“Give me one year to build a new country” – Jayaprakash Narayan, 1974.
While the Nav Nirman Movement in Gujarat was gaining momentum in early January 1974, students in Bihar were also protesting in their state albeit on a small scale.
More about Nav Nirman Movement:
Jayaprakash Narayan (fondly referred to as JP), a staunch Gandhian, freedom fighter & a veteran socialist who was in his 70s, had already taken retirement from politics but was unhappy with the way Congress party under Indira Gandhi was indulging in corruption & was demolishing democratic institutions.
When students of Bihar realized the need to channelize their efforts, they approached JP to lead their movement which he readily accepted. JP was impressed with the organizational & political abilities of a 26 year old promising student leader, who was the President of Patna University Students Union. This 26 year promising student leader was Lalu Prasad Yadav who played a significant role in the movement and began his political career under the auspices of JP.
When the Nav Nirman Movement was at its peak in Feb 1974, JP visited Gujarat and was inspired by the enthusiasm shown by Gujarati students. He vowed to lead similar movement in Bihar as well. In April 1974, on the advice of JP, more than 10,000 students went on anti-corruption procession demanding the removal of Bihar State Govt.
Surprisingly, Indira Gandhi responded to it by alleging that people like JP who seek favors from “moneyed people” (rich businessmen) have no moral authority to preach others. This enraged JP & the student community, leading to intensified protests over the next few weeks. In June 1974, JP launched a large scale agitation called “Bihar Movement” (or “Total Revolution”) in which JP asked the students to give up 1 year of their studies and participate in the movement . Millions of protesters including students & common man inspired by JP left their colleges & jobs to join the movement to build a new nation over the next 1 year.
The first step was to bring down the State Govt for which several methods including dharna, gherao, silent protests, demonstrations, processions were used but in vain. By Dec 1974, it turned into a Satyagraha movement but the Govt still did not budge. Throughout the first half of 1975, JP traveled all over India to mobilize masses against Congress by capturing people’s sentiments through anti-Corruption speeches. He was able to bring almost all the opposition parties under a common cause (anti-Congress) despite their differing ideologies & incompatibilities. They were waiting for an opportunity to strike.
That opportunity came in the form of a shocking court verdict. On 12th June 1975, Allahabad High Court convicted Indira Gandhi for electoral malpractices and declared her election null & void, thereby banning her from contesting any election for 6 years. She was found guilty on the charge of misuse of Govt machinery for the 1971 General election campaign.
It was indeed a major blow to Indira Gandhi, pushing her to political obscurity. She had almost made up her mind to resign but the timely intervention by her trusted aide, Siddharta Shankar Ray (West Bengal Chief Minister) who advised her to not act in haste changed the entire course. Indira Gandhi made up her mind to fight tooth and nail and hence appealed to the Supreme Court. On 24th June 1975, Supreme Court announced that Indira Gandhi could remain in office but could not vote in Parliament until the case was settled, which turned her into a lame duck Prime Minister.
This verdict by the Supreme Court further bolstered JP’s movement. On 25th June 1975, JP announced a nation wide movement demanding Indira Gandhi’s resignation. Feeling threatened, Indira Gandhi started looking at ways to silence JP in order to suppress the nation-wide movement. Her coterie of trusted Congressmen had huddled in her house on 25th June, reading intelligence reports and searching for some evidence against JP to imprison him. Indira Gandhi told Siddharta Shankar Ray (West Bengal Chief Minister) that some “drastic & emergent” action had to be taken. She asked Ray to go through every line of the Constitution to find some loophole which could be exploited in her favor.
It was 3.30 PM on 25th June 1975 and were still no leads. Indira Gandhi had almost given up hopes of her political career.
To be continued in next part….
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