‘My dear Bhai’

On a train to Gaya, on 4 March 1953, Jayaprakash Narayan was writing a letter to a person whom he addressed as ‘Bhai’. Like Dada in Bangla, Anna in Tamil, Bhai in Hindi is a term of respect for an elder brother.

‘My dear Bhai’

Photos: www.indiaculture.gov.in

On a train to Gaya, on 4 March 1953, Jayaprakash Narayan was writing a letter to a person whom he addressed as ‘Bhai’. Like Dada in Bangla, Anna in Tamil, Bhai in Hindi is a term of respect for an elder brother. For Jayaprakash, it was Pt Jawaharlal Nehru whom he always addressed as ‘Bhai’, even when they had disagreements on issues political or personal. ‘Bhai’, to whom he writing in 1953, was also the Prime Minister of India.

“I meet you after long periods and get the impression that you’re not in touch with what we have been doing or saying or thinking,” wrote JP, as he was popularly known. “The last few times that I met you, I heard you repeat some points practically in the same language. For instance, your remarks about nationalisation. I am afraid we are, in your mind, doctrinaire socialists who insist on sticking to outworn formulas. But had you cared to know better the evolution of thinking in our movement, you would not have found the need of impressing upon us the empirical and changing processes of socialist reconstruction.” No doubt JP believed in shooting from the hip, even if he was firing at his revered Bhai. By 1953, the Socialist Party helmed by JP, Dr Rammanohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Deva among others was transformed; it merged with Acharya Kripalani’s Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party and emerged as Praja Socialist Party.

“I assure you our approach to socialism is not doctrinaire, hidebound or conservative,” JP wrote in the letter, adding, “I must make one point clear. Not matter how empirical and experimental may be our approach, the goals and values of socialism are unalterably fixed before us. Whether we give it or not the name of any ism, we all desire without the shadow of any doubt to create a new society in which there is no exploitation, in which there is economic and social equality, in which there is freedom and well-being for all. Further, these goals, for us or for that matter for any socialist, are not to be achieved in a distant future but in the soonest possible time.”


The 1953 letter, titled ‘Minimum Programme for National Reconstruction’ is included in ‘Socialism, Sarvodaya and Democracy’, Selected Works of Jayaprakash Narayan. The series, edited by the venerable Dr Bimal Prasad, outlines the evolution and main elements of JP’s political philosophy. JP said “the past course of my life might well appear to the outsider as a zigzag and tortuous chart of unsteadiness and blind groping. But as I look back I discern in it a uniform line of development.”

In communication with Prime Minister Nehru, his Bhai, he said, “You had written once to me, when you were perhaps a little rattled, that while you thought socialism was not the monopoly of any group, you were not, in any case, a ‘formal’ socialist. You perhaps meant that you did not subscribe to any particular theory of socialism. But you could not have meant to say that you did not accept the aims and values of socialism.

Those values and aims give direction and create a sense of urgency which, you will agree, have been lacking in your policies. A great deal can be said for caution and fearing to create too many upsets, but in the balance, if one has a definite political philosophy, one must act and move boldly towards one’s goals. The move must be rapid and drastic at the beginning, when a new departure has to be made…the move, further must be said that the mass of people are able to appreciate and understand and realize that they are on the move. Sometimes a right move may be made, but at such levels and points, that it is beyond the understanding of the man in the street.”

Both Nehru and JP were immensely indebted to Mahatma Gandhi, not just for the political orientation he gave but for guiding their lives. JP wrote, “We have all been deeply influenced by Gandhiji. I do not mind saying that I have been rediscovering him lately and re-understanding him. I believe he was one of the most vital thinkers of the modern age. I am sure there is a deal to learn from him today and also tomorrow.

I am sure, had he lived, he would have evolved further, as he ceaselessly did, and we would have today a clearer picture of the method he would have followed to achieve the goals that we jointly share. “I do not find today Gandhiji’s dynamism and incessant quest towards his ultimate values except in Vinoba, who has produced a remarkable Gandhian method for the solution of the country’s biggest problem – the land problem.

I feel sure that the Gandhians and Socialists, dropping their respect jargons, must work together. I have said all this only to emphasise that I do not find in your policies any, or marked, awareness of these considerations. When the policies of the Government of India make a concession to Gandhi, well, it is just a concession,” he commented. There is another consideration which JP places before ‘Bhai’ and this concerned China.

Pt Nehru’s friendship with China, and the ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ slogans were jarring JP. He wrote, “China and India are the two countries in Asia to which all of Asia and Africa are looking. If India fails to present anything but a pale picture of a welfare state (which phrase I do not particularly like; Gandhiji’s and Vinoba’s Sarvodaya is a far better phrase) I am afraid the appeal of China would become irresistible and that would affect the lives of millions and change the course of history disastrously.”

Prime Minister Nehru had proposed to the Socialists to join his Cabinet in 1953, after the launch of community development projects and national extension service. Jayaprakash Narayan again wrote with candour and honesty, “The proposal that you made to me was a bold and unusual one, because the Congress Party stood in no need of a coalition either at the Centre or in most of the States. But you rose above partisan considerations and took a statesmanlike step. What you proposed was, to my mind, not a parliamentary coalition, but a joint effort to build a new India.

We are not a power in the legislatures, but we do claim to have a following in the country and a cadre which in some respects is superior to that of the Congress ~ a cadre which has training and a distinct political philosophy, which in itself is a valuable thing… the task of national integration of which you spoke the other day cannot be accomplished under static conditions. If we moved forward in new directions of social and economic change, the forces of integration would be vastly strengthened.

The emotional and psychological climate that would be created should prove to be a powerful binding force.” Jayaprakash Narayan was clear that the Socialists would not join the Pt Nehru Cabinet in 1953 merely to strengthen the Government or carrying out present policies. “But if it means launching a bold joint venture of national reconstruction, it might well have been a historic move. You do not have unlimited time and it is now that you must act. It is in this perspective that the draft programme was prepared.

It is not too ambitious a programme, and it can be carried out in the next four years if all of us make a determined effort,” he wrote, referring to the minimum programme for national reconstruction drafted. “First, we have suggested that certain constitutional reforms must be made. I for one was never able to understand how you permitted yourself to approve of such a drab and conservative constitution,” he wrote, taunting his Bhai. He added, “Second the whole system of administration must be overhauled. Reform must be drastic and must affect all levels.

Centralisation of political power and authority would be disastrous. We must deliberately work for devolution of powers and decentralization of authority. Everyone likewise talks of corruption. An effective machinery must be created to deal with this monster. Likewise with legal reform. The present law and legal procedure are too complicated, dilatory, and costly. There is practically no justice for the common man today.

The lower law courts have become a breed and training ground for lying, deceit, forgery, perjury and worse. …we must make a determined effort at the highest levels to cure these ills.” In commemorating Jayaprakash Narayan through his writings and scholarship is to discover him as second only to the Mahatma ~ for distancing himself from public office or becoming a parliamentarian, for adhering to an austere lifestyle and a relentless commitment to nation- building through democratic processes.

(The writer is a writerresearcher on history and heritage issues and former deputy curator of Pradhanmantri Sangharalaya)