. It had been found that he had submitted to the Registrar of Companies balance-sheets which were at variance with the records of a real estate company from which he had purchased properties. He reportedly made some `700 crore.

But hats off to Mr Ashok Khemka for cancelling the land allotment to Mr Vadra as the Haryana-cadre officer found the allotment illegal. The poor officer has been transferred — 40th transfer in his service of 20 years. When such examples come to light, they evoke hope in an otherwise gloomy atmosphere.

I have wondered why the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has come to be entangled with corruption. No finger was pointed out at Jawaharlal Nehru although he stayed India’s Prime Minister for 17 years. Even a charge of corruption against his ministers was rare. T T Krishnamachari, the then finance minister, was found involved in helping a company to dispose of its shares to a particular insurance company. Then a commission that probed the charges held him guilty and he had to resign. Never did anybody suspect Nehru. It was not that people like him belonged to an era where only sacrifices were remembered and not the scams which were rare. The fact was that their methods were clean and they never thought of any hanky-panky.

Indira Brought All Ills

Everything went haywire when Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, came to power. The phase of coterie, connivance at the illicit huge party funds and corrupt deals in public sector undertakings—all are the products of Mrs Gandhi’s rule and after. The Congress governments in the states and at the Centre became suspects in the eyes of the people. They blamed individual ministers or the party leaders but wondered how far Mrs Gandhi was involved.

Her reputation got tattered during the Emergency and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, gave her the name of a mother who protected her child. His venture, Maruti, to produce small cars with the assistance of a Japanese firm, Suzuki, came to be called Ma Ruti (mother crying). How Sanjay Gandhi got the licence to manufacture the car, how he got the land near Gurgaon and how he got an unsecured loan reminds one the repeat of Mr Robert Vadra’s venture in building properties worth many crores of rupees.

Mr Vadra is the first case of a son-in-law becoming a part of the dynasty. Feroze Gandhi, son-in-law of Nehru, was an exposure of corruption. He was so upright that he did not even live at the Prime Minister’s house but had a separate bungalow to which he was entitled as a member of Parliament.

It is a pity that Feroze Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, got contaminated when, as prime minister, he finalised a deal to buy the Bofors guns. Bofors, a Swedish firm, gave money, kickbacks, to get the order, again through the pressure that Rajiv Gandhi used on the Army selection team. Indeed, Bofors became synonymous for corruption. Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 election on that count.

Corruption of the dynasty has lessened in tone and tenor. None of its member is in the government. But Mr Vadra has created the stench. The Congress party and some members of the Manmohan Singh cabinet are up in arms to defend him. Yet the damage to the dynasty’s reputation has been done.

How all this is in sharp contrast to JP who tried to introduce values to the movement he led! There was no wisp of corruption. The agitation was to retrieve the values. It is still a far cry but, if they are to be restored, the first step should be to re-establish propriety in public life. It should be applicable to ministers both at the Centre and in the states. Today, the same challenge faces the nation which is seething with anger over injustice. Corruption is only a part of it.