Conscience keeper

Published : May 21, 2010 00:00 IST

JAYAPRAKASH NARAYAN was truly Indias conscience keeper. He could be trusted to keep his head and listen to his own conscience when people lost their senses. The moral aspect was always uppermost in his mind. He was immune to the lure of public office and power. At times, though, JP could be highly emotional. But this was one figure of high stature one could reason and argue with and even contradict flatly without risking a loss of temper, quite unlike Jawaharlal Neh ru and lesser mortals like Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai.

JP was interested in a host of issues of domestic and foreign policy, spoke well and wrote elegantly simple English, for which he has received less than his due. Like other great men, he has received either uncritical adulation or sweeping denigration. His life awaits a calm, objective appraisal. His greatness is not diminished if his faults, failings and mistakes are acknowledged. Such as his Faustian pact with the Sangh Parivars operator, the crafty Nana Deshmukh, in his campaign against Indira Gandhi. JP lived to regret his praise of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and censured it severely, before he died in 1979, for its breach of promise.

Professor Bimal Prasad knew JP closely. He has edited JP Papers in the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, under whose auspices the set is published, with all the dedication of a friend of long standing and the fastidious professional care of a distinguished historian. He has also included in these volumes other documents besides the JP Papers.

The annotation leaves nothing to be desired. The publishers have done a good job in the production of the set.

The sheer range of JPs correspondence is amazing. The topics range from land reforms, panchayati raj and the naxal movement to Kashmir and the border dispute with China. JP was unrealistic in demanding recognition to the provisional government of Bangladesh, based in Kolkata, before Pakistan was militarily ousted by Indian troops. It is a brazen falsehood that his speeches on the eve of the emergency provoked Indira Gandhi to impose the emergency. It is fair to say that his language provided grist to her propaganda mill. Fundamentally, he had not reflected on the company he kept, on the aims of the movement and the results he could realistically hope to achieve.

On the boundary dispute, JP was alone, bar the Left, in urging a settlement with China but was unrealistic in advocating arbitration of a non-justiciable, political dispute. On Kashmir, JP was consistently wise. He advocated a plebiscite in 1964, but, rightly, held that after Pakistans attack in 1965, de-accession was ruled out. He did not stop at that. Two pronouncements made over 40 years ago are of enduring relevance and bear on the present situation strikingly. The first is for New Delhi and the media, the second for Kashmiris. In a letter to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on June 23, 1966, he remarked: Kashmir has distorted Indias image in the world as nothing else has done. There is no nation in the world, not even Russia, which appreciates our Kashmir policy, though some of them might, for their own reasons, give us their support.

No matter how much and how loud and how long we shout that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India and that, therefore, there is no Kashmir problem, the fact remains that a serious and urgent problem faces, and will continue to face, us in that part of the country. The problem exists not because Pakistan wants to grab Kashmir, but because there is deep and widespread political discontent among the people. The people of India might be kept in the dark about the true state of affairs in the valley, but every Chancellery in New Delhi knows the truth and almost every foreign correspondent. This was written after the 1965 war.

In Srinagar, on October 10, 1968, addressing a convention organised by Sheikh Abdullah, JP said, Let me also remind you that the world of 1968 is far removed in outlook and mood from the world of 1947. In these intervening years new factors have emerged which have radically altered the essential nature of the issues involved in a solution of the problem of Kashmir. The right to self-determination, viewed against such a changed background, needs to be interpreted afresh in keeping with todays needs of the people of Kashmir.

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