Jayaprakash Narayan: Toppling Indira

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In 1974, a 73-year-old veteran politician was called out of retirement to lead the charge against Indira Gandhi. Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as ‘JP’, was to halt the downward spiral India was caught in with Indira as Prime Minister.

Bangladeshi Refugees | Wikimedia Commons
Bangladeshi Refugees | Wikimedia Commons

Indira was at the peak of her power in 1971 but the burden of the Bangladesh War and refugees, followed by droughts, had left the economy in crisis. There were widespread food shortages, unbridled price rise, unemployment and rampant corruption.

Jaiprakash Narayan | Wikimedia Commons
Jaiprakash Narayan | Wikimedia Commons

The spark for the JP movement was lit by students in Ahmedabad. It spread to campuses in Gujarat. Hundreds died in police firing and the army was deployed. Joined by trade unions and middle-class professionals, the movement was christened the ‘Nav Nirman Andolan’.

On 6th April 1974, JP declared that he would no longer remain a “mute spectator” to the government’s repressive measures. He launched a series of protests on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. It took the form of a people’s movement.

A turning point came on 4th November, when JP was hit by a police baton while leading a protest in Patna. He broke two ribs. He now vowed to rout the Congress. The removal of Indira as Prime Minister topped his agenda.

Allahabad High Court | Wikimedia Commons
Allahabad High Court | Wikimedia Commons

JP’s campaign got an unexpected boost on 12th June 1975, when the Allahabad High Court pronounced Indira guilty of electoral malpractices and disqualified her as an MP from Rae Bareli. JP demanded Indira’s resignation.

But, on the midnight of June 25-26, Indira made a politically fatal move – she imposed Emergency. JP and Opposition leaders were sent to jail. But the simmering people’s anger against Indira led to her ouster in the 1977 elections.

Morarji Desai | Wikimedia Commons
Morarji Desai | Wikimedia Commons

It was the year JP founded the Janata Party. The party won the 1977 elections, defeating the Congress. Janata Party leader Morarji Desai was appointed India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister.

The rag-tag government collapsed a few months before JP died on 8th October 1979 but his legacy lived on as he inspired young leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Arun Jaitley, who dominated the political landscape in the decades to come.

Cover Image: Outlook India

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