October 11, 2015 is the 113th birth anniversary of Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), one of India&’s tallest leaders and the rightful claimant to the title ‘Saviour of India&’s Democracy’. On this occasion, the BJP, which is fighting a ‘no-holds-barred’ electoral battle in Bihar, is claiming his legacy and is planning to celebrate the anniversary in a big way as Loktantra Bachao Diwas (Save Democracy Day). The purpose is not just to remember a great icon of Bihar, but more pertinently to underline how the erstwhile Janata Party constituents (JD and RJD) have frittered away his legacy by forming an alliance with the Congress.

The celebrations in Patna and the district headquarters will highlight “JP as the great democrat who fought against the authoritarian rule of the Congress and its worship of the Nehru-Gandhi family at the cost of the country.” As against this ‘song-and-dance’ this year, none of the BJP&’s worthies were visible during last year&’s JP birth commemoration.

I was in Patna on October 11 and 12, 2014, at the invitation of Mahila Charka Samiti, Kadam Kuan and Brajkishore Samarak Pratishthan (institutions created by Prabhavati Devi, JP and Dr. Rajendra Prasad) and had participated in JP&’s birth anniversary programmes. I shared personal memories of my association with JP during his days in Chandigarh&’s Emergency Jail. I also spoke on the subject: “Did India deserve JP?” As my tribute to his memory, I handed over to Brajkishore Samarak Pratishthan the complete set of papers and documents – official and personal – that related to the Emergency and JP&’s imprisonment. Some of these are possibly of great historical significance.

I was told by the organizers that for the first time after the passing of JP, no one from the political spectrum of Bihar, including the BJP, had visited Kadam Kuan to pay homage on his birth anniversary. Hardly anyone from this clan participated in the function organised at the Brajkishore Samarak Pratishthan.  Because of the absence of celebrities, the mainstream media completely ignored the event. 

The BJP was hyperactive on JP&’s birth anniversary in 2010 when Bihar was facing an Assembly election. There were several functions presided over by the then Deputy Chief Minister, Sushil Kumar Modi, former Governor of Chhattisgarh and Tripura, DN Sahay, and other dignitaries. Everyone commended JP&’s ‘Total Revolution’, political philosophy and vision. He was hailed as a freedom-fighter, a true follower of socialism and protector of human rights. Now again many have resurfaced with renewed vigour on the eve of another election.

What exactly is the legacy of JP that the BJP is celebrating? Is it the ‘Congress mukth Bharat’ that JP achieved in 1977 against considerable odds, a feat that Prime Minister Narendra Modi replicated in 2014 with relative ease?  The party ought to realise that JP had never ever sought any office of power or pelf. In fact he had turned down successive offers of Union Cabinet Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister and even President of India. No ordinary human being would do this.

Freedom, which is the essence of democracy, was an article faith for JP. When at the height of the Emergency Prime Minister Indira Gandhi proclaimed that ‘food is more important than freedom’, JP had thundered: “Freedom became one of the beacon lights of my life and it has remained so ever since. Freedom with the passing of years transcended the mere freedom of my country and embraced freedom of man everywhere and from every sort of trammel; 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 bread, for security, for prosperity, for the glory of the state or for anything else”. It was in defence of this faith that JP fought the Congress and defeated the party at the polls. 

During the Emergency, JP was detained as a prisoner in Chandigarh. Within the confines of the yet-to-be commissioned Intensive Care Ward of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, JP was an old, haggard and incoherent individual who felt that all hopes were gone and freedom in India stood extinguished. He had also mentally reconciled himself to die in confinement ‘as a prisoner of Indira Gandhi’. But the Almighty and the Ultimate Arbiter had other ideas. He wanted this man, who once symbolised all that was fiery in India&’s freedom struggle and all that was noble in pursuing a cause, to re-surge, rise again and re-emerge as the nation&’s hope and icon to lead the people back to freedom and democracy.

As the then District Magistrate of Chandigarh and custodian of “JP-in-Jail”, I had the great privilege of witnessing history-in-the-making and can claim to have played a key role in sustaining JP and saving his life. On his release, as he left Chandigarh on 16 November 1975 en route to Mumbai&’s Jaslok Hospital, I saw him off at the airport wishing him well and requesting him to look after his health. JP&’s reply still rings in my ears: “Mr Devasahayam, my health is not important. The health of the nation and democracy is. I will defeat Indira Gandhi and have them restored”. This meant that within five months the fire was back in him and the ‘Hazaribagh Hero’ had transformed from a ‘defeated idol’ to a ‘defiant leader’ paving the way for India&’s second freedom some months later.

Emboldened by the reports of ‘success’ of the Emergency regime, the general perception that opposition to her rule was crumbling and JP, the only mass all-India leader was sick and demoralised, Indira Gandhi called for election to Parliament in January 1977. And in his inimitable style JP swung into action despite being tied down to the dialysis machine twice a week. Without wasting time he put into effect the political blueprint he had worked out while in detention and finetuned later. Due largely to his untiring efforts, immediately after coming out of jail, the opposition leaders announced the coming-together of Congress (O), Jan Sangh, Bharatiya Lok Dal and Socialists under the Janata Party umbrella.

The Emergency and its excesses formed the major issue of the election campaign. JP created a public upsurge by touring the country and addressing mammoth gatherings. Dialysis was arranged in Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay to facilitate JP&’s uninterrupted election campaign. A physically constrained JP could not travel extensively and many areas in the country, especially South India, were left out.  Wherever he went, his message was simple and straight – “If you want autocracy, vote Congress. If you want democracy, vote Janata.”  The rest is history.

Through his suffering and sacrifice, JP has left us the political legacies of freedom and democracy. On the economic front it is decentralized and distributed development with ‘small-is-beautiful’ as the motto. But governments run by those who claim JP&’s legacy are compromising people&’s freedom ‘for security, so-called prosperity and glory of the state.’  They are also pursuing predatory and centralized ‘development’ policies with ‘big-is-bountiful’ as the goal. Draconian laws are increasingly used against dissenters seeking justice, equity, protection of the environment and inclusive growth branding them as anti-national and anti-development. For them Digital India has become far more important than Democratic India.

The praxis of today&’s political class runs counter to what JP stood for. The BJP, while celebrating his birth anniversary as ‘Save Democracy Day’, should reflect and introspect as to whether they are truly faithful to the precious legacy bequeathed by Jayaprakash Narayan.