Jayaprakash Narayan has a unique position in the history of modern India as he has this inimitable distinction of actively participating in three popular movements of the country. He not only fought against the British colonial rulers through all his might and especially during Quit India Movement risking his life, but also led the movement against corruption, and authoritarianism in the Seventies while before that forays in the Bhudan Movement for almost one decade in the Fifties and Sixties to bring about massive social change through change of hearts.
He was born on 11th October, 1902, in village Sitab Diyara of Saran district of Bihar. After completing his matriculation examination at the age of 18 in 1920, he started working in Patna. He got married to Prabhavati in the same year. On the call of the nationalist leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad for giving up English education, he left Patna college, barely 20 days before his exam and joined Bihar Vidyapeeth, a college founded by Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Leaving his wife Prabhavati in Sabarmati Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan sailed aboard to California in 1922 to join Berkeley University. To fund his higher education in US, he undertook various odd jobs like working in ranches, slaughterhouses, factories and mines. During his work and study phase, he got a closer insight into the hardships of working class. Having deep influence of the writings of M.N. Roy on his mind, he was convinced that the central problem of human society was inequality of wealth, property, rank, culture and opportunities and the passage of time never obscure it.
After completing his education abroad, when he returned to India in 1929, he had apparent influence of Karl Marx in his thoughts and views. On his way back to India, he met several communist leaders in London and India and discussed with them the issues of India’s freedom and revolution. He, however, did not subscribe to the views of Indian communists fighting against the Indian National Congress which was fighting for the freedom of the country. On invitation from Jawaharlal Nehru, he joined Indian National Congress in 1929. From here onwards, he played an active role in Indian freedom movement. He was jailed in 1932 for actively participating in Civil Disobedience against British rule. During his imprisonment in Nasik jail in 1932, he came in closer contact with leaders like Ram Manohar Lohia, Ashok Mehta, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, C K Narayanswami and others. This contact influenced him to join Congress Socialist party (CSP) headed by Acharya Narendra Dev, a group with left leaning within the Congress party. As general secretary of the CSP in December 1939, Jayaprakash called upon the people to take advantage of the 2nd World War to stop British exploitation of India and to overthrow British Government. He was imprisoned for 9 months. After his release, he met Mahatma Gandhi and Subash Chandra Bose. To strengthen the Indian freedom movement, he tried to bring about a rapprochement between the two leaders, but could not succeed in that.
However, it was during the Quit India Movement of August 1942 that more sterling qualities of Jayaprakash Narayan came to the fore. He along with Ram Manohar Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali, took charge of the ongoing stir when all the senior leaders had been arrested. However, he also could not remain outside the jail for long time and was soon arrested under Defence of India Rules, a preventive detention law that did not require trial. He was put in Hazari Bagh Central Jail. JP along with his accomplices started making plan to escape from the Jail. Their chance came soon on a Diwali day in November 1942 when a large number of guards were on leave because of the festival. It was a daring escape which made JP into a folk hero.
JP actively worked underground for Indian Freedom Movement in this period. For fighting the tyranny of British rule, he organised an “Azaad Dasta” (freedom brigade) in Nepal. After some months, he was arrested from Punjab while travelling in a train in September 1943. He was tortured by British authorities for getting necessary information about freedom movement. In January 1945, he was transferred from Lahore Fort to Agra Jail. When Gandhi insisted that he would begin negotiation with British rulers only after unconditional release of Lohia and Jayaprakash, They were released in April 1946.
During this period and with India gaining independence, Jayaprakash perhaps for the first time in his political life was fully convinced of futility of violence as a mean of social change. However, his commitment to the cause of poor did not diminish and this brought him closer to Vinoba Bhave’s Bhudan Movement. This was the second important phase of his life. Then in early seventies came the third phase when common man suffered from the maladies of unemployment, corruption and price-rise. In 1974, the students of Gujarat requested him to lead the Nava Nirman Andolan. The same year in June, he gave a call of peaceful “total revolution” from a public meeting in Gandhi Maidan in Patna. He exhorted the students to rise against corrupt political institutions and asked for a closure of colleges and universities for a year during which time he wanted the students to devote their time to rebuild the nation. It was this time in the history that he was popularly called “JP”.
This movement finally culminated in the proclamation of Emergency and subsequently in the victory of the “Janata Party” which formed the first ever non-Congress Government in the Centre in March 1977. He had the credit of bringing all the Non-Congress Parties under single umbrella of Janata Party. JP will be remembered by every freedom loving person of our country. As a tribute to this modern revolutionary, the Government of India posthumously awarded him Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of the country in 1999.