How the RSS Betrayed Jayaprakash Narayan

The Sangh parivar claims to have defeated the Emergency. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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The RSS touts itself as the gladiator which opposed the Emergency of Indira Gandhi and brought it crashing down. Its literature describes the Emergency as the “second freedom struggle”, with the Jana Sangh at the head of it.

The truth couldn’t be more different. Barring exceptions, the RSS’s functioning during the Emergency was appalling. The lawyer A.G. Noorani was categorical when he wrote this:

“Every year on the anniversary of the Emergency, the RSS and its foot soldiers, especially those in its political wing, the BJP, go to town denouncing the sin. It boasts of the “sacrifices” made by it and its political front, the Jana Sangh, ancestor of the BJP, during the Emergency… They have no locus standi to make noises about the Emergency. Its own leaders grovelled before the Congress dispensation to win reprieves from jail terms and have the ban lifted on their organisation.”

The RSS is also on the mat for betraying Jayaprakash Narayan – JP – whom they claim as their icon. In a booklet titled RSS: Depth & Breadth (2022) the Kannada author Devanoora Mahadeva writes that during the 1975 Emergency, the BJP infiltrated the JP-led movement opposing Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule. Since then, its character has completely changed. The Bharatiya Janata Party, once rejected by society, began to be accepted. The RSS members of the then-Jana Sangh (later to become the BJP) who joined JP’s newly formed Janata Party promised they would give up membership in the RSS. Prominent among those who made such promises were A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and then RSS chief Bala Saheb Deoras. JP trusted their word, but they never shed their RSS affiliation and did not give up their membership. It was a political ploy.

Also read: An Intimate Look at JP That Is Largely Appreciative, Skips Over His Ideological Inconsistencies

Devanoora quotes me:

“JP was double-crossed and his trust was betrayed. Lamenting on this betrayal during his later years, Jayaprakash Narayan recalled, ‘They betrayed me” and explains the context: “During the emergency of 1975, when Jayaprakash Narayan was under house arrest in Chandigarh, the government appointed M. G. Devasahayam, the District Collector, for supervising JP’s house arrest. In course of the daily companionship, he became close to JP. Their association continued after his release (from house arrest). The aforementioned words appear in an interview given by Mr. MG Devasahayam to Ajaz Ashraf. It has been published in Newsclick online newspaper on 26th June, 2019.” 

Jayaprakash Narayan

Jayaprakash Narayan. Photo: Facebook/For the Better India.

Mahadeva is factually a little inaccurate. JP was not under ‘house arrest” and I was not appointed to supervise it. He was an Emergency prisoner detained under the dreaded Maintenance of Internal Security Act by the district magistrate (DM), Delhi and transferred to Chandigarh for safe custody. And as DM of the union territory, I was his custodian in jail. But the rest of what Devanoora has written is true, because JP discussed these matters with me himself. He also confided in me that the Janata men who had come to power were very much a part of the rotten system which had created the culture of Emergency. They were not the “party of good men” of which JP had dreamed. The Janata Party government collapsed in mid-1979 primarily due to the intrigues and betrayal carried out by the RSS and Jana Sangh.

Also read: How Did Today’s BJP Leaders Oppose the Emergency? Lalu Yadav Remembers

The Janata Party did not recover from this body-blow and faded away. Shortly after this, I visited JP in his Kadam Kuan residence at Patna. He was on dialysis, but made me sit beside him. That he had taken Janata’s collapse to heart was evident when he said, with tears in his eyes: “Devasahayam, I have failed yet again.” JP was inconsolable when he narrated the account of this ‘betrayal most foul’. This hard-boiled revolutionary, a soldier of the Mahatma in his fight for India’s first freedom, and who almost single-handedly won India’s second freedom struggle, died of a broken heart weeks later on October 8, 1979.

The betrayal, which has continued with a vengeance since 2014 – when the BJP captured power on its own – encompasses ideological, political, economic and social dimensions. On the ideological front, here’s what  JP said:

On Hindutva:

“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 civilisation. Such persons 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 sunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority.”

On a Hindu rashtra:

“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 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.”

On communalism:

“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.”

Freedom was JP’s heartbeat. Way back in the 1950s, he had declared:

“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.” [Excerpt from Jayaprakash Narayan: Quest and Legacy, Bimal Prasad, Rupa, 1992]

On the economic front, JP’s ideals were completely in sync with Gandhi’s. According to him, if the economic means of development were based on people, we had to direct attention to people in need and start asking why they are poor. If it was because their productivity was low, we had to ask how it could be raised? Alongside this, the eradication of worklessness was of paramount importance. The most disturbing feature of India at the time was that millions and millions of people were without work or at a negligible level of productivity. JP was committed to the concepts of “small is beautiful” and “production by the masses”. Sarvodaya – or universal upliftment – was JP’s social dogma.

Also read: How the RSS Became a Key Part of the Jayaprakash Narayan Movement Before Emergency

It should be obvious that the policies and practices of the RSS and its ruling coterie were – and are – just the opposite. Their mission seems to be to spread communal venom based on a Hindutva agenda, to diminish democracy, to emasculate freedom and liberty, and to pamper the rich while impoverishing the rest. This is being done through the indiscriminate privatisation of public assets and by handing over the economy to handpicked BJP-friendly oligarchs.

JP was entirely different. There can’t be a better description of JP and his towering character and personality than the epitaph written of him by his Australian biographers:

“…Not everyone’s personal life matches the nobility of his ideas. But Jayaprakash’s did… His ideas were creative, compassionate, original and powerful. But the man in his courage, integrity and humanity was greater still.” [From Allan and Wendy Scarfe’s Remembering Jayaprakash, New Delhi, Siddharth Publications, 1977]

Ironically, Prime Minister Vajpayee, a BJP stalwart who had deceived JP by hanging on to his RSS affiliation decades ago, likened the great leader to Bhishmapitamah lying on a bed of arrows, and to Jesus Christ on the cross. If those tributes seem florid, let us simply agree that JP was a unique combination of courage, compassion, sacrifice and humanity. Everything, in effect, that the RSS is not.

M.G. Devasahayam is a former IAS officer hailing from Kanyakumari district.