Patna: As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders speak now of having opposed the Emergency clamped on India on the night of June 25-26, 1975, by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a reading of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s memoir shows that they may not have played as great a part in the JP movement as they claim to remember.
In his memoir Gopalganj to Raisina – My Political Journey, which I co-authored, Lalu said:
“The RSS used the movement to gain recognition in society. The RSS leaders didn’t participate in the jail bharo (fill the jails) campaign [during the JP movement]. They feared being jailed. I laugh when some Union ministers narrate how ‘bravely’ they fought during the emergency. I was the chairman of the steering committee of the movement … My colleagues and I in the steering committee didn’t know many of the ministers in the [Narendra] Modi government today who talk so much about the emergency. We hadn’t heard of [Narendra] Modi, [Arun] Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu during the emergency.”
In the vanguard
Lalu, chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and former chief minister of Bihar, had been in the vanguard of the JP movement which had started in 1974 against the misrule of the Bihar state government.
The Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution), led by socialist revolutionary Jayaprakash Narayan (popularly referred to as JP) was a mass movement to bring about a change in the system and make it more accountable to the people. Millions of people actively participated in the movement, which led to Indira Gandhi’s declaration of Emergency.
At that time, Lalu had been the president of the Patna University Students’ Union and had been appointed by JP as the convenor of the steering committee of the Sampoorna Kranti.
After JP nominated Lalu as the convenor of the steering committee, Lalu anointed JP with the title of Loknayak (People’s hero) at a students’ meeting at Patna University campus in 1974.
“You can imagine the sense of pride I feel when JP is to this day referred to as Loknayak. For me JP was a living god and the torch bearer of the Indian masses after Mahatma Gandhi,” Lalu said in his memoir.
A frontline warrior
On June 26, 2021, the 46th anniversary of the emergency, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi, who had been an activist in the JP movement in the 1970s, wrote an opinion piece in the Indian Express with the title ‘A story needs to be retold’.
Sushil Modi is among many former activists of the JP movement who have been talking about the way the Constitution of India was subverted on the night of June 26-27, 1975. However, they present the facts in a ‘politically correct’ manner in keeping with the parties or organisations they are currently associated with.
Very few of these people have mentioned Lalu, although they must know in their hearts that Lalu was a frontline warrior of Jayaprakash Narayan’s Total Revolution army. In fact, many of the leaders who are now at the top of the Indian political power structure and who speak eloquently about their role in the JP movement fall in the category of ‘also ran’ in the JP movement’s scheme of things.
Lalu was perhaps the only frontline activist to have suffered heavily on account of the JP movement. He had been arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) well over a year before the proclamation of the national emergency on 25-26 June 1975 and had been lodged in a Patna jail almost immediately after he married Rabri Devi.
In July-August 1974, he fell ill after fasting as part of an agitation for the improvement of the jail amenities and was shifted to the prisoners’ ward of the Patna Medical College Hospital for treatment.
“Mahamaya Prasad Sinha, Rambahadur Rai and some other activists knew that I had not lived with Rabri Devi after my wedding. They befriended the security men and sneaked Rabri into my room,” Lalu revealed to me. “Rabri got pregnant when I was a prisoner”.
Lalu got a brief parole when his first child was born on May 22, 1975. Since he had very little money to take care of his wife and new-born girl, JP gave him Rs 200 and named Lalu’s daughter Misa after the Act under which Lalu had been jailed.
After his parole ended, Lalu went back to jail where he stayed for more than two years during the JP movement.
One of the leaders of the JP movement that Lalu speaks about with the utmost respect is former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar.
In his memoir, Lalu detailed the role Chandra Shekhar played in the JP movement and his commitment to the cause.
“Chandra Shekhar ji always treated me like chhota bhai (younger brother) and was very loving to me all through my life,” Lalu said in his memoir.
Although Lalu has never justified the Emergency declared by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, he believes that the present Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has imposed an undeclared Emergency on the country.
“Indira Gandhi had at least resorted to constitutional provisions to declare the emergency in India. That emergency was different from the present spell in the sense that Indira Gandhi put many of us behind bars, but she never abused us,” Lalu said in his memoir. “Neither she nor her ministers or party leaders ever called us ‘anti-national’ or ‘unpatriotic’. She never unleashed vandals to defile the memory of Baba Saheb Ambedkar. She didn’t unleash lynch mobs to kill and maim the minorities and Dalits in the name of caste and religion. Cattle traders were not persecuted and killed on doubts of possessing beef. Journalists and writers were put behind bars and released later. They may have been tortured in jail, but they were not shot in cold blood. Her ministers didn’t loiter around the Jawaharlal Nehru University and other universities to question the morality of students. Activists, writers and people at large defied the emergency and dissented with Indira ji and her policies. But she didn’t ask anyone to go to Pakistan. The assassins of Mahatma Gandhi were not worshipped during the emergency…”
Lalu is perhaps the last valid chronicler of the JP movement and the Emergency. Many stalwarts of the JP movement have already died, including Chandra Shekhar, George Fernandes, Madhu Limaye, Madhu Dandavate, Ram Krishna Hegde and Kishen Patnayak.
To write about the JP movement and Emergency without mentioning Lalu amounts to removing Arjuna from the Mahabharata.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communication at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.